Donigan Cumming

1947 - Né à Danville, Virginie, États-Unis. Depuis 1970, il vit et travaille à Montréal. / Born in Danville, Virginia, USA. Since 1970, he has lived and worked in Montreal.

(English follows)

Le travail de Donigan Cumming aborde les notions du corps, de la réalité et de la fiction, des tabous de la représentation et de l’engagement social. Dans sa pratique, Cumming utilise la photographie, la vidéo, la peinture, le dessin, le son et le texte dans des œuvres et installations multimédias. Son travail est reconnu internationalement pour ses représentations franches et compatis-santes de l’humanité et de ses membres oubliés. 

Donigan Cumming est titulaire d’une maîtrise en beaux-arts de l’Université Concordia. Ses oeu-vres furent largement exposées en Europe, en Asie et en Amérique du Nord. Parmi ses expositions individuelles mentionnons Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography (OK Harris et 49th Parallel, New York et Centre national de la Photographie, Paris, 1986), The Mirror, the Hammer and the Stage (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, 1990), Diverting the Image (Art Gallery of Windsor et CIAC, 1993), Pretty Ribbons (Les Rencontres internatio-nales de la photographie d’Arles, 1994), Moving Stills (Mois de la Photo à Montréal, 1999 et Interna-tional Film Festival Rotterdam, 2000) et Donigan Cumming: preuves nouvelles et choses trou-vées et Kincora 2010 (Cinémathèque québécoise, Montréal, 2010) et en 2011, Coming Through the Fog: Les rencontres de Donigan Cumming et Matthieu Brouillard (exposition en tournée et livre d’artiste).

Cumming a publié plusieurs livres d’artiste dont The Stage (Maquam Press, 1991), Lying Quiet (Musée d’art contemporain canadien,2004), Kincora (Maquam Press, 2008), et Crayons, cendres, allumettes et poussières (J’ai VU, 2009). Son travail a fait l’objet de plusieurs rétrospectives et de réflexions critiques. Il est récipiendaire de plusieurs prix et bourses, dont plus récemment le prestigieux prix Scotiabank Photography Award Finialist, en 2017 et Aima/AGA Photographiy Prize Long List, 2017. 

Ses œuvres font partie des collections d’institutions majeures au Québec, au Canada et à l’étranger, dont la Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France, le Musée canadien de la photographie contemporaine, Ottawa, Fonds national d’art contemporain (FNAC), Paris, France, Maison Européenne de la photographie, Paris, France, Musée d’art contemporain, Montréal,  Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec et le Musée des beaux-arts du Canada.

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Donigan Cumming deals with themes of the body, truth and fiction, taboos of represen tation, and social engagement. A multimedia artist, he uses photography, text, sound, video, drawing, painting, collage, and anima tion in artworks, installations, projections, and books. Cumming locates his artistic practice in a created community formed over many projects and sustained over decades.  These close working relationships have allowed him to explore the social and ethical implications of the observational image. His work consti tutes an ongoing analysis of the reality effects of documentary film and photography, and the realities of the subjects they depict and describe. Donigan Cumming’s practice is therefore marked by an interest in the threshold between the public “onstage” and the private “backstage”— the psycho-social performances of all the actors, including himself, as maker.

Cumming was born in Danville, Virginia, in 1947. In 1970 he came to Canada to resist the American War. He moved to Montréal, Québec, where he resumed his art practice. In 1978, he obtained a BSc from Florida State University(Tallahassee). In 1985, he completed a MFA at  Concordia University while working on the cycle of photographs and sound recordings that became Reality and Motive In Documentary Photography (1986).  This project was previewed in a number of solo and group exhibitions, notably at the NFB/ONF Photo Gallery/Galerie de l’image, Ottawa; The Photography Gallery (TPW), Toronto; Coburg Gallery, Vancouver; and Blue Sky Gallery, Portland, Oregon, sparking critical debate in leading art magazines, such as Parachute, Vanguard, Canadian Art, and C Magazine.

 

Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography was launched in its completed three-part form in solo exhibitions at OK Harris and 49th Parallel, New York, and the Centre national de la Photographie, Paris, both in 1986. Organized by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, the show toured in Europe, the United States, and Canada, with excerpts from Reality and Motive included in influential group exhibitions, such as Photography: Suggestions and Facts (Mandeville Gallery, La Jolla CA), Foto(con) teks (Perspektief Gallery, Rotterdam), and Culture Me dium(International Center of Photography, New York).

