SuperGlue believes in art that challenges. In the past issues, we have seen artists who are pushing the boundaries of new beginnings and of collaboration, and now we present to you artists who are challenging the very base of artistic production, the materials. Materials make up the media of art, from the polaroid to the paintbrush, materials have historically facilitated the artistic process by allowing the artist to express their ideas in a tangible form. But does the material offer a true reflection of its own self? Does the material have some sort of façade that is built upon by the inclusion of the symbolic image?
For London-based artist Mark Tamer, the very essence of the photographic medium is often neglected in favour of the subject within the frame. In his work, Tamer denies the photograph the safety net of a subject, and instead examines the medium at its purest. The photographs that come out of this process reveal the nature of the medium through its imperfections and scars, demonstrating that pulling apart the photograph can initiate an introspective examination of how the image is seen. So, what is to be seen from having the photographic medium reveal its true self? In fact, there is a certain calmness that exudes Tamer’s work as a consequence. Tranquillity pervades the disrupted polaroid because the medium is able to show its true character that lies within the materials. In treating photography in this way, Tamer attempts to move beyond the constructed realities that inhibit a true reading of the medium. Moreover, the process of stripping back champions chance as its catalyst, allowing for random and unplanned degradation to make the photographs yield their identities.
Tamer cites his youth as the beginning of this thought process, a time in which he used to pull apart electronics and put them back together, finding bits and pieces that perhaps did not fit once again, prompting questions of functionality and deception. In employing these techniques, of breaking down objects to their minimum and presenting an altered version, Tamer brings a punk aesthetic to his photographs in the manner of his “DIY, can-do approach”. The results are photographs that acquire shapes and colours that offer an exquisite aesthetic, which captivates the eye with every fold of blue, burn of orange and slick of black. Despite not seeming like an obvious inspection of the photograph, what Tamer produces is what pigment is to paint, or more precisely, what disruption is to reality.
In order to uncover more of the artists work and process, SuperGlue talked to Mark Tamer. Find the interview below…
Firstly, thank you for speaking with us. How has your past year been as an artist? Has your approach changed at all during this time?
I have been more fortunate than most in that I’ve been able to continue making work. My process usually involves a mix of darkroom and outdoor locations, so I’ve been concentrating on experimenting at home using sunlight, photographic paper and kitchen ingredients. It’s been fun to create work without the pressure of a deadline or even a real purpose in mind.
Your work is centred around the medium of photography, yet the processes that you apply to the medium create works that seem to challenge the medium. Could you tell us why you chose photography, and what inspired you to experiment with it in this way?
I guess some of it stems from a desire to know how things work, to pull them apart and to put them back together again. I would do this as a child to anything electrical, but I always seemed to end up with some extra bits leftover that I couldn’t fit back in again. I think it’s this pulling apart that reveals something about how it is we see, how we experience photography.
I started working with photography as it fitted well with my urban wanderings around the forgotten parts of London. But I never felt entirely happy I’d captured how I felt about a place so I delved into trying to understand photography better so I could better express myself.
In your series, This Is It, you put together polaroid pictures (?) that have been disrupted and degraded into a collage format, which brings about a certain calmness in the form of circular motifs. I wonder if you could explain how you create this form in your images, and expand on your process of breaking down the materiality of the photographic image?
I decided to move away from an indexical relationship with the photographic subject as this seemed to distract from what I wanted to say. Once there is a subject in the image it’s easy to look through the medium: photographic paper, computer screen etc and only see the thing itself.
The circle motif is a reference to the Zen ensō form that symbolises many things including the universe and the void. It also encompasses beauty in imperfection which I relate to. I also like the meditative repetition in applying the simple circle across multiple works.
The circle itself can be created in many ways. The Polaroid collages were made by photographing and then rephotographing in sections a circle shape. When the Polaroid film comes out of the camera it is halted halfway through, paused in its developing process and then drawn the rest of the way out of the camera. This interruption creates the surface disruption.
For the same piece, you quote the American novelist Cormac McCarthy, who declares that “scars have the strange power to remind us that the past is real”. What I find interesting here is that in referencing scars, you cite both the accidental nature of injury, as well as the vulnerability felt as a consequence. How do you think your work embodies these sentiments, especially in relation to an inspection of truth, or a constructed reality?
The scars relate directly to those picked up by the photographic film and it is these scars, these disruptions to the surface that hint at something beyond the thing itself. Analogue technologies typically reveal something of the medium at the point of their use. The pop or scratch as the stylus hits the vinyl, or the loading of 35mm film into a camera and the subsequent manual winding on to advance the film frames. We become aware of the medium itself. Digital images hide behind a black mirror that obscures how the world really works. To delve deeper we need to examine the digital code, the metadata that travels alongside and the ones and zeroes that comprise an image. A glitch is a visual jolt, a moment of comprehensive realisation where we wonder how images are made and how do they communicate.
In your artistic process, there is a delicate balance between control and chance, construction and deconstruction. Why do you choose to position your art within this balance, and what do you hope to achieve from it?
Personally, I felt I was too controlling with my process and so have made a conscious effort to let go and embrace chance happenings. It’s very freeing allowing the “mistakes” to become a part of the work. For me these images are of more interest than anything perfectly executed. The construction/destruction dichotomy is that pulling apart and putting back together.
You reference how the musical genre of Punk has inspired you to create your work, could you expand on this? Are there any artists or tracks in particular that are more significant than others, or is it the general attitude of the genre that you draw from?
It’s more of an attitude. Initially, it’s a DIY, can-do approach where you just get on with it regardless of whether anyone likes it or even cares. Also, it’s a reaction to anything over-blown. For punk music it was a counterpoint to the self-indulgent guitar solos and the out of touch rock stars of the time. I guess a punk photography is keeping it simple. Musically I love bands like Shellac who have a stripped-down approach. I saw them live just before lockdown and I loved the way they began packing up their instruments right after the last song as if the show was no big deal and they had a train to catch.
How do you relate to glue?
Yes, very sticky. I always get some on my fingers and end up making a mess.
You also work with art start-up IMA Studios. Could you tell us a bit about this company and what their philosophy is?
IMAStudio offer career development support for artists. Making work is only one part of being an artist or creative individual. Our mission is to help artists to become self-sustainable which we do through a programme of workshops and one-to-ones that address the artist’s life in a more holistic manner, looking at mind, body and working life.
Thank you for taking your time to speak with us. What have you got planned for the future? Do you have anything you would like to tell our audience about?
I’m part of a small group exhibition at the Babylon Gallery coming up in May. I’ll be showing 31 new works from a commissioned series inspired by a weather diary from 1963. After that, hopefully, it will a summer of getting out and about.