Exploring ‘a new Europe’ at Brighton Photo Biennial

3/Uncertain Subjects Part II, a billboard performance, Uta K�gelsberger, 2018. Video still from performance at Art Night 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
3/Uncertain Subjects Part II, a billboard performance, Uta K�gelsberger, 2018. Video still from performance at Art Night 2018. Courtesy of the artist.

The eighth edition of Brighton Photo Biennial – which opens today (Friday) across Brighton and Hove – brings a month of free photography exhibitions and events to the city.

Across eight venues, the festival will present 18 artists of many different ages and backgrounds. The theme for this edition is A New Europe. On the eve of Britain’s departure from the EU, we want to examine how the UK is redefining its relationship with Europe, and the role of photography in constructing national identity.

Shoair Mavlian is director of Photoworks and curator of Brighton Photo Biennial

Shoair Mavlian is director of Photoworks and curator of Brighton Photo Biennial

The artists in our programme reflect on the flux and uncertainty that comes with the UK’s current situation, as well as our shared future with Europe. One of the exhibitions – the Cross Channel Photographic Mission at the University of Brighton’s Grand Parade gallery – goes right back to the moment when Britain was physically connected to the Continent for the first time since the Ice Age with the construction of the Channel Tunnel. In this exhibition we show the work that was made on the French side of the Channel in the late 1980s and early 1990s, taking a look back at this monumental construction which changed Britain’s relationship to the continent. It is a rare chance to see this archival work too.

The festival has plenty to offer everyone – whether they are dyed-in-the-wool photography enthusiasts or casual visitors. All exhibitions – and almost all the events – are free and open most days of the week.

Some of the work is presented outside, like Uta Kögelsberger’s Uncertain Subjects: Part II which displays portraits of UK residents on the side of a shipping container in Jubilee Square, so you can drop in and see work on your way through town. Once a week, the portraits will be changed and passers-by can watch as one face changes slowly into another.

Photoworks, the organisation behind the festival, always likes using unusual locations – so you might find photography where you least expect it. Shoppers can come across Syrian-born artist Hrair Sarkissian’s powerful Homesick installation at 23 Dukes Lane, where he builds and destroys a model of his parents’ apartment building in Damascus. Or they might be enticed into a disused tattoo shop on Sydney Street to see Robin Maddock’s weird and wonderful collection of images about English society, Nothing We Can’t Fix By Running Away. Unsuspecting library visitors will be treated to Heather Agyepong’s Habitus: Potential Realities, a series of self-portraits of the artist as the symbolic figure of Britannia taken on Brighton seafront.

Heather Agyepong, Erasure (B), from the series Habitus: Potential Realities, 2018

Heather Agyepong, Erasure (B), from the series Habitus: Potential Realities, 2018

For Brighton Photo Biennial 2018, we demonstrate our commitment to supporting artists who are in the early stages of their career. We are proud that the festival gives some artists their first solo exhibition in the UK. Many of the artists in the Biennial are under 35 and we present a range of different perspectives and voices.

There’s plenty on offer for children and families during the festival: from Cyanotype workshops, which explore this alternative image making technique, to photography walks and drop-in sessions. Young people (aged 13-16) attending our Photography Club even have their own Biennial exhibition at the University of Brighton’s Grand Parade gallery.

Every festival needs a fringe. So don’t forget that as well as Brighton Photo Biennial there is a further range of brilliant exhibitions taking place across the city curated by our friends at Brighton Photo Fringe. As Brighton goes photo mad, we hope to attract many local people as well as visitors from out of town with our shows and events and look forward to meeting you there. Brighton Photo Biennial runs from September 28 to October 28. To find out more, visit: www.photoworks.org.uk

Shoair Mavlian is director of Photoworks and curator of Brighton Photo Biennial.