In his exhibition at Hudson’s Galerie Gris, Brooklyn based artist Ryan Russo continues his examination with film as a tactile source material, opposed to a time-based sequence of images. Utilizing VHS tapes of seminal Hollywood films as well as cassettes of audio tunes, the artist transfers their magnetic oxide coatings containing visual and audial data onto canvas to coordinate abstract geometrical forms. While his current exhibition, entitled Sound and Vision, emphasizes his most recent works, Russo has been practicing with this technique over the years since rapidly changing home entertainment technology swept away VHS and cassette tapes, turning them into tokens of nostalgia.
In contrast to optic and audial stimuli films convey for their audience, Russo’s treatment seems introverted, contemplative yet vibrant. Dystopian punk aesthetic in Blade Runner revives in an earthy-toned background and triangular composition, while Magnolia’s existential angst strikes in horizontal and vertical lines some of which are stuck in between falling and standing in front of a lime-colored base.
Vertigo’s psychedelic nightmare scenes are detectable in the artist’s namesake rhombus-shaped version created upon applying the film’s videotape onto the surface using a gel medium. Planes, Trains and Automobiles, an oblivion Steve Martin-starred comedy from the ‘80s, transforms into a vibrant three-panel work dominated by blue, yellow and grey backgrounds complimenting the stripes imprinting the film.
Transformation of visual and audial surplus into conveyors of abstract narratives both align with and diverge from the essence of moving image. Film, composed of countless shots chronicling human experience, finds its on-canvas reflection in Russo’s flat surfaces that provide space for form, color and meditation. On the flip side, the artist’s open-ended scenarios, cementing abstraction’s core foundation—which is narrative fluidity—deviate from the conclusive and opinionated nature of film.
Sound and Vision will remain on view at Galerie Gris through September 12, 2016.
The Museum of Arts and Design recently completed Eye on a Director: Canyon Cinema, a series of screenings dedicated to San Francisco’s legendary avant-garde film center Canyon Cinema. MAD’s program reserved August 11th to pioneer feminist filmmakers among which were Abigail Child, Barbara Hammer and JoAnn Elam. Entitled Secession: The Decay of Patriarchy, the screening was curated by the museum’s public programs manager Katerina Llanes and Carson Parish.
Elam’s 8-minute long Lie Back and Enjoy It from 1982 sharply tackles the media’s objectification of woman body, a bitterly relevant topic partially perpetuated by the anonymity the Internet offers as well as the misogyny embedded in everyday language. Executed in the form of a conversation between a man and a woman, who both remain anonymous, the video dissects the typical “man with a camera” figure in the form of a discussion between two opposing agents. “I have a camera, you don’t” says the man to the woman, who opinionatedly revolts against the male gaze’s dehumanization of female identity. Maintaining a vibrant argument through the actors’ constant back and forth, Elam articulates on metaphorical notion of the camera as a phallic power symbol.
Hammer’s four-minute long 1974 film Menses establishes a T.V. commercial aesthetic in which women experiment with menstrual blood and hygiene products within a plastic aesthetic. In an atmosphere reminiscing domestic good commercials that directly target women, Hammer’s version subverts societal norms on female anatomy and its dictated primal function, which is to bear a child. Building a woman-only community backdropped by the 70s hippie milieu, the video does not fail to shock and provokes even decades later.
On the opposite corner of the island, Lower East Side’s acclaimed non-profit art hub Participant Inc presents THINGS, a Bradford Nordeen-curated group exhibition pairing influential yet underestimated artists Curt McDowell, Tom Rubnitz and Robert Ford, all of whom succumbed to AIDS pandemic before 2000s, with a group of new generation names. Although all three came into recognition with their underground work in film or journalism—first two with moving image and Ford with his black culture-focused zine THING—the exhibition inclines towards their less known object based practices. Their most seminal works, however, are also on view.
Echoing Hammer’s deconstructed day-time TV aesthetic in its quick ninety second run is Rubnitz’s Pickle Surprise, a delightful yet unabashedly grotesque “informercial” teaching how to stack a sandwich. While the word ‘ham’ repeats between the lips of downtown divas Lady Bunny and RuPaul, a live pickle—performed by Sister Dimension sporting heavy make up and props enough to turn Matthew Barney green with envy—appears uninvited to complete the dish. Purely queer in its execution, from its uncanny plot to bizarre cooks in charge, the video—now a YouTube sensation in its own right with more than two million views—still strikes as authentic, uncanny and audacious.
