Curated by Mark Alice Durant
Exhibition: January 20 – March 3, 2012
Opening Reception: Friday, January 20, 6-8pm
In conjunction with the Celestial exhibition, Baxter St at CCNY presents a talk with participating artist William Lamson, as part of its CCNY Lecture Series, on Thursday, January 19 at 7pm at the SVA Amphitheater on 209 East 23rd Street.
For nearly twenty years the Hubble Telescope has astonished us with its images of faraway cosmic objects and phenomena, bringing a revolution in universal perspective. The Hubble has produced a seemingly unending portfolio of a starry sublime – evoking mystical reveries and existential gasps. The infinite majesty of the universe is impossible to fully picture adequately in spite of the technological complexity of such a device. Paradoxically, for artists with far fewer resources but with an embracing imagination, evoking the cosmos can be as simple as drawing a line with a hovering star or sprinkling salt and pepper on photographic paper to conjure a photogram rendition of the Milky Way. In such images we intuitively understand the relationship suggested of a knowable and measurable world and the infinite space above.
Celestial is a show of five photographic artists whose work charms and prods our sense of wonder with astounding economy. Each artist approaches the impossible task of taking on the celestial infinite with very different sensibilities and materials: black and white analog photographs, muted but richly saturated color, collage, charcoal drawings based on negatives and video/performance.
Brea Souders is a NYC-based photographer whose deceptively simple images sometimes infer the celestial realm indirectly such as her Sunburn in Naples, or Royal Blue image which shows an intricate lace pattern backgrounded by a luminous blue. Her Modern Day Halo #3 shows a feminine hand placing a circular lens, golden and somewhat tarnished, against the sky perhaps replacing the sun itself. This image is assertive and enigmatic, re-imagining the holy aura from Renaissance paintings as something earthbound yet still generating a mesmerizing radiance.
Beginning in the late 1990s and continuing to this day, Stephen DiRado has made a stunning portfolio of ‘straight’ photographs of a variety of dramatic celestial events such as comets and eclipses and more quotidian, yet no less miraculous, phenomena such as a sliver of a moon hanging over a watery horizon. His pictures are always earth-bound by horizon lines and hulking silhouettes of man made structures, yet by looking up he gives us a granular crustiness of the night sky as if the dark dome were sprinkled with illuminated sugar crystals.
Marina Berio uses photographic negatives to provide a kind of stencil with which she makes her charcoal drawings of bursts of fireworks, empty roads at night, and the lights illuminating artist studios. Charcoal is an intermediary substance; a cousin to both diamonds and mud. It is a residue of the transformation of organic matter through fire; it lives between the promise of life and the finality of dust’s dispersal. Berio scrapes charcoal across the skin of paper, catching some of the crumbling cold embers in the tooth and grain, while much of it powders like dust to the floor or stains the image with a faint but unmistakable dark aura.
William Lamson’s work embraces photography, sculpture, performance, drawing, and video. But whatever the medium, he playfully investigates both physical and existential futility. Celestial will show two of his videos on small wall-mounted screens – Levitation Exercise and Emerge. Levitation Exercise is mythical and silly, in the darkness a man attempts to keep an illuminated orb aloft – as if he alone is responsible for keeping the heavens in their proper place. In Emerge, balloons appear to be birthed by the sea before lifting off into the heavens in an endless loop of creation and ascendance.
Jeanne Liotta is primarily known as an experimental filmmaker, her 2007 film Observando el Cielo brought together seven years of images of the sky as observed by her camera mounted on ‘this turning tripod, Earth’. Perhaps less well-known but equally as obsessive and wide ranging is her mixed media work on paper. The imagery in Darkling Plain series was generated through pinhole cameras and photograms, proving that the simplest and most economic of gestures are capable of evoking a fragmentary sublime.
Guest Curator Mark Alice Durant is an artist, writer and curator. He is editor of the website Saint-Lucy which is devoted to writing about photography, contemporary art and the lovely people of Baltimore. He is author of McDermott and McGough: A History of Photography and Robert Heinecken: A Material History. He was co-author and co-curator of Blur of the Otherworldly: Contemporary Art, Technology and the Paranormal and co-author and co-curator of Some Assembly Required: Collage Culture in Post-War America. He writes regularly for the photography journal Aperture, is an editor for Dear Dave, Magazine and has contributed essays to numerous anthologies monographs including Marco Breuer: Early Recordings, Vik Muniz: Seeing is Believing and The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire. In 2008 he curated Notes on Monumentality at the Baltimore Museum of Art. His photographs, installations and performances have been presented internationally at such institutions as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He is Professor in the Department of Visual Art at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and faculty at the Milton Avery Graduate School for the Arts at Bard College.