The Life and Death of Schrödinger’s Cat, 5 minutes
The Life and Death of Schrödinger’s Cat, from the series What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase, 2019 25 min film, with four channel sound.
On the 4 - 26 February 2022 MOCA London was projecting the film onto the front window, to be viewed from outside. This was followed by screening and lecture at Goldsmiths University of London on the 4 May.
What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase is a multifaceted body of work developed from a collaboration with Grain Projects and HM Prison Birmingham (the largest, category B prison in the Midlands, UK), its inmates, their families as well as a myriad of other local organisations and individuals. Using the social context of incarceration as a starting point, Martins explores the philosophical concept of absence, and addresses a broader consideration of the status of the photograph when questions of visibility, ethics, aesthetics and documentation intersect.
By productively articulating image and text, new and historical photography, evidence and fiction, Martins’ work proposes to scrutinise how one deals with the absence of a loved one, brought on by enforced separation. From an ontological perspective it seeks answers to the following questions: how does one represent a subject that eludes visualisation, that is absent or hidden from view? How can documentary photography, in an era of fake news, best acknowledge the imaginative and fictional dimension of our relation to photographs?
By giving a voice to inmates and their families and addressing prison as a set of social relations rather than a mere physical space, Martins’ work proposes to rethink and counter the sort of imagery normally associated with incarceration.
The project thus wilfully circumvents images whose sole purpose, Martins argues, is to confirm the already held opinions within dominant ideology about crime & punishment: violence, drugs, criminality, race – an approach that only serves to reinforce the act of photographing and photography itself as apotropaic devices.
“The film element of this project, titled The Life and Death of Schrödinger’s Cat, deploys a succession of photographs, strongly reminiscent of scientific illustration and documentation, and that remarkable 1977 photobook by Larry Sultan and Mike Mandel, Evidence, in which their appropriations use an older, outdated mode of photography to show a testing of truth and certainty in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam. All fail to illustrate and communicate and become instead science fiction, beautiful enigmas. Martins sourced his photographs from the archives of CERN, the European Space Agency and an archive he has built up from images in defunct newspapers. They typify a dated scientific aesthetic, testimony to a faith and fascination in the value and virtue of technology. The photographs show tests, experiments, very often with materials, images about vision, about looking and a lot of pointing, deictic gestures that do not give us clarity, but underscore the shortfall between what is being presented to us in the picture and what sense we are supposed to take from it.
The difference with Evidence is we do not encounter just pictures. Martins’ photographs are sequenced to accompany an elaborate fiction (a script produced in collaboration with the renowned Portuguese physicist and CERN scientist João Seixas), an absurdist story of a prison that is built to create the maximum absence of its inmates from society. The prison is an experimental facility set-up in the Midlands in the 1950s to explore the feasibility of two different incarceration models, Cryoguard and QSafe. Cryoguard involves having fully automated penitentiary systems managed by autonomous robots and with prisoners undergoing cryopreservation, so sentences can last centuries. QSafe involves confining dangerous prisoners in an unknown remote location, with only two judges having keys that give them access to the quantum encrypted information as to where the prisoners are. In relation to this fiction, we should bear in mind Foucault’s Discipline and Punish— its powerful opening pages, which set up the opposition between the public spectacle of the brutal execution of a regicide in mid eighteenth-century France and the rules for the “House of young prisoners in Paris”, eighty years later; an account of torture and a time-table, in order to show how punishment became the most hidden part of the penal process. In many ways Martins’ ‘documentary-fiction’ about the disappearance of prison and prisoners might be seen as an extension of this shift towards invisibility in the penal system.” (Excerpt from Against Documentary by Mark Durden, in What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase, The Moth House, 2019)
This project marks a significant transition in Martins’ creative trajectory, signalling a growing inclination towards a broader, more hybrid and interdisciplinary perspective of images.
Biography: EDGAR MARTINS was born in Évora (Portugal) but grew up in Macau (China), where he published his first novel entitled “Mãe deixa-me fazer o pino”. In 1996 he moved to the UK, where he completed a BA in Photography and Social Sciences at the University of the Arts, as well as an MA in Photography Fine Art at the Royal College of Art (London). His work is represented internationally in several high-profile collections, such as those of the V&A (London), the National Media Museum (Bradford, UK), RIBA (London), the Dallas Museum of Art (USA); Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian/Modern Art Centre (Lisbon), Fundação EDP (Lisbon), Fondation Carmignac (Paris), MAST (Italy), amongst others.
His first book—Black Holes & Other Inconsistencies—was awarded the Thames & Hudson and RCA Society Book Art Prize. A selection of images from this book was also awarded The Jerwood Photography Award in 2003.
Between 2002 and 2021 Martins published 15 separate monographs, which were also received with critical acclaim. These works were exhibited internationally at institutions such as PS1 MoMA (New York), MOPA (San Diego, USA), MACRO (Rome), Laumeier Sculpture Park (St. Louis, USA), Centro Cultural de Belém (Lisbon), Centro de Arte Moderna de Bragança (Bragança, Portugal), Centro International de Arte José de Guimarães (Guimarães, Portugal), Museu do Oriente (Lisbon), Centro de Arte Moderna (Lisbon), MAAT (Lisbon), CIAJG (Guimarães, Portugal), Centro Cultural Hélio Oiticica (Rio de Janeiro), The New Art Gallery Walsall (Walsall, UK), PM Gallery & House (London), The Gallery of Photography (Dublin), Ffotogallery (Penarth, Wales),The Wolverhampton Art Gallery & Museum (UK), Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool), Leicester New Walk Museum, The Herebert Museum & Art Gallery, the Geneva Photography Centre, among many others. In 2010 the Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian (Paris) hosted Edgar Martins’ first retrospective exhibition. Edgar Martins was the recipient of the inaugural New York Photography Award (Fine Art category, May 2008), the BES Photo Prize (Portugal, 2009), the SONY World Photography Award (Landscape category, 2009; Still-Life Cateogry, 2018; Architecture Category, 2018), 1st prize in the Fine Art— Abstract category of the 2010 International Photography Awards, 1st prize in the Hangar Centre’s European Photography Call 2020 and nominated for the Prix Pictet 2009 and the Meitar Award for Excellence in Photography in 2020 & 2021.
Edgar Martins' What Photography & Incarceration have in Common with an Empty Vase was shortlisted for the Paris Photo & Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards as well as PhotoEspaña Book Awards in 2020. He was selected to represent Macau (China) at the 54th Venice Biennale.
Archive photograph courtesy of: Edgar Martins, The Moth House, CERN, ESA, The Sun papers (USA), ACME (USA), N.E.A (USA), Life Magazine
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