 

The next major projects were premiered in solo exhibitions:  The Mirror, the Hammer and the Stage (Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, 1990); Diverting the Image (Art Gallery of Windsor and CIAC - Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal, 1993); Pretty Ribbons (Les Rencontres internationales de la photographie d’Arles, 1994), Moving Stills (Mois de la Photo à Montréal, 1999, and International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2000), and Gimlet Eye (Chapter Arts Centre and Ffotogallery

Cardiff, 2001). Cumming’s work was featured in key, discourse-enlarging exhibitions, notably Real Stories: Revisions in Documentary and Narrative Photography from the Museet for Fotokunst, Odense, Denmark (1992); The Body / Le Corps (Kunsthalle, Bielefeld, Germany (1994) and Lutz Teutloff Modern Art, Köln, Germany (1994-5); The Dead, National Museum of Photography, Film, and Television, Bradford, England (1995); El cos, la llengua, les paraules, la pell: Artistes contemporains de Québec, Centre D’Art Santa Mònica de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain (1999); Le cadre, la scène, le site, Centro de la Imagen, Mexico, and Mexican tour, 2000-2002) Portraits intimes, Foto Instituut of Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2002); Immodest Gazes, Fondació la Caixa, Barcelona, Spain (2000); and World without End, Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia (2000). Cumming’s ground-breaking work from this period has featured in important museum exhibitions from their collections: Beau: a reflection on the nature of beauty in photography, Canadian Mu seum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa (1992); Une aventure contemporaine, la photographie 1955-1995, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France (1996); Bearing Witness: works from the collection, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver (2010); Auteur Photography in Québec: A Collection Takes Shape, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Montréal (2013); From Ferron to BGL: Contemporary Art in Québec, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Québec (2016) and Photography in Canada: 1960-2000, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (2017).

 

In 2005, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (now MOCA, Toronto) presented Moving Pictures, a major exhibition surveying a great variety of Cumming’s work. Curated by Peggy Gale, the exhibition premiered two monumental panels Prologue and Epilogue, a collage constructed from the artist’s photographic and video archives. This retrospective coincided with the publication, by Vidéographe, of a DVD collection titled Donigan Cumming: Controlled DisturbancePrologue and Epi logue were also featured in Donigan Cumming : La somme, le sommeil, le cauchemar, curated by Catherine Bédard for Le Mois de la Photo à Paris (Centre Culturel Canadien, Paris, 2006). A survey of Cumming’s work in multimedia, photography, and video was presented in the 2008 exhibition Ex Votos at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery (Halifax). As an artist-in-residence at Centre VU (Québec), Cumming produced Kincora, a vast suite of prints based on drawings of his photographs, which were exhibited at VU (2008) and Galerie Éric Devlin (Montréal, 2008). This transition also took form as a magazine work for the “Alive: Artist Pages” of BlackFlash (2008), a project for Cinematic Folds: The Furling and Unfurling of Images (Pleasure Dome, 2008), and as an outdoor multimedia installation for ATSA’s État d’urgence 09, Place Émilie-Gamelin Montréal, Canada (2009). Animation also flowed episodically into medium-length and short video work, starting with Pencils, Ashes, Matches & Dust (2009). Too Many Things (2010), combining observational documentary and animation, premiered at the Cinémathèque québécoise in a six-year survey of videos, Donigan Cumming : preuves nouvelles et choses trouvées, accompanied by an exhibition of associated prints and drawings, all emanating from his imagined community Kincora.

 

In 2011, Cumming and Matthieu Brouillard conceived a co-curated two-person exhibition to explore intersections between their works. This resulted in a touring show and an artists’ book: Coming Through the Fog: Les rencontres de Donigan Cumming et Matthieu Brouillard (Centre Sagamie éditions d’art, 2012). Cumming has also published several artist’s books, including The Stage (Maquam Press, 1991), Gimlet Eye (Chapter Arts Centre and Ffotogallery, 2001), Lying Quiet (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 2004),Kincora (Maquam Press, 2008), Pencils, Ashes, Matches & Dust (J’ai VU, 2009). An artists’ book, Kerr’s Suitcase (Maquam Press, 2015), and a video, Out of Kerr’s Suitcase(2016), evolved from an imagined colla boration between Cumming and David Kerr (1945-2007) and the exercise of remembering.

 

Cumming took up video in 1995, following the death of his collaborator and model Nettie Harris. A Prayer for Nettie, conceived and widely circulated as a photographic and multi-channel video monument, was edited into theatrical form and premiered at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma (Montréal) in 1996, winning the Telefilm Canada Video Prize for Best Canadian Discovery. His videos have since screened in Canada and internationally, both in theatrical and continuous projection. 

