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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Donigan Cumming

Dates:  1947, 5 July -
Born:  US, VA, Danville
Active:  Global
Canadian artist, video artist and photographer. 
Artist statement: 
“I use 'laboratory’ as a word to provoke. It does evoke somebody in a white coat. In responding to art, people are encouraged to suspend their disbelief, to float and be comfortable. I would say the bait is the desire for revelation, or something along those lines, and then the switch comes when nothing happens. Nothing really happens except a kind of soft, narcissistic reconsidering. It's complacent, actually, and it reassures people. I don't want to make things like that. So 'laboratory’ is just a way of entering into that world. I don't want you to get out that easily. The door closes when you get in there and it should stay closed for a certain period of time. Then you're free to go.”
Donigan Cumming, in interview with Robert Enright, “Endgames: Donigan Cumming’s Subverted Narratives,” Border Crossings (May 2005)

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Donigan Cumming
Self portrait from "My Dinner with Weegee" 
Family history 
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Visual indexes

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Supplemental information

Donigan Cumming is an artist who uses photography, video, sound, and text in multi-media installations.
Selected solo exhibitions
2001 Gimlet Eye, Cardiff, Wales
2000 Moving Stills, Rotterdam
1999 Moving Stills, Montreal
1999 Barber's Music, Ottawa
1996 La Répétition, Lausanne
1995 Les Pleureurs, Paris
1994 Pretty Ribbons, Arles, France
1994 Harry's Diary, New York
1993 Diverting the Image, Windsor
1990 The Mirror, the Hammer and the Stage, Chicago
1986 Reality and Motive in Documentary Photography, New York and Paris

In 2002, there were two retrospectives of his work in video: at the Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, California) and at Visions du Réel, Nyon International Film Festival (Switzerland). Moving Pictures (2005), curated by Peggy Gale for the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, surveyed Cumming’s work in its full diversity, including his mixed media encaustic collages on wood panels, Prologue and Epilogue (each 2.6 m x 4.4 m) and the DVD collection of 18 video works, Donigan Cumming: Controlled Disturbance (Vidéographe, 2005). Prologue and Epilogue were featured in Donigan Cumming : La somme, le sommeil, le cauchemar, curated by Catherine Bédard for the Centre culturel canadien in Paris (November 10, 2006 - February 3, 2007).
Cumming's books are The Stage (Maquam Press, 1991), Pretty Ribbons (Stemmle, 1996), Gimlet Eye (Chapter and ffotogallery, 2001), and Lying Quiet (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 2004). The Stage is analysed and illustrated in Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, eds., The Photobook: A History, Volume II (Phaidon, 2006).
His photographs have been featured in international exhibitions and anthologies including Contemporary Photographers (1996), Phaidon's The Photography Book (1997), World Without End: Photography and the 20th Century (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2000), Knaur's Das Lexikon der Fotografen (2003), and Phaidon's Art and Photography (2003).
In 1998, the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) featured Cumming's work in the program The Cruel Machine. In 2000, his video installation Moving Stills was part of the IFFR's Exploding Cinema and in 2005 the IFFR premiered his latest video Fountain. In New York, his tapes have been presented at the New York Video Festival, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art (New Documentaries, 1997, and MediaScope, 2005). The Festival du Nouveau Cinéma has shown Cumming's work since 1996 (Montreal), when he won the Telefilm Canada Video Prize for Best Canadian Discovery. Continuity and Rupture, a VHS collection of video work, was published by Cinéma libre in 1999. In 2004, Cumming was the first guest curator for the Shadow Festival in Amsterdam.
Cumming's work has been acquired for the permanent collection of 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 du Québec (Québec), the Musée d’art contemporain (Montréal), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), and by national museums in Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States. His work has been supported by senior visual arts grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. He has been a fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. 

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
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