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Joan Fontcuberta

Googlerama: L’Origine du monde (Googlerama: Origin of the World), 2007

Photograph | C-Print
180 x 227 cm
JF.0003-

In his ongoing exploration of the boundary between reality and fiction and the concept of appropriation, in the Googlegrams series which he began in 2005,  Joan Fontcuberta has recently introduced a new variant of reflection into his work: the Internet utopia as a universal, exhaustive, democratic encyclopaedia. In just a few years, the Google search engine became a kind of certifier of reality: nowadays, if it isn’t on Google, it might as well not exist. Fontcuberta makes use of the same search engine technology, available to everyone (a freeware programme), to produce a series of iconic images composed of thousands of small photographs downloaded from Google itself and found with a few search terms related in one way or another to the picture he wants to recreate. The resulting photomosaic takes advantage of trompe-l’oeil, with its long tradition in the history of art, to achieve its effect on the viewer’s perception. The project turns its critical gaze on a range of topics that frequently appear in the media – with special attention to the Iraq War and its consequences, for example – but has also ironically remade outstanding images from art history, such as Leonardo’s The Last Supper, pieced together out of the names of famous chefs.

This subsection includes the Googlegram The Origin of the World, which recreates the most shockingly explicit nude in nineteenth-century art, painted by Gustave Courbet in 1866 for the Ottoman-Egyptian diplomat Khalil Bey (1831-1879), who put together a short-lived but intense collection of pictures of the female body, under the guidance of the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. (Khalil Bey, who gambled away much of his fortune, also briefly owned Ingres’s The Turkish Bath.) In the course of the twentieth century, The Origin of the World, furtively famous for its sexual and technical audacity, passed between private owners, who hid it away from the eyes of the public, until in 1995, after belonging to the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, it wound up in the Musée d’Orsay, where it is currently on regular unrestricted view. It is evident, though, that the choice of this image is far from innocent, given its highly emblematic character. Fontcuberta is of course aware that reproduction of this Courbet painting on the Internet, as a symbol of the age-old problem of distinguishing art from pornography still sparks controversy and raises issues of censorship and the role of the viewer. The irony so characteristic of Fontcuberta’s work is also present in the choice of keywords for the search of 10,000 images on Google to produce this work. Here Fontcuberta has played with the possible meanings of the title of The Origin of the World, which refers to female genitalia, by selecting words and phrases related to astrophysics for the search criteria: ‘Big Bang’, ‘Black Hole’ and ‘Dark Matter’. Closer inspection of the details of the work also reveals the arbitrary nature of the Google search results, since the range of little images is very diverse, and many of them are only remotely connected to the keywords. Fontcuberta is effectively exposing an illusion, not only in what the viewer perceives but also in the representation of the world on the networks.

Montse Frisach


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