In contrast, McDowell’s Loads from 1980 is a poetic contemplation, a visual diary of one’s carnal journey in and out of his apartment in San Francisco. Cruising his way throughout the city streets and parks, the protagonist, played by the artist himself, narrates his sexual encounters that mainly include him offer fellatio to various men. His recollection of these hook-ups through various psychical or habitual attributes adopt a fortnight, subliminal tone, complimenting the prevailing sexual abundance. Maya Deren’s modernist angst, Wakefield Poole’s bold hyper sexuality and Warhol’s placid narratives resonate in this twenty-two minute long meditation on sensuous captivation and introspective impulse.
*Special thank you to John Andrew Simone for fact checking.
When I talked to Charlotte Cotton over the phone in-between her busy schedule, she had recently arrived to L.A—a city the renown photography curator considers special for her career which includes a curatorial position at LACMA. Cotton—the Curator-in-Residence at the recently-opened ICP Museum in Lower East Side—is on the West Coast for a residency at Metabolic Studio. She sounds excited talking about the Woman’s Building, the legendary feminist non-profit art center founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila Levant de Bretteville and Arlene Revan in the early 70s as reaction to CalArts’ patriarchal dynamics at the time. The historic building that housed the bygone art center on North Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles sits next to the Metabolic Studio, and it has recently been listed for sale. “We are here to celebrate the Woman’s Building and its impact for all of us before the building s sold” says Cotton. We talked about Aperture’s recently-closed summer exhibition Photography Is Magic, which included fifty photographers she selected out of portfolio submissions in response to the Foundation’s annual Summer Open call, as well as her other exhibitions that opened consecutively this summer in New York.
—Before turning into an exhibition, Photography Is Magic was a book, in which you use the word magic as a metaphor for experimentalist approach to photography in Internet age. Is the exhibition a continuation for this approach?
Yes, it definitely feels like an extension of the book. As the artists submitted their works, I saw how in line they were with the project and how few degrees of separation there are between many of the artists in the Aperture exhibition and the artists represented in my book.
—You emphasize the ‘optimism’ of this concept in your statement. Does magic also mean a socially conscious stand against the turmoil the world is recently experiencing?
You can read the optimism on a number of levels in Photography is Magic. The core optimism is specific to photography in 21st century, as a reaction to broad phenomena since the early 2000s. For instance, the economic crisis of 2008 and its impact on the bubble market for contemporary art photography, the rise of digital techniques, the shifts in photographic pedagogy – these were all militating factors impacting on the idea of making photographs as art. In 2010, SFMOMA organized a two-day symposium called Is Photography Over?. And this embodied an existential moment for the medium. The optimism in Photography is Magic is about the artists who were forming their identity in this climate and finding productive, critical ways of working.
The artists in this exhibition come from a generation that mainly undertook their MFAs in the early 2000s and they are first the generation to deal with the recent technological and ideological shifts in the perception of independent photographic practice explicitly in their works. The optimism is also about observing a strongly artist-led moment of production and I think there is an inherent optimism in moments where creativity is driven by creators rather than institutions or market mechanics. The movement that the book and the show both reflect is important because they are not initiated by institutions but stem from real discussions between artists. The makers of images are defining their terms. Photographers are observers of their environment and they are aware of its realities. Their work may not be obviously – stylistically – autobiographical but looking at their practices en masse, I think you see a wave of creative sentience to the image world that we are living through.
—Photography is a great narrator of the time, while its methods constantly change based on the time’s standards. In other words, photography is in a deep conversation with what the time bears. How is this conversation reflected in the pieces you selected?
Our perception of art photography no longer hinges on the prospect of capturing of a moment of real time, or at least we generally have a greater understanding of artistic practice as a multi-layered process with a degree of preconception and postproduction. We talk about “making” an image, or “rendering” an idea and artists using photographic methods or ideas are highly conscious of every active choice they make: nothing is default and much is pre-mediated. The classical idea of photography as the suspension of a millisecond of real time is still present, but is being challenged by contemporary practitioners. We still have remnants of the idea that a photograph is proof of something but we are also wondering if an image is a stable entity. The technology that is accessible to the photographer is now accessible to the viewer as well – we have a quasi-shared understanding of how to make images and use images. The artists that I selected for both the book and exhibition versions of Photography is Magic are highly aware of all of this and the state of contemporary viewership.
