“Hey that’s my toilet! What are you doing?”
Edson Chagas, the photographer whose work “Found, Not Taken” won the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale last year has had some startled responses while he works. Not least when he borrowed a discarded toilet for a photograph.
“I don’t have any great statement to make, but I am interested in posing questions about how we relate to the city.”
He invites us to draw our own conclusions from his perception-altering photographs of found objects placed in new contexts.
A concrete block with a lop-sided smile is placed against a wall over the exact spot where there is a stain of the same colour. It’s not far away, maybe 10m, but it’s heavy to move.
A few minutes earlier I was helping Edson drag a metal window grill a little way to its perfect spot before Edson started taking photographs of it.
A black bedstead is framed by the door of a long-closed shop. It’s name, translates as “Butcher of the People” and emblazoned proudly above the door, raises a smile from Edson.
It sounds simple and like all great work, it seems obvious in retrospect. But, having been out with Chagas on the streets of Luanda as he practices his art, it’s clear I’m in the presence of a true master of form and colour.
When you see Chagas’s photographs there can be no doubt they are art because, not just beautiful, they transform the way we perceive the world.
The subjects are the ordinary detritus of modern urban life: a broken office chair, a deflated football, a solitary trainer. But there is a profound calm in the images, a sense that beauty can be found anywhere, if you know how to see it.
“I guess I am tranquil, introspective” Chagas says.
It feels as though the photographs are a product of a psychological process of putting things in order.
“I appropriate things, just for a moment.”
In doing so it seems that he has placed the object where it belongs, restoring a kind of natural but hidden order of discarded objects.
For the most part, Chagas’s photographs could have been taken in any town or city. In fact, he got the idea in London and continued it while studying in Newport, before bringing it to his native Angola.
When you see his pictures it seems ridiculous to label them “African art”.
“It’s just art,” says Edson
I was lucky enough to get to make a four part series of films about contemporary artists in four African countries. The idea was to find and show the work and practice of a selection of rising stars of contemporary art in places not reknowed for their art scenes.
African Masters: Rising Stars will be broadcast on The Africa Channel (Sky 209/Virgin 828) from 9pm on February 25th.