A few months ago a promising young artist – and recent Bard/ICP graduate – Pierre Le Hors told me that one the most interesting books he had seen at the NY Artist Book Fair at PS1 was “Spomenik” by Belgian artist Jan Kempenaers. He sent me a link to the website of the superb Roma Publications where I could see a sampling of the page spreads. The photographs were of strange concrete monuments with unusual shapes – more sculptural than building-like, yet they carried echoes of Le Corbusier and Niemeyer – especially in the plastic forms – cylinders, starbursts, waves, hollowed out cubes – all made of cast-in-place concrete. Spomenik is a Croatian word for monument and in the late 1960s and early 1970s the socialist government in Yugoslavia built dozens of these monuments, however by the early 1990s they were neglected and in ruins.
The color photographs are probably large-format, straightforward in that the monuments are centered in the composition and their setting amidst grass or trees or placement within low foothills subtly included in the frame of the photograph. The lighting seems neutral and uninflected but not in the insistent Bechers mode.
I liked the photographs but was struck more by the back-story about the artist locating these monuments in Yugoslavia by using a map from the 1970s.
And then a few days ago I saw the book at Dashwood on Bond Street and was surprised by the precise beauty of the photographs and also by the scale. I had mistakenly imagined the book to be quite modest say 9 by 6 inches whereas it is a bit more substantial 13 by 9.5 inches.
You can see the spreads I first saw at http://www.romapublications.org/main.html, but I urge you to seek out the book for the full impact!
Last month I visited India to work on a new project in Nagaur and on my way back to New York, I stopped for a few days in Amman, Jordan and visited an alternative art space called Darat al Funun – a series of houses and lovely gardens and courtyards on a side of a hill – quite an unusual but effectively intimate setting to see provocative contemporary art from the Middle East. In a large show called “Sentences on the banks and other activities” curated by Abdellah Karroum, I came across two photo-based projects that I really liked.
The first was a simple photograph, not very large – probably 16 by 20 inches – of what appeared like two very large ladders with lights on them propped up on the side of a low, workshop-like building. The ladders rested on the ground but seemed to not lead anywhere but simply point up to the sky. Not functional. I liked the image but could not really figure out what it was about. The mood was hushed, night or early morning sky, and I liked that the lighting on each of the ladders was different and that these were huge ladders obviously not store-bought. Familiar object rendered fresh and magical, and a reminder that a beautiful image can be built with quite simple means, and that a single photograph can be alluring and powerful without the benefit of a series or large size. The artist Ninar Esber is Lebanese-born and Paris-based and works with video, performance, installation.
Check out her work at: http://www.ninaresber.com/spip.php?article46
The second project was in a way the opposite of Ninar Esber’s single, surreal photograph – a series of large collaged photographs by Catherine Poncin titled “Vertiges.” She combines sharp color photographs of the Rhummel gorge in Algeria with black and white, archival images – negatives printed as positives – of women in hijab. The images are diptychs or tryptichs within a single frame – not layered – yet they are quite beautiful and unsettling.
To see the complete project, please see: http://www.fillesducalvaire.com/index.php?SITE=1&CURRLANG=2&CONT=exhib&EXHIB=20