—The exhibition was based on an open call and you received submissions from artists in various stages in their careers. Was maintaining a diversity in terms of career points a challenge?
Ellen Carrey who probably has the longest career amongst the artists in this exhibition. When she applied, that set a high benchmark for the exhibition. As soon as I saw Ellen’s work, I realized this exhibition had to be about the artists rather than the pictures. When you curate an open submission exhibition, you can either select artists that you are interested in or particular pictures that seem to work together, and seeing Ellen in the mix confirmed to me that my selection had to be primarily concerned with creating a visual representation of the collective dialogue between artists that is happening right now – internationally and cross-generationally – about the very idea of rendering photographic ideas.
—You undertook three other curatorial roles in New York this summer. The Ties That Bind: ICP-Bard MFA Show at Baxter St, Reviver: Yale MFA Show at Danziger and ICP Museum’s inaugural exhibition Public, Private, Secret all stem from different curatorial standpoints. Is there common thread that goes through all of them?
On a basic level they share that desire to create experiences, although they all signal very different types of engagements. Photography Is Magic has a very specific context since Aperture published that book and it was a journey that had this existing platform, so the exhibition is another stage of the project.
I worked with Yale MFA students who showed their thesis exhibition at Danziger, and ICP-Bard MFA students who exhibited at Baxter St/Camera Club of New York. I didn’t have to do much in terms of hands-on curation, really, I genuinely did not want to just select my favorite pictures and create a show, I was much more interested in amplifying their collective aims. Every MFA program has its own internal dynamic, and my role was as a mentor or advisor. I basically served as audience advocate to these students and I helped them polish their curation.
Public, Private, Secret was a much more layered and intense working process for sure. With the opening of ICP’s new exhibition and events space at 250 Bowery, it was important that the program spoke to ICP’s unique cultural role in thinking about and questioning the social impact of photography and visual culture on our lives. The exhibition is about photography beyond the narratives set by modern and contemporary art. I think that the most important thing we achieved in this first iteration of ICP’s 250 Bowery was to invite visitors to bring their own knowledge and experiences of visual culture into their engagement with Public, Private, Secret. The experience is determined by each viewer’s subjective understanding of the state of our privacy and the roles that image culture plays within this. Hierarchies of who makes images and who determines image culture have been flattened in the past ten years and that state of equivalency is literally manifest in the way that the exhibition combines historical photographs, contemporary artists’ projects and curation of real-time media streams.
Some people have found the exhibition messy, which I take to mean that it’s not a typical museum show where seemingly everything is spelled out in a didactic fashion. My choice to constellate a range of visual material came from a position of highlights that we are all in this together, we are all implicated. Public, Private, Secret does lay out both the negative impacts of celebrity culture, surveillance, porn, voyeurism, social media, et al. upon both our sense of personal privacy and our image-making habits but it is also about the agency of “being seen’ and the social impact of widespread self-representation and alterity. I came through the process of working on this exhibition with a quite optimistic sense of what visual culture can activate in progressive and positive ways. There is a reason why young people are gravitating towards social media as their visual platform of choice because of the possibility to express, communicate and defend who they are.
‘It is perfectly natural for the Sun
to shine initially on the upper lefthand
corner of the first page of this book’
Francis Ponge, The Sun Placed in the Abyss
Francis Ponge was referred to as ‘the poet of things’ for his ability to elevate the essence of mundane objects—soap, cigarettes or oranges. The way Alain Robbe-Grillet revitalized furniture in The Erasers, Ponge, like many other Surrealists, deconstructed the confinements of reason and tangible reality, blurring the hierarchy between objects and living things. The most challenging depiction he embarked on arguably was his The Sun Placed in the Abyss essay, in which he articulates on the sun’s metaphoric impact on terrestrials.
