Thursday, 12 June 2014

Yann Mingard: Not the Hot Book


picture by Yann Mingard

Well, the blog's shutting down for the summer but I'll have some reading to do. Last week I got Yann Mingard's Deposit, a book that accompanies this exhibition at Fotomuseum Winterthur. It's not a hot book, but it's a great book, a slow book, a fascinating book.

It's a book that shows the scientific obsession with collecting, with classifying both digital and biological data (human data such as DNA, plant data in the form of seed banks), a book that comes with a glossary, appendices and essays. And because there is a very dark and critical edge to the book, there's a sense that Mingard is using these strategies in a critical manner; so it's Fontcuberta (sorry, everything is Fontcuberta at the moment - he's that good) but with a more committed edge.

Mingard photographs seed banks and depositories, swathing them in a sea of darkness. The future is not so bright. He photographs the meristem (me neither!)  of a banana seedlings at the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, its tip moist and alien, with a piercing needle pushing out through the glutinous flesh; never has a banana looked so sinister.

Everything is sinister. It's not a happy book. And it's not really a picture book or a hot book. But it's a fascinating book that uses photography and text together in a way that seems to be very different. The bulk of it is taken up with a glossary that begins with Anthropocentrism and continues with Apocalypse. Meristem (the tip of the banana) is in the glossary and so is Military Industrial Complex, the Culture of Narcissism, Patent and Stem Cell.

But somehow the pictures lead us into the text and the text leads us into the pictures. It's Mandel and Sultan's Evidence with a context. And it's a huge context, a weighty context that uses photography as a piercing, critical tool - a tool backed up with ideas. In essays at the back, Mingard's images are linked to the idea the limit idea of biology has changed, that biology is not so much to do with what life is, but what life could be. And that's what Mingard photographs; places that, as well as storing life, '...actually generate forms of life and create bodies of their own.'

Which is not necessarily a good thing. Biology and the body is no longer regarded as an entity in its own right, it's become like technical data, something that can be manipulated and changed, something that can belong in a vault in a bunker and made homogeneous and controlled.

Happy days are here again.

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