Diffusion Festival in Cardiff, review of part of symposium – of history and culture bombs and strudes

On Friday 3rd May I attended the Diffusion Symposium in Cardiff. Diffusion Festival is:

A month long festival of exhibitions, discussions, screenings, performances, events and celebrations in both physical and virtual spaces and places.

I found the whole day fascinating for many reasons, which I will touch upon here. The first thing that hit me was the abundance of men attending – and it raised my awareness of how visual arts events are often attended by a majority of women. And I wonder, is there any research anywhere about this? I’d love to read it if anyone could point me to it. My immediate concern was that the symposium would be punctuated by questions about F-stops and aperture settings, phew, what a relief that it wasn’t! (Maybe that’s a slightly sexist remark, for which I am ok to apologise for and don’t wish to offend anyone).

The first speaker was Richard Wentworth “I don’t do the internet – the wiki about me is probably all wrong” – always a delight and never talking in a straight line – a bit like Eddie Izard with a visual arts bias. Wonderful. And quite a jolt really for a symposium that was about photography, as we would find out later. Indeed I feel that Richard’s narrative that he wove so eloquently at the start was the thread that bound the following speakers in a playful and lyrical way.

A few gems that Richard came up with:

Photography – a history bomb

Photography – sad, always in the past, a memory vessel

Photography – it is ambiguity in photography that makes it art

A baby = a culture bomb

A question: “Is the sky the last nature we have left?” (This is a great one in relation to Next Nature)

Daniel Blaufuks talked about his work, which was deeply concerned with photography as a process, possibly even a nostalgia and yearning for the photographic methods of the past bound up in using digital technology to conserve them, or to raise dialogue about them. His images are certainly memory vessels, which Richard had referred to. Daniel’s comment that stays in my mind is:

The role of photography is to think – not click

The reason it stuck is because it is the opposite of what Richard had said about the way he used photography. He basically clicks and explores them later, finding relationships. Neither right nor wrong, just an interesting rub for the mind.

Next up was Trine Sondergaard, a Danish photographer. The opening images were form her “How to Hunt’ collection, huge, sublime images of hunters, seductive and mesmerising. But my favourites were asset of images entitled ‘Strude’. A set of close up portraits of women and girls wearing a traditional costume from an island:

I’m interested in what lies beyond the direct gaze, in what happens when we can’t look people in the eye.  My focus is the introversion and mental space that lies beyond the image.  And time or duration in the coexistence of different times in consciousness. In Strude this is reflected in the inclusion of different elements of the past and the present, but also in the duration of the gaze itself – the mechanisms of reading or decoding the image. Especially in a contemporary Western context, where the controlling power of surveillance and scrutiny are highly present in the polemics of burqa debates and mask bans.

Here the covered faces and tightly buttoned dresses in Strude are highly resonant. The ‘strude’ clearly delineates what is hidden and raises the question of what is exposed in the image. What is said and unsaid. Just as the codes of the dresses remain an island secret for the uninitiated, I wanted to explore what happens when the meeting between the gaze of the subject and the viewer is deflected and denied. (See website for more)

Trine’s work certainly fits Richard’s comment about ambiguity well.


Then Gideon Koppel, a photographer that makes films. Which is, in my mind, entirely acceptable, as they are so closely related. I saw his film later, showing at Chapter, well worth seeing. It is a linear portrait of a place, Borth, a row of houses built with their backs to the sea. Desolate and abandoned during the winter months, the camera pans along the row, slightly slower than walking pace. I made a list of things I saw in the film:

  • A TV arial that looked like a fish skeleton
  • Flapping rubbish that looks like a lame seagull
  • Very little life
  • Rarely do people appear
  • Glimpses of cars appeared between the houses, on the other side (they faced the road, not the sea)
  • Empty hammocks, ragged
  • A picture of a chicken in a shed window
  • Dereliction
  • Emptiness
  • Occasionally a voice was heard, but mostly the roar of the sea
  • Lack of colour, sometimes a flash of red, startling

The video player wasn’t working but you can see more about Gideon in an interview.

I’m only reflecting on the photographers from the morning session here. There is a lot to see in Cardiff at present and I highly recommend you try and get there to enjoy the Diffusion Festival across the city. Don’t miss The Brothers by Elin Hoyland in the Norwegian Church in Cardiff Bay. Or the Time Machine by Edgar Martins at Ffotogallery.

Just go!!!!

Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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