Of the summer group exhibitions currently on view in Chelsea, Lower East Side and elsewhere, Foley Gallery’s High Summer, curated by Joseph Desler Costa and Jeremy August Haik, takes account the season’s thriving temperatures in the most literal sense, as well as adopting Ponge’s text as source material. The sun, with all allegories and facts it perpetuates, is the central or auxiliary subject for each piece in the exhibition that features twenty-four lens-based artists. “What is the Sun?” asks Ponge in his essay and adds, “that which dominates all things therefore, cannot be dominated”.
The omnipresence of this yellow sphere is of a kind that is indisputable; unlike any other sources of power—divine or tangible—the sun poses universal and pervasive. Yet, like any other supreme source, the sun destructs as much as it nourishes. On the other hand, the impossibility of having a complete vision of its full extent only augments its mysterious aura.
Penelope Umbrico’s ninety-second long GIF animation, Pirouette for CRT, includes images of outmoded tubed TVs listed on Craigslist for disposal, intricately edited to create a perfect cycle with the way each TV is photographed. Looping gadgets reflect the light on their screens while they continue in their perfect cycle similar to the sun’s journey over a year or the Earth’s in twenty-four hours.
Bobby Davidson’s American Cinematographer Manual, 10th Edition with 36” Fluorescent Tube, one of the few three dimensional works in the exhibition, combines the 10th edition of American Cinematographer Manual—an obsolete source for cinematographers, including Davidson himself—with a fluorescent bar piercing through. Considering the cruciality of the right timbre of the sun for those working with camera, the sculpture, sitting on a custom-made wooden Apple chassis, is self-referential and unabashedly self-mocking.
Works by Dillon DeWaters, Thomas Albdorf, Justine Kurland, Genevieve Gaignard and Bill Jacobson refer to absence of the (or a) sun within the frame, while their juxtapositions claim its impact as evident. The glare the sun radiates as reaction to the camera on the subject matter is another strong motif, emphasized by a group of artists including Pacifico Silano, who photographed men from the pages of the 70s’ gay porn magazines with accents of light glaring on their faces, as well as Erin O’Keefe, Christopher Rodriguez and Tommy Kha, who poignantly utilized the sun’s reflection to blur his model’s identity in his photograph.
High Summer will remain on view at Foley Gallery through August 20, 2016.
When I visited Elisabeth Biondi at her TriBeCa apartment, where she lives with her five-year old dog Boris, she had just returned from teaching at The Photography Master Retreat, a week-long immersive course bringing together a group of international photographers in a small village in southern France to discuss their works. “We eat, drink but most importantly talk about photography twelve hours a day” explained Biondi talking about her experience there as a teacher. Biondi recently co-curated REFUGEE, an exhibition looking at the reasons and impacts of the ongoing refugee crisis, with Patricia Lanza for Los Angeles’ Annenberg Space for Photography.
“I feel lucky to have worked as a photo-editor during what I call the golden age of photography”, says Biondi remembering her days as the photography editor at The New Yorker, where she worked for 15 years and helped create some of the seminal works by Martin Schoeller, Richard Avedon or Helmut Newton.
— In New York you’re widely recognized as the former photo editor of The New Yorker, How was being the decision maker for photography in a publication heavily know for its writing?
It was a particular challenge. When I started working at The New Yorker when Richard Avedon was its only staff photographer. When I got the offer to work there, I was working at Stern in Germany, a weekly magazine, which used photography for all its articles, had a huge staff, 15 staff photographers, and a 7 days a week photo-desk. After that I thought it would be easy to work for a magazine with so few pictures.
After I started working at The New Yorker, I realized it’s really challenging to create photographs for a magazine particularly known for its excellence in words. Every single picture mattered because there were so few. My criteria was ‘intelligent pictures’, knowing the context of the article, which meant I had to make it my business to figure out in what context they would be published. Choosing the photographer, briefing and discussing everything with him or her were all crucial. In the end, it would be one single photograph used for each article, and it had to reflect many facets of a story.
—You started at Penthouse Magazine when you first moved to the U.S. and slowly built yourself a path that led to an impressive career in photo editorship. With the changing face of technology, do you think such direction to success in the field is possible today? What direction would you recommend to new comers?
