For one weekend only, Wandering Bears asked gallery visitors to recreate compositions by some of the most exciting talents working today, and the results are incontestably joyful
If you happened to wander into The Photographers’ Gallery a couple of weekends ago you will have found it impossible to avoid the hub of activity that was taking place inside. Upon entering the gallery’s studio space, visitors were to be seen balancing on top of one another in primary coloured clothing, wrapping themselves in string and foam, and taking pictures of one another contorting themselves into awkward positions. All of these chaotic activities were part of Inside Out Upside Down, the latest immersive exhibition by the artist collective Wandering Bears.
“The most important aspect of the brief we were given was to create a situation where the public had to dive right in, and physically interact with photography itself,” Luke Norman, Nik Adam and Peter Haynes, the trio behind the collective, explain. The event was curated as part of the gallery’s ongoing Open Door programme, which invites young and emerging individuals, collectives and organisations to take up residence within its space. Visitors to the exhibition were invited to reinterpret and recreate the work of 14 individual artists, including Beni Bischof, Hanna Putz and Matthieu Lavanchy, using makeshift props and tools that had been placed within the space.
“At the most basic level, we hoped the exhibition would offer the audience the opportunity to engage with a type of photography they might not have tried before. Someone whose main interest in photography lies in portraiture might have given an Erin O’Keefe picture a shot and walked away with a new perspective on still life,” they continue. To recreate a glowing red portrait by Matilda Hill-Jenkins, a pitch black booth was erected with a powerful red bicycle light hung inside. To make your own version of a Lorenzo Vitturi sculpture, a bucket of fruit was supplied. And Romain Mader’s signature picture of the artist himself photo-bombing a portrait of a bride in an Alpine landscape was re-printed without the artist, inviting the audience to take his place to complete the image.
“Funnily enough, people responded particularly positively to the Luke Norman and Nik Adam image of one person climbing on top of another. It broke the ice and introduced people to what was in store,” say the trio. “For the artists who were there, it was really empowering and inspiring to see people forming their own iterations of the original images.” Participants were given their own sticker books to complete by printing out the images they had produced and placing them beside the original artists’ image.
Since the collective formed in 2010, Wandering Bears has been on a mission to inject fun and accessibility into both creating and consuming images. Rallying against the traditional context of the gallery setting – “there are enough white wall shows out there” – they seek to draw photography out of the confines of the frame and to transform it into something experiential.
“We only need to reflect on some of our biggest photographic inspirations – Fischli & Weiss, Jason Evans, Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs – to show that an element of humour is very important to us,” say the trio. “Photography has a huge scope for fun while still being critically engaging, so why not indulge in that? The idea of playfulness seems to be an ever-growing element of contemporary photography and that is perhaps a response to society’s current relationship with the medium. There’s no doubt that we consume significantly more images and interact with photography on a daily basis infinitely more than we did ten years ago. Given that it is such an integrated reflex of our daily routine to document and consume imagery, it’s no wonder that people are seeking new ways to interact with the medium.”
For more information on The Photographers' Gallery's Open Door programme, visit the website.