My wife and I attended the Massey University Thomas Ruff lecture this evening. This was the third Peter Turner Memorial Lecture, an annual event, and the best speaker so far. They certainly landed a big fish this time. Personally I prefer to hear from photographers rather than academics, who tend to be a long way behind what practising photographers are actually doing in most cases.
Understandably with a guest of Ruff’s standing, the theatre was ‘fully booked’, presumably based on rsvp responses received by Massey staff. Except, of course, not everyone who rsvps actually fronts, so while the theatre remained far from full, a bunch of people had to watch the live feed from elsewhere in the building, a place called the Tea Garden. That actually sounds a rather more pleasant place than the lecture theatre. And perhaps they could hear better too.
Last year’s Peter Turner lecture was barely audible. I had to sit with my hand cupped behind my ear. This year it was audible, just. Someone has to make sure that the lecturer can be heard properly. They also need to ensure that the lecturer is au fait with the slide projection system. We experienced a Powerpoint display in Edit mode, with the actual images occupying about a third of the screen while the menu of slides remained visible along with all the software menus and buttons. This was a constant distraction.
That’s three minor quibbles. I would’ve thought Massey University would have enough experience at hosting public lectures by now for these problems to be avoided.
Enough moaning. What about the lecture itself? Well, Thomas Ruff is not a natural public speaker but I thought that worked in his favour. He was interesting, thoughtful, intelligent and displayed a dry sense of humour. And his work is fascinating.
Originally making an impression on the world of contemporary art with his giant passport photos (well, they look like passport photos), he has moved through a number of photographic themes, all with a consistently challenging approach. He was among the first photographers to show work he did not originate (that is, he did not photograph the subjects from life, he instead sourced the images elsewhere). Had I plucked up the courage to ask a question, I would want to know what the critics’ reactions to this were at the time.
What he went on to say about origination and the exhibition print as the artefact of authorship regardless of the origin of the image was fascinating. It was the central point of the lecture and the key to Ruff’s later work.
Most people were cognisant of the fact that the period immediately after the body of the lecture is called Question Time and not Statement Time. One of my pet hates is people who get up and think that they’re more interesting than the speaker, making a drawn out statement that’s imposible to answer because they have not posed an actual question. Tonight that didn’t happen, mostly. Ruff responded thoughtfully to good questions and comments that referred to key points of the lecture, expanding on difficult-to-couch themes and ideas.
[Later note: I recall one rather long 'question' about the relevance of showing photographs in galleries as opposed to through new media outlets, to which Thomas Ruff conciselyand thoughtfully replied, "Yes, but in the end it comes down to the print." (Paraphrased, sorry - this was a few years ago.)]
Massey, if I was a bit hard on you about the logistics of the lecture, you did a great job with the food afterwards. Tea, coffee, orange juice. Good. It’s amazing how quickly people disperse if there’s no free booze though. Sad, eh. I didn’t see Thomas Ruff out there afterwards. Was he whisked away to the Tea Garden?
Ruff has already spoken in Auckland and is speaking in Christchurch on 3rd April. Details below. He is also holidaying in this country for a month with his family. We wish them all the best.
I look forward to next year’s Peter Turner Memorial Lecture, if I’m still on the invite list.
24 March 2010, 6pm, AUT, City Campus, Lecture Theatre WE 230
31 March 2010, Massey-University, Old Museum Building, Peter Turner Memorial Lecture, Lecture Theatre 10A02 (by booking)
03 April 2010, 3pm, Christchurch Art Gallery
The Big Idea link to article: http://www.thebigidea.co.nz/connect/events/2010/mar/66647-german-photographer-thomas-ruff-in-new-zealand
Goethe Institut: http://www.goethe.de/ins/nz/wel/deindex.htm
Filed under: Uncategorized by james | 1 April, 2010