Afterimage, Vol. 43, no. 5

43.5_Cover
Essays & Features

Where Do the Myths Lie?: Considering the Imaginary in Jo Ractliffes Landscapes of Conflict

Ikechukwu Casmir Onyewuenyi

Southwestern Africa, including present-day Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa, remains a contested space rife with conflict. From postcolonial dissent within African nations, and civil wars doubling as proxies for the Cold War, to the oppressive contrivances of apartheid, this region of the African continent is a labyrinth of volatility. Without a doubt, this capricious state has come to define the cultural imaginary of the region. Despite the seemingly shared subjugation across these countries, for some, like South African photographer Jo Ractliffe, many of these conflictual and contested areas are fictive, mythical places. For Ractliffe, as a white South African, Angola, in particular, “was simply ‘the border,’ a secret, unspoken location where brothers and boyfriends were sent as part of their military service.”2 Ractliffe contends that she “knew little about it [Angola], beyond the war”; hence her mythopoeic thought seems warranted…

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The Cowboy Prince

John Aäsp

In fall of 2015, Richard Prince exhibited a sculpture titled Cowboy at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea in New York City, which was both predictable and surprising. Prince’s long preoccupation with the cowboy image started with the work he produced in the 1980s while working in the tearsheets department of Time magazine. There he became attracted to the images used in Marlboro ads, which employed variations on the mythic, ruggedly handsome character to sell cigarettes. Prince rephotographed the ads with the skills of an amateur, cropping out the logo and ad copy and having them reprinted.

That simple action—removing the brand identity—stripped the image back to the mythic cowboy-in-landscape by separating it from its intended function…Read now>

 

Casting Spells: A Conversation with Peter Rock

Sidebar: Conversation with Colleen Plumb

Stephen Longmire

The habit of speaking for pictures, bringing them to life, is as old as writing, maybe older. Ekphrasis, the Greeks called it. Ekphrastic poems, beginning with Homer’s account of the shield of Achilles—which tells the story of creation, and everything under the sun—(re)create artworks in writing, including some that may not exist elsewhere. More recent poets have written from paintings and photographs, using them as jumping-off points to create their own worlds in words.

The novelist Peter Rock has long practiced the art of ekphrasis, though he would not call it by that name. A word he uses to describe his habit of turning to pictures for inspiration is “provocation.” His most recent project, Spells (2015), was provoked by the work of five photographers he invited to be his collaborators: Sophia Borazanian, Sara Lafleur-Vetter, Shaena Mallett, Peter Earl McCollough, and Colleen Plumb. Each supplied him with photographs, and he wrote stories in return…

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Exhibition Reviews

Free Play

Handwerker Gallery, Ithaca College

Ithaca, New York
Octiber 1–November 7, 2015

Alisia Grace Chase

In three decades of visiting museums, my fondest moment took place at the Walker Art Center in 1993. Its exhibition In the Spirit of Fluxus featured a full-scale recreation of FluxLabyrinth (1976), a snaking funhouse/maze with furry walls, trick doors, and a slide. I’d never been so bodily engaged with an artwork in a museum before, and haven’t since. Because museums frequently discourage touch—among other senses—and focus only on the visual, audiences are left deprived, and just as often, alienated. This lack of interactivity is one of the primary motivations behind the exhibition Free Play, recently at Ithaca College and organized by Seattlebased curator Melissa E. Feldman. Working under the auspices of the Independent Curators International program, Feldman grouped together fifteen works—many of them in the spirit of Dada and Fluxus—that required audience participation in order to be fully understood. As Feldman wrote in her introductory wall text, “Every work in this exhibition is meant to be handled and played,” and this premise alone is enough to mark the show as a progressive endeavor in a preservation-obsessed art world…

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Brian Ulrich: The Centurion

Robert Koch Gallery
San Francisco
December 15, 2015–January 30, 2016

Stephanie Amon

Robert Koch Gallery is found in a complex of galleries nestled among blocks of glassy, glossy designer shops with guards and the rank prevalence of San Francisco homelessness. For viewers stepping in from the street, the attended lobby seems a charged transitional space. On the fifth floor, a bold and cogent recent exhibition of Brian Ulrich’s new work, The Centurion, addressed superwealth as the 2015 “Christmas season” unfurled in nearby Union Square.

Ulrich is widely known for Copia (2001–11), a decade-long trilogy on American consumer culture inherent in the built environments of retail, thrift, and abandoned “dark” stores. Since then, he has also worked with junked neon signs and dead mall ephemera, reclaiming brand carcasses for exhibition…

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Isabel Rocamora: Troubled Histories, Ecstatic Solitudes

Koffler Gallery
Toronto
September 17, 2015–November 29, 2015

Jill Glessing

Contemporary theories of subjectivity tell us that identity is constructed and, therefore, unstable. How is it, then, that our sense of self and our place in the world can feel so fixed? The works of British-Spanish artist Isabel Rocamora suggest that we needn’t look far to understand: what binds us to our social selves is a complex web, spun with small details of clothing and objects and repeated bodily movements and gestures; even the land beneath our feet pulls us, like gravity, toward particular identities.

