The bit that blew me away was the fact that the enormous prints which hung on the walls of Lincoln’s Usher Gallery could never be repeated. Copied, yes. First editions, yes. Repeated? Never again. The vivid prints that hung there, frozen in time as it were, were one of a kind and were not only of their time but of the millisecond they were created when Joan Fontcuberta entered his requirements into his computer and waited for Google’s mosiac software to assemble his artistic vision.
His requirements, the words he needed. That was the clever bit. Really. Astonishing. To assemble the thousands of photographic ‘pixels’ needed to replicate the images he wanted to replicate Fontcuberta chose to make a sum of parts. Blair, Bush and Jose Maria Aznar were ‘built’ from the findings of Google searching for images of the Three Amigos, The Three Little Pigs, menage a trois and so on. It was only when you stepped in close to the Medusa Head print (search criteria: the circle of life, death and renaissance, the forces of nature) from did you see why the exhibition had been given an 18 certificate … hard core porn stills made up a large proportion of the paler sections of the classical mosaic. The romans would have approved!
Since I first heard the word in a GCSE English lesson I have wanted to describe something as a palimpsest and finally, with this exhibition I have found it. Fontcuberta takes extremely powerful images – the train tracks leading to Auschwitz, the moment of devastating impact on 9/11, a hooded prisoner photographed at Abu Ghraib – and with his Googlegrams challenges his audience to look behind what is initially on display and to examine the layers and layers of meanings and thoughts and emotions which led to the very existence of those images. It’s almost as if he has Googled his chosen iconic photographs to unearth their stories for us, a photojournalistic assignment presented in one condensed print.