 

Cumming’s controversial work has been the subject of critical examinations and retrospectives, including programs at the Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley CA, 2002) and at Visions du Réel (Nyon, Switzerland, 2002), as well as several monographs: Splitting the Choir: The Moving Images of Donigan Cumming (Canadian Film Institute, Ottawa, 2011), Donigan Cumming: Monographie (Dazibao and Vu, Montréal and Québec, 2012); and Donigan Cumming: The Stage: Books on Books #19 (Errata Editions, New York, 2014). He has participated in insightful interviews for publication with Robert Enright, Jean Perret, Mike Hoolboom, and Philippe Gagan. In 2015, the Cinémathèque québécoise, in collaboration with Vidéographe, presented a two programs and a master class of Donigan Cumming’s works. The same year, his video Culture was included in the program A Photographer’s Eye: Photography and the Poetic Documentary (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal, 2015).

Numerous theoretical works and reference books address Cumming’s work, including Contemporary Photographers(St. James Press, 1996), The Photography Book (Phaidon, 1997), Art and Photography (Phaidon, 2003), Faking Death: Canadian Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003), Das Lexikon der Fotografen (Knaur, 2003), The Photobook: A History, Volume 2 (Phaidon, 2006), Scissors, Paper, Stone: Expressions of Memory in Contemporary Photographic Art (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007), Touching Surfaces: Photographic Aesthetics, Temporality, Aging (Brill Rodopi, 2008), 100 Video Artists/100 video artistas (EXIT Publicaciones, 2009), The Visual Arts in Canada: The Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2010), Une Collection. Maison européenne de la photographie (Actes Sud, 2015), and The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Photography (Thames & Hudson, 2015). Scholarly studies of his work include Scott Birdwise, “Life Support: The Documentary Means Without End of Donigan Cumming,” (Carleton University, 2010); Élène Tremblay, L’insistance du regard sur le corps éprouvé. Pathos et contre-pathos (Forum Edizioni, 2013); and Florence Le Blanc, "Les Épaves scintillantes": emplois autofictionnels de la photographie au sein du récit filmique,” (Université Laval, 2019). Cumming’s extended portrait of Nettie Harris, Pretty Ribbons, continues to attract scholarly and artistic attention, including Kathleen Woodward, “Performing Age, Performing Gender,” (2006), Vicky Hodgson, “Stereotypical Representations of Women and Ageing: A Review of Literature and Photographic Practice,” (2018),  and GraceGraceGrace, the three-person British artists’ collective, in their GraceGrace Grace explore gen-age (2019). 


Donigan Cumming’s photographic and video works have been acquired for the permanent collections of major institutions in Québec, Canada, and abroad, including: the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (Ottawa), the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (Paris), the Musée de L’Élysée (Lausanne), the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (Québec City), the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), as well as national museums in Belgium, Britain, Denmark, France, Switzerland, and the USA. 

 

Cumming’s work was initially supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, followed by project and visual arts grants from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Canada, Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Canada Council for the Arts, including a Long-Term Grant (2008–10). The Canadian Discoveries prize of 1996 was followed by the Telefilm Canada Prize for the Best Canadian Short or Medium-Length Film or Video (1998 – Erratic Angel); Barbara Aronofsky Latham Memorial Award, 11th Annual Dallas Video Festival (2002 – After Brenda); and The Best Québec Documentary, Québec Cinema Critics Award (2002 –My Dinner with Weegee). In 2008, his short video Monument was commissioned by Fundaçào Calouste Gulbenkian for a DVD collection, Tão Perto / Tão Longe [So Close / So Far; Si Proche / Si Loin], Lisbon. Highly productive residencies include VU, centre de diffusion et de production de la photographie (Québec) and PRIM – Recherche et Création Expérimentale (Montréal). In addition to artist’s talks and workshops, Cumming was a member of the visiting faculty at the École de Photographie de Vevey (CEPV) in Switzerland from 2011 to 2017. His work is represented by Galerie Michel Guimont (Québec), La Castiglione (Montréal), Vidéographe (Montréal), and Video Data Bank (Chicago). 

Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography Part 1

Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography Part 3

Pre-selection Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography Part 1

Les Pleureurs

Series of drawings of Albert, Geoff and Gerry

Detail from Harry's Diary, an extract from Pretty Ribbons 

0191_00305_Donigan Cumming