Eleonora Manca – [←] Inventario #659 (2016); [→] Inventario #665 (2016)

Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are
always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never
experience an image directly. Indeed, every great image has an
unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special
color. Consequently it is not until late in life that we really revere
an image, when we discover that its roots plunge well beyond the history
that is fixed in our memories. In the realm of absolute imagination, we
remain young late in life. But we must lose our earthly Paradise in
order to actually live in it, to experience it in the reality of its
images, in the absolute sublimation that transcends all passion. A poet
meditating upon the life of a great poet, that is Victor-Emile Michelet
meditating upon the life of Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, wrote: “Alas! we
have to grow old to conquer youth, to free it from its fetters and live
according to its original impulse.”
 
 ―
   Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
   

Janine AntoniLoving Care (1993)

Antoni’s work is interested in not only commenting on what goes into the making of something, she’s also preoccupied with feminine embodiment and commodification of bodies, objects and processes.

Loving Care was performed at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London.

On her hands and knees, Antoni dipped her head into a bucket of Loving Care hair dye and used her head/hair to mop the gallery floor.

There’s a number of things at play here–most notably: subversion.  The beauty standards of western culture being founded upon notions that as a woman–you as you are naturally is not enough, you need to diminish signs of aging or invite attention through drastic changes to hair color.

Using it against its intent, there’s an emphasis placed on its ability to alter semi-permanently. This is again tied into the stereotypically notion of men as being preoccupied with higher considerations so that it’s women’s jobs to worry about things like ensuring the floors are clean–only in this case, the act of cleaning is transgressed and subverted.

An interesting facet of the conceptualization is–as anyone who has ever mopped a space knows–you work in such a way that you have an exit behind you. Antoni did exactly that but this meant that as she mopped/painted the floor, she pushed the people out of the gallery behind her. By implication: everyone could see the beginning of the labor but that scope dwindled as the work advanced towards completion. (The notion being that we all know the floor gets cleaned but even if we bother to note that it’s clean, we are programmed to not really bother to follow that through to any sort of appreciation for such completion.)

Jouk Oosterhof – [←] Hanneke from Women with Vaginismus project (201X); [-] Emma from Women with Vaginismus project (201X); [→] Bertine from Women with Vaginismus project (201X)

I first encountered the portrait of Emma via @thephotoregistry–which continues to be one of the best things on Tumblr.

I liked the way that the texture of Emma’s hair is set off against her blouse as well as the smoothness of the background.

Upon closer reading: I realized the nature of the project–relating to vaginismus, a condition wherein an sort of vaginal penetration causes intense pain. (I have two friends who have this condition and what they’ve told me about it sounds absolutely heinous.)

Via Oosterhof’s LensCulture profile, she says of her process: “I carefully build the image, staging all details.”

That actually tracks given these works. Note: the lighting on the background alone is drastically different between the three images. The lighting on the women is less different but there’s still some variation. I’m especially fond at the way she’s both used the lighting to separate the women from the backdrop while also playing the background lighting against the foreground lighting to dramatic effect given the positioning and pose of the subject.

Emmet GowinEdith, Chincoteague, Virginia (1967)

From a macro perspective Gowin’s work—and excluding his travel/photojournalistic dabbling—features three distinct phases: the photos of his wife Edith and her family (early), the aerial landscapes (mid) and his more experimental work (recent)—which take Edith as subject once again and involving photos of her taken in Panama printed in experimental fashion on handmade paper produce a photograph/gram hybrid, i.e. this print of a photo of Edith including the outline and veins of a decaying leaf.

The more recent work is completely new to me despite being made almost 15 years ago. My initial thoughts are that it is understated and prescient in a way that would be completely unrecognizable as Gowin’s work if drastic reinvention weren’t Gowin’s exact bag.

After the early work, he took just about the most unexpected left turn imaginable and began to make aerial photos. As I recall, it was something he did just because that’s just what he did when something caught his interest—took pictures of what interested him. And while conceptually, I know that part of the consideration with the aerial photos was to contemplate at what point a the representation of a landscape tilted (on balance) over into abstraction.

The truth is the aerial stuff just isn’t very good (subjectively). It’s accepted because Gowin is an established name and the interrogative focus of the work is valid. But I just think that although he was—to the best of my knowledge—the first to contextualize these sort of photos in terms of fine art practice (and is therefore the progenitor), I’ve seen it done better–it’s not photography, it’s sculpture but Susan Hammond comes to mind, just off the top of my head.

I was actually thinking of Gowin due to a conversation I was having with a friend about the relationship between art making and audience, i.e. there is this balance between where your interests lead you and where your viewer or audience will follow you.

The prejudice is that great artists make work for themselves and therefore are attempting to converse with folks 100 years down the road instead of those in the hear and now. Except: that’s kind of elitist and untrue. I mean for all the intensely specific aesthetic considerations of the great Renaissance artists, there work was something that even someone completely uneducated in the ethos and techniques of mastery in various forms of visual representation, were still very much able to approach the work and get something out of it—whether identifying the characters in a Biblical story and associating them with famous wealthy patrons or just appreciating the way the artist envisioned the tableau.

