A Perfect Sentence explores the shifting terrain of documentary photography: our drive for attention, the complexity of being seen and our anxiety of being overlooked. Commissioned and produced by Forma with eight partners, A Perfect Sentence is Oliver Frank Chanarin’s first UK solo exhibition and will see multiple presentations across the country, public acquisitions, a digital platform and a publication.
This new iteration of A Perfect Sentence at KARST interrogates the photographic image in the age of the algorithm. At the centre of this installation are two machines made by the artist in collaboration with Tom Cecil and Ruairi Glynn. They continuously hang and rehang framed photographs that are stored in stacks on the gallery floor. Appropriating the language of automation, the machines handle the images according to an inscrutable logic; identifying, sorting, displaying, juxtaposing and storing photographs for the duration of the exhibition.
The archive of images on display, only ever partially seen at any one time, was produced by Chanarin last year while travelling across the United Kingdom. Often finding himself on the margins – from suburban fetish groups, to carnival troupes in community halls, to gender activists protesting in the streets – his analogue camera became a tool for social exchange. Collaborative photoshoots gave way to chance encounters with strangers and friends, missteps and wilful attempts at getting lost in the world. The resulting photographs capture a subjective and intimate record of a nation in transition.
Over 12 months, Chanarin produced over 3000 colour negatives portraying encounters with hundreds of participants, from which he hand-printed unique, C-type prints in the darkroom. Many of the artworks are annotated with handwritten notes on cropping and colour filtration or show gradients of exposure. These interventions on the surface of the images point to a printing process in development, and allude to the mercurial nature of identity and the subjectivity inherent in image making.
Oliver Frank Chanarin has built an international reputation for pushing the boundaries of photography, both conceptually and in its practice. This new commission, through its utilisation of analogue hand-printed medium format photography and bespoke robotic machines question the nature and role of photography. A Perfect Sentence asks us to consider who controls our image; how does one capture attention; and who do we see in our hyperconnected, image-prolific digital world?
There is an uncanny sense that the work is watching us just as much as we are watching it, and it’s not necessarily a good feeling at all. There‘s something about the way the photographs are handled indiscriminately by the machines – the intimately human analogue prints bristle against the brutally mechanistic display. It goes against the grain of the images, and there is a sense that we are entering a factory rather than a gallery. Inevitably we are left to reflect on the life of photographs; the myriad ways in which
they circulate and accrue our attention or get ignored, and the hidden forces that shape these experiences.
Ben Borthwick, Head of Creative Programme, KARST says:
It has been a joy for KARST to collaborate with Oliver and Forma on the production and presentation of A Perfect Sentence. We’re thrilled to be part of a nationwide project that engages with Plymouth’s communities, spaces and histories. In 2022 Oliver met and photographed groups and individuals in Plymouth, from navy officers and cadets to skateboarders and sunbathers. A selection of these photographs will be presented alongside images from Oliver’s encounters around the UK. KARST supports artists to experiment and test ideas, so we are really pleased that A Perfect Sentence contributes to Plymouth’s rich history exploring the relationship between art and cybernetics. Throughout the course of the exhibition at KARST, i-DAT (University of Plymouth’s creative technology research collective) will collaborate with Oliver to develop the AI algorithms, making it both an exhibition and a live research project.
Chanarin’s new commission is presented across a series of iterative exhibitions. Following this presentation at KARST, A Perfect Sentence will then be a highlight of Images Vevey Biennial, Switzerland in September 2024. Subsequently the exhibition will open at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in November 2024 and National Museum Cardiff in 2025, with additional presentation dates pending. A selection of Chanarin’s C-type prints were exhibited for the first time at Derby’s The Museum of Making in 2023 as a highlight of Format23, the UK’s leading photography biennial. The presentation programme and a publication designed and published by Loose Joints will be accompanied by digital outputs and public acquisitions in 2024.
A Perfect Sentence was commissioned and produced with Forma in partnership with 8 institutions with support from Arts Council England and Outset Contemporary Art Fund, and an Acquisition Commission grant from Art Fund. In addition, National Lottery through Arts Council Wales, Kick The Dust and City of London have supported the productions in Wales, Great Yarmouth and London respectively.
Join us on Thursday 25 January for Oliver Frank Chanarin in conversation at 5.15pm and our A Perfect Sentence opening event from 6-8pm. The exhibition will be on view until Saturday 23 March (Wed-Sat, 11am-5pm).
Image: Chanarin, Untitled, 10 x 8 inches, C-type print, unique artist proof (#0009720244), 2023. Courtesy and © the artist