Making Do and Getting By


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Artist and photographer Richard Wentworth registers chance encounters of oddities and discrepancies in the modern landscape. Renowned mostly for his readymade sculptures but also known for his photographic series, namely Making Do and Getting By, Wentworth is inclined to explore the nuances of modern life and the human role therein.

Mundane snapshots and fragments of the modern landscape are elevated to an analysis of human resourcefulness and improvisation, whereby amusing oddities that would otherwise go by unnoticed become the subject of intent contemplation. 

Wentworth captures pictures of improvisation, where objects are removed of their original context, stripped of their ordinary function and yet often rendered functional in an altogether new and unexpected way. A car door serves to mend a wire fence. Wooden crates, wedged into a doorway, exert the function of a door. 

There occurs a rupture between object and function, which allows a subsequent rupture between function and meaning. Meaning is no longer hinged on the commonplace and uniform functionality of the mass produced object, but rather augmented by the unfamiliar and, thus, noteworthy new function with which the object is instilled. Wentworth’s photographs bear witness to instantaneous transformations, wherein everything is celebrated for its conversion into something else.

Such encounters with incoherencies in the modern landscape, resulting mostly from the mutation of function, are injected with an inherently human vigour, despite the blatant absence of the human figure. It may even be argued that the centralised objects stand in for the metaphysical human presence they symbolise, precisely by occupying the central foreground, which, in popular amateur photography, is generally inhabited by the human figure.

His subject matter deals primarily with a vision of a deliberately altered modern space of which, in Wentworth’s own words, “the chief components are humans who simply don’t conform to the rules”. It signals a sort of victory over the mass-produced, materialistic modern world, for it is both due to and in spite of the absent human figure, that its unique metaphysical presence becomes manifest.

Just as Wentworth renders the familiar unfamiliar, he converts ordinary situations into insightful remarks on seemingly mundane but rather extraordinary human experiences of modern life.