The distance between the present and the future has grown exponentially more compact—the future isn’t 100 years away, it’s now measured in months and years at the outside.

Despite the surfeit of art makers, it’s difficult-to-impossible to make a living making art. More and more of us are working shitty cubicle jobs to keep a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies. We work when we have the resources (infrequently) and hope for the best.

And I think that’s the lesson that Gowin has to teach us that is so important: I think if you see his model of producing work that attracts people to it, interspersed with deeply, personal, abstract and largely unapproachable work—there is a balance between the two.

I think that’s the most important lesson you can teach up-and-coming art makers: balancing personal passions with work that is universally accessible and empathetic. The dialectical exchange between the two efforts strengthens both immeasurably.

Rimantas DichavičiusUntitled from Žiedai tarp žiedų (1965-1989)

When my absence doesn’t alter your life, my presence has no meaning in it.
–Unknown

If I say of myself that it is only from my own case that I know what the word “pain” means—must I not say the same of other people too? And how can I generalize the one case so irresponsibly?
Now someone tells me that he knows what pain is only from his own case!–Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a “beetle”. No one can look into anyone else’s box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle.—Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing.—But suppose the word “beetle” had a use in these people’s language?—If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty.—No, one can ‘divide through’ by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is.
That is to say: if we construe the grammar of the expression of sensation on the model of ‘object and designation’ the object drops out of consideration as irrelevant.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations §293

Kate SmuragaUntitled from nobody important, no one else series (2016)

Three hundred seventy-one days ago, I featured Smuraga’s work.

The photograph didn’t exactly fit the format of this project. But it felt important to include at the time.

I now feel vindicated in my insistence upon including it–and not merely due to the fact that she seems to have recently earned a LensCulture showcase.

In the intervening year and change, her work has continued to mature. I’d have guessed her trajectory would’ve involved gaining a bit of confidence and then mining her work for a more audacious/confrontational tone but she appears to have leapfrogged that phase and doubled down on a more intricately layered and increasingly contemplative approach to creation.

Yet, for all the additional complexity and nuance, the work is simpler and more welcoming while also simultaneously and seemingly improbable: discomfiting.

I’m hesitant to delve into any sort of at all involved exegesis as the recent work feels like a bit like a clever quip or joke which once explained any trace of wit is leeched out. (& since I’m sitting here accusing myself of copping out as a result of not really having anything to insightful to contribute: wave-particle duality and the almost ironic interpenetration of imperfection with the concept of beauty. All of that fits hand in glove with her overarching examination of femininity and the politics of representation, but there’s also some very meta-commentary on process that is unnervingly precocious.)

The other thing I wanted to point to is to illustrate how fundamentally important attribution/credits are for this kind of work. It’s sort of like John Berger’s famous example from Ways of Seeing about how Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows is one context, whereas labeling it as the last picture Van Gogh painted before committing suicide, is another.

The same absolutely applies here. The credits are integral to this piece for a bazillion reasons but the most salient of those are: authorship matters, if you didn’t make something and you like it there’s a duty to due diligence to try to find out who made it (anything short of that involves a level of flagrant disrespect which is rude at best and more than likely marks the credit stripping poster as a real piece of shite); in this case knowing that the author is female absolutely shifts the context of the image–what (with attribution) reads as meditation on the agency that physical embodiment allows women and how that cuts both ways in the current grossly sexist af culture shifts not only if say a cishet man made the image (regardless of authorial intention, a completely BS parameter for any sort of critical consideration, actually since communication has meaning not because words/actions/ideas point to something internally but because they occur in the stream of life and culture and as such occur in context and derive meaning from their positioning within that context), but if attribution is missing there’s not really enough context for the image to really signify anything beyond what it simply depicts. And not that it isn’t rich however you encounter it, but a lot of the things that are wonderful about it have to do with notions of gender and representation, I mean I’m pretty sure this is a self-portrait, too… Suffice it to say that without attribution, the water becomes very muddy, very quickly.

(Also as an aside: I adore those knickers. Does anyone know where I might be able to acquire ta similar pair? Thanx in advance.)

Hiroko Shiina AKA C7Conium maculatum (2015)

I could opt to digress about the gorgeously filigreed line work (which to my eye is on par with Albrecht Dürer); or, I could rant about Shiva‘s multiple arms.

And speaking of multiple arms–it’s wonderful and rich with meaning the way the hands embracing her for a second appear as if they are hers but at least two of them belong to the person holding onto her (in a mix of comforting or perhaps more accurately sharing of sorrow) but also at the same time there’s a unsettling fondling feel to things. (The two hands on her body are clearly signaled as masculine.)

But what transfixes me, I’m talking hypnotically mesmerizes me is the way she’s catching her heart with her dress–her heart appearing as if it’s exploded out of her chest in a bursting bloom of Baby’s Breath, looking less like an organ and more than a little like a plant trimming left soaking in water long enough to begin to form root structures.

