2018 Deutsche Börse Prize exhibition

The thing that struck me most about the 2018 Deutsche Börse Foundation Prize exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in London was the scarcity of nominee-created photographs. Two of the nominated works actually included no nominee-produced photographs at all. I took this as an indication that the separation between photography and other art forms/media has finally become as insignificant as the distinction between, say, drawing and sculpture – both of which were in fact present in the nominated works.

Mattieu Asselin’s nomininated work is his 2017 book Monsanto: A Photographic Investigation, published in French by Actes Sud and in English by Verlag Kettler. The book is a detailed record of Asselin’s investigations into Monsanto and a powerful telling of some of the negative impacts of the corporation’s activities. The exhibition also highlighted the recent bid by Bayer to acquire Monsanto, which if successful will create a company with a share of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Particularly poignant was the inclusion of three individually framed corn seeds, which brought home the fact that the real subject here is not politics or economics but the commodification and attempted monopolisation of nature’s own bounty.

Luke Willis Thompson’s silent 35mm movie film loop of Diamond Reynolds is described as a “sister-image” to Reynolds’s 2016 Facetime livestream video which aims to break with the image of her portrayed by the livestream and its violent context. Thompson’s film is a beautiful work and presents Reynolds as a powerful presence with great dignity, but my feeling on viewing the work was that Reynolds’s own video revealed all this and much more, including a exceptional degree of composure and resourcefulness in a situation of extraordinary pressure. The enormous Heath-Robinson-like contraption Thompson uses to project the film is a dominating presence in the room and acts as a metaphor for the weight of attention Reynolds received after her livestream, but I did not feel the installation overall achieved its stated aim of addressing “the agency of Reynolds’s recording within, outside of, and beyond the conditions of predetermined racial power structures”.

Batia Suter is nominated for her 2016 publication Parallel Encylopedia #2, an intuitively edited taxonomy of found images highlighting conscious and unconscious associations and resemblances between objects both natural and manmade. The overall effect is an assemblage of forms that has an attractive and nostalgic texture with a slightly surreal and dreamlike character. The large-scale reproductions displayed in the gallery were arranged in a slightly different manner than those in the book – more random in associations but more consistent in texture, it seemed to me. I felt it would sell well as wallpaper.

Rafal Milach’s multimedia installation Refusal includes video footage from a popular Soviet TV show with a strong propaganda message, pencil-drawn storyboarding of the 2010 helicopter crash in Russia which killed Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski, and photographs of geometric puzzle models used in a chess school to expand the mind. The unifying theme of these disparate elements is hard to decipher, and what comes over is a general impression of Soviet-era bleakness and lack of resources rather than the illustration of a tightly-run state propaganda machine as seems to be suggested by the introductory text.

My own vote for the prize goes to Mattieu Asselin, but I suspect that Batia Suter may actually win, for two reasons – one, her work represents the current vogue for recontextualising found images, and two, she is the only female nominee, which might be to her advantage in the present climate of a growing awareness of the extent of historical female disadvantage.

The Deutsche Börse Foundation Prize exhibition runs at the Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW until 3 June 2018.

Mattieu Asselin

Luke Willis Thompson

Batia Suter

Rafal Milach