It vastly changed. Now print is losing leadership and advertising. Budgets have shrunk, staff has been cut, and sometime interns fill in the gaps. I don’t see many long careers in picture editorship in the future. The field in printed media is limited and photo editors have much more smaller budgets, which often limits what they can do. Also, often art/creative directors take the leading role in photography assignments. On the other hand, online publications opened up a new way of being a picture editor—come up with the ideas, write and find the visuals. This might be way for the future but right now I really do not counsel young people to become a traditional picture editor.
—What is the most striking difference between being a photo-editor and a photography curator? They seem to include some similar methods but what is the division?
As photography editor the primary function is to visualize stories. Generally speaking, it starts with a story and pictures work alongside words. When you curate, it starts with your idea and you visually express it, in other words, pictures lead. For an article, the picture has to support the text; not so when curating an exhibition. In a magazine you flip through the pages and a picture has only seconds to grab attention but a viewer who enters a gallery is committed to spend time to look at the images. It influences how images are displayed and seen.
—Contemporary photography is rapidly moving toward a conceptual direction. Photography intersects with other mediums such as sculpture, video and even performance. How do you see this direction photography is going?
Someone said: nothing is as constant as change. Nothing stays the same, which is also true for photography. How photographers express themselves evolves constantly. With so many digitals images produced and posted daily, artists have to find new ways to draw attention, conceptualization often using appropriated images, is one. Years ago most pictures in shows hung on the wall, now images no longer have to be two-dimensional. Photographers have greater freedom. Still analog photography continues and even traditional processes continued to be used successfully.
—In line with the previous question, due to this conceptual form artistic photography is taking, the documentary/informative photography is sort of becoming ‘the other’ within the field. What do you think about this separation?
I don’t think there is a separation at all. To me, they are different ways of expression and making statements. I believe photography, like music for example, is diverse. We have, for example, photojournalism, documentary photography, fine art photography, and there is conceptual photography, to name some major ‘categories’. Often the lines blur, and all can be seen in galleries. I am particularly interested where documentary photography intersects with fine art photography.
—You work with many young photographers in exhibitions you curate or through mentoring them in their thesis projects. Are you content with new photography?
Yes, there are many talented young people and I support them. I appreciate what they are doing. I try to be open to what they have to say. Young people have to experiment and find new ways and I applaud it, if is good and I support them. Unfortunately, there are so many young people having a hard time showing their works and finding a way to survive.
*All images are from The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin, 1979-2004, Multimedia installation with 690 slides and a programmed soundtrack at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
On view between now and February 12, 2017 at the Museum of Modern Art is The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, Nan Goldin’s landmark ode to Downtown New York of the 70s and 80s. Presented in its entirety featuring close to seven hundred slides over its forty-minute run, Goldin’s work bridges the devastating with the hopeful.
Captured over a period between her move to New York from Boston in the late 70s and mid 80s when AIDS crisis had its toll on the village, the ballad—the title is borrowed from a song in The Three Penny Opera—sure is about dependency, to one another, to drugs or to the night; however, more is to be traced in Goldin’s earthy-toned, sometimes blurred or saliently brisk pictures of her circle of friends and their friends, and strangers as well.
There are mirrors, mostly revealing bitter features, bruises or swells their onlookers carry, or other times uninvitedly reflecting a break-up or an overdose from a corner of a cluttered East Village apartment. Suitably, Nico begins to hum I’ll Be Your Mirror while mirrors come to utter what the camera observes or misses. There are also windows, trains and stoops, accompanying the New York silhouette that people are either leaving from or returning to. Charles Aznavour says “you’ve let yourself go” in Tu T’Laisses Aller swaying to those that are anonymous or named such as Cookie Mueller, Greer Lankton or David Wojnarowicz.
They grieve, buoy, perish or resist in their equally familiar and unprecedented universe. Goldin’s camera is affectionate and earnest: far from a documentary observant, she endures as much as any other. She stares into her own camera with a bruised eye in Nan one month after being battered, an auto portrait that stands to depict all other wounded and ones that harm.
Her diary, as she refers to the series, opens up with each slide like a sheet of paper. Some succumbed to AIDS, overdose or mishap, while others’ faiths remain mystery. The outcome is not of an importance anyhow. All Tomorrow’s Parties begins to chime midway through the slideshow inside the completely dimmed room at MoMA, ranting about a tomorrow yet to come or perhaps one that has already passed.