The way she’s catching the heart reminds me of that scene early in Twain’s Huck Finn where Huck dresses as a girl to attempt to gain information from a local farmer, his disguises is quickly seen through thanks to the gender essentialist tests of Mrs. Judith Loftus. (In particularly, the woman asks Huck to thread a needle–he fails; hit a rat with a lump of lead–he succeeds; and, to catch something tossed toward his lap–he slams his legs together to protect his testicles, whereas a young lady would spread her legs so that the surface of her dress would act as a trampoline to aide in catching the object.)

But really I’m kind of just so completely in awe of this because everything about it speaks to me on so many freaking levels–especially as a non-binary trans girl who (personally) has no interest in medically transitioning. I suspose that means I’m officially out to you, dear followers…

The resonance is so strong, in fact, that I am seriously thinking about getting this as a tattoo on my left tricep…

Julia KlemUntitled (2014)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between ‘good’, ‘better’ and ‘best’.

As with most of my mental tangents, it started as a digression; specifically, a friend was talking to me about their post-election anxiety.

They said: I feel gutted.

Gutted: a harsh word–the choked G, the clot of Ts; a former presence (I had guts before) and current absence (I no longer have guts); an implicit violence resonates.

Good/better/best?

Gutted: a word intimately connected with hunting and fishing–you gut the fish you caught, the deer you shot before you can eat it. Something dies so that something else might live on. If you’re gutted the benefit of your body is no longer something for which you may lay claim/benefit.

Eviscerated?

Like ‘gutted’ it conveys a similar sense of former presence and current absence, except presence or absence are connected more to uselessness of the presence. The word itself is violent but there’s a matter-of-factness to the treatment that feels sterile–the corpse on a slap with a Y incision and the visera packed into a plastic bag placed somewhere off to the side on a scale.

Hollowed out?

The former presence is downplayed to focus on the current absence. Did it happen slowly? Was it violent. Is it figurative or literal?

Good? Better? Best?

Initially, I thought that ‘gutted’ was good; ‘eviscerated’ was better and ‘hollowed out’ was best.

Now I’m not so sure. I think if I were speaking, ‘hollowed out’ would be the best choice. For someone else, it might be different.

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of artistic influences–that’s the prism through which I’m approaching Klem’s fucking FANTASTIC photographs.

Any schmuck who knows a bit about Internet famous photographers, can probably spot the overlap between Klem and Laura Makabresku. (And there’s almost no way that Klem doesn’t consider LM an influence–it’s much more than the repeated crow motifs.)

I don’t like LM’s work; it’s Brooke Shaden directing a Stabbing Westward music video based upon a little known Edgar Allen Poe short story aesthetic has always struck me as pure posturing (at best) or sycophantic contrivance.

Is it unique? Without a doubt. But does her gauzy, soft-grunge aesthetic compliment yearning and mournful–or is it yearning to be mournful– favors concepts and content.

It’s almost like hearing someone say they felt ‘gutted’ and then every time they find yourself in a situation that they think is similar they respond by saying they feel ‘gutted.’

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We learn what feelings apply to which situations through empathy.

Artistic influence is not unlike this. We find comfort and derive solace from work that moves us. So it’s easy to say: this moves me the most and therefore I am going to make this the example that I follow. Our heroes say they feel gutted and we are inclined to follow suit.

But none of us are our heroes. And part of being a gifted artist is knowing when to stay the course and part ways.

I’ve always felt that LM say she feels “gutted” when she might be better served by identifying as “hollowed out”. 

That not a bad thing, inherently. Although in my experience is does limit the range, resonance and accessibility of the work. What frustrates me about LM is that her choices always seem to so completely undercut what I feel is the central tact of her work–slow dirge for new oneiric feminine; and she stands behind those choices with such bravado.

Why doesn’t that diminish the value of Klem’s work–I mean if she’s influenced by LM, then doesn’t that discount her work? I would argue no. There’s a way in which Klem’s work manages a unified aesthetic but the aesthetic expands outward to engage with concepts. (LM on the other hand tosses concepts like darts at the bullseye that is her aesthetic.)

In other words, Klem work is comparable to the person who says “hollowed out” because it’s the fullest way of expressing their own multiplicity of meaning even though ‘eviscerated’ might make her feel smarter and/or ‘gutted’ might appeal to her desire for visceral resonance.

The two other observations I can offer on approaching Klem’s work:

  1. While I’m less fond of her experiments with color but her use of it is entirely in keeping with notions of what role color should play in fine art photography–her color work insists on its own colorness in exactly the way color fine art photography should.
  2. Less in style or execution but when it comes to the relationship Klem seems to wish her audience to have with her subjects, there is more than a passing reminiscence to one of my favorite photographers of all time: Lynn Kastanovics.

Bonus: Klem really knows when and where to preference vertical orientation over landscape. (It’s actually a subject to which I  am considering the dedication of a future post .)