“The porous nature of memory”: OpenWalls Arles 2021 offers a captivating look at themes of Then & Now

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1854 and BJP reveal the two bodies of work, 50 single images and one moving image selected for this year’s award, due to go on show at Galerie Huit Arles between 4 July – 26 September.

From 1854 and BJP, OpenWalls Arles is an international photography award created in collaboration with Galerie Huit Arles. The 2021 edition was an open-call for photographers around the world to respond to the theme Then & Now, compounding two bodies of work, 56 single images and one moving image that ruminate on the changes that time brings, and the lessons to be learned from history — personal, political or otherwise. 

From growing up gay in Brazil to the duality of religious sensibility in Nigeria, UFO sightings in Finland to the barbed wire border between Mexico and the USA, the curation – selected by a panel of leading industry figures – will be on show at Galerie Huit Arles between 4 July – 26 September, coinciding with Les Rencontres D’Arles 2021.

Winners – Series 

In their own innovative ways, winning series from Maria Lax and Diane Meyer look at the lingering traces of national history in personal consciousness. 

Lax’s Some Kind of Heavenly Fire was born when she uncovered her grandfather’s chronicling of a series of UFO sightings in her native Finnish neighbourhood in the 1960s — a time of great socio-economic strife for Northern Finland. “It wasn’t until I read my grandfather’s book that I learned of the incredible stories of supernatural events, bravery and struggle against hardship in what is largely a barren land,” she remarks. The resulting project – a delicate and dynamic amalgamation of photography, family archive and newspaper cuttings – explores how the supernatural anomalies became a conduit for the anxieties of the era.

Meanwhile, Meyer’s delicate artworks in Berlin combine photography and cross-stitching to trace the physical and psychic legacy of the Berlin Wall. The embroidery is made to resemble pixels, and, in some of the images, mirrors the scale and location of the former wall. I am interested in the porous nature of memory as well as the means by which photography transforms history into nostalgic objects that obscure objective understandings of the past,” says Meyer. “By visually referencing pixels, a connection is being made between forgetting and file corruption.”

© Maria Lax, Open Walls Arles 2021 Series Winner.
© Diane Meyer, OpenWalls Arles 2021 Series Winner.

Winners – Single Images 

Amongst the Single Image winners for this year’s award are meditations on conflict, memory, loss, heritage, and beyond. Ruben Salgado shows a young man as he helps his blind brother swim on the shores of Elmina, Ghana; the first European settlement in West Africa and a major stop on the trans-Atlantic slave route. Ornella Mazzola captures the intimacy and hidden language between women of different generations in her Sicilian family, while Ada Trillo photographs the border built from barbed panels between the United States and Mexico. 

© Ruben Salgado , Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.

The full list of Single Image winners includes:

Ada Trillo

Amiee O’Mahony

Alessando Puccinelli

Alessandro Durini

Alexandra Lapina

Aria Shahrokhshahi

Bartu Kaan

Carla Liesching

Christopher Iduma

Clair Robins

Claudio Ahlers

Daro Sulakauri

Elena Kollatou and Leonidas Toumpanos

Francesca Cirilli

Frederic Aranda

Giovanni Del Brenna

Güzin Mut

Hossein Farinfard

Irene Antonia Diane Reece

Judith Bach

Julia Keil

Kristin Schnell

Lisa Winner

Marivan Martins

Luke Johnson

Marta Navarro-Cabane

Mia Battimell

Michael Joseph

Michaela Nagyidaiová

Miro Kuzmanovic

Nadja Ellinger

Orlando Gili

Ornella Mazzola

Oskar Alvarado

Ruben Salgado

Sarah Douglas

Susan Richman

Tales Yuan

Tanya Sharapova

Thomas Whitworth

Tom Atwood

Tria Giovan

William Mark Sommer

Yasmine Hatimi

Yushi Li

© Cecilia Sordi Campos.

Winner – Moving Image

Samba de Lamento is a film by Cecilia Sordi Campos and sits within her broader project, Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba. Made as a means for the artist to understand the parallels between her migration from Brazil to Australia and her separation from her partner of ten years, the film explores the layers that constitute Campos’s hybrid identity.

OpenWalls Arles 2021 will be on show at Galerie Huit Arles between 4 July – 26 September.

© Michaela Nagyidaiová ,Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Nadja Ellinger , Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Irene Antonia Diane Reece , Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Luke Johnson, Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Elena Kollatou and Leonidas Toumpanos , Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Michael Joseph, Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.
© Alessandro Durini, Open Walls Arles 2021 Single Image Winner.