In each of the four moving-image works shown in the Koffler Gallery’s Troubled Histories, Ecstatic Solitudes, Rocamora explores four demographics of identity, then deconstructs the props and processes that hold, and often hurt, them. Evident was the artist’s performance background, and her subsequent development in video, then film…

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Andrea Büttner: Piano Destructions

Walker Art Center
Minneapolis
November 21, 2015–May 15, 2016

Alisia Grace Chase

In Jane Campion’s groundbreaking film The Piano (1993), her protagonist, Ada, is forced to marry a man she has never met. Ada brings two possessions—her young daughter and her piano—with her. Because Ada is mute, both function as communicative substitutes; signing with her daughter, she is able to relay her basic needs, and using the piano, she can express her varied emotions. When her new husband discovers she has been unfaithful, he severs one of Ada’s fingers, warning that if she continues to make him a cuckold, he will gladly cut off another. This sadistic mutilation is indubitably meant to limit Ada’s ability to communicate as well as to truncate her pleasure, but it also signifies how intentionally cruel patriarchal culture can be. In Piano Destructions (2014), German artist Andrea Büttner juxtaposes archival footage of (predominantly male) Fluxus artists willfully destroying pianos with more recent footage of female pianists elegantly playing in concert. By doing so, Büttner brilliantly reprises and contemporizes two of Campion’s major themes: men’s propensity to destroy and the piano as the embodiment of genteel femininity….

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Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination

Sidebar: Exhibition catalog review by Suzanne E. Szucs

Los Angeles County Museum of Art
November 22,–February 21, 2016

 

Jody Zellen

Diana Thater’s exhibition The Sympathetic Imagination at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is an installation of installations. In this first museum survey spanning twenty-five years of Thater’s work, rather than recreate her chronological development, the exhibition flows both within the museum and across the world, moving from Monet’s gardens at Giverny, France, to Chernobyl, Ukraine, to Jaipur, India, as viewers traverse the LACMA campus. Carefully orchestrated, the installation flows through the museum’s architecture, moving in and out of specifically designed spaces illuminated by projections and colored lights. The placement of projectors, monitors, and cables—treated as necessary givens and formal props—is conspicuous. Video display, as projection or on monitors, is the platform through which Thater shares her worldview….

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Book Reviews

Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the Artists’ Book

By Michael Hampton
Uniformbooks, 2015
176 pp./£12.00 (sb)

Tate Shaw

Ambitious discourse on artists’ books has come about infrequently since the 1970s. A small but seemingly important part of the conversation has dealt with what even to call a book or publication artwork, yet the term “artists’ book,” with its plural possessive grammatical construction, often despite referring to a single author/artist’s work, has somehow managed to last as a term used for serious research. Michael Hampton’s list-heavy twenty- six page essay (sequenced by capital letters of the English alphabet, as opposed to page numbers, and sandwiched within an annotated list of fifty works) in Unshelfmarked: Reconceiving the Artists’ Book begins with a definitive take on the history of attempts to establish a more formal criticism for the field. “The debate concerning the nature and meaning of the artists’ book, and how it might be defined,” what Michael Hampton calls “the Standard Model” of this critical inquiry, “has been vortical and bottomless for the last forty years…”

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Photography Is Magic

By Charlotte Cotton
Aperture, 2015
379 pp./$49.95 (sb)

Joe Lingeman

Photography Is Magic, published by Aperture in late 2015, follows up on Charlotte Cotton’s 2004 survey The Photograph as Contemporary Art, offering an overview of contemporary photographic practice that stretches the boundaries of photography as a medium by reconsidering and upending its fundamental characteristics—a movement that has gained rapid momentum in the past decade or so. Indeed, much of the work in the book doesn’t look, at first glance, like anything that might have been considered “photography” a few years ago.

Unlike its predecessor, Photography Is Magic does not offer a canonical account of this movement, but a slice of contemporary work, for now. Still, anything by Cotton—who has held influential curatorial positions at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Photographer’s Gallery in London as well as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and is one of the most important voices in contemporary photography—carries a heavy weight of significance…

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Station to Station

By Doug Aitken
Prestel, 2015
232 pp./$49.95 (hb)

Suzanne E. Szucs

Doug Aitken’s Station to Station traveled across the United States for twenty- four days during September of 2013 to mixed reviews. Outfitting a train with artists and musicians, the project made stops at key locations across the US to create “happenings” at each stop. Aitken has said he wanted the project to be ongoing, and “for Station to Station to live on as an idea, a dematerial space that people can use” (83). Slightly contradictory to that concept, the project spent a month at the Barbican Centre in London in 2015, and a feature film derived from the project is due to be released in 2016. Also joining the material world, a new book documenting the original exhibition has been released. Not having had experienced Station to Station in person, reviewing the book offered this writer an opportunity to investigate whether such an object has the ability to recreate an authentic experience for the viewer. As contributing artist Olaf Breuning reflects on the nature of twentyfirst- century art, “often the documentation today is more important than the event itself” (94)…

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Media Received

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From the Issue

Portfolio: And Everything Else, by HA! (Home Affairs: Arzu Ozkal, Claudia Costa Pederson, Nanette Yannuzi)

View this portfolio

LACMA Walkthrough of Sympathetic Imagination, by Diana Thater

View this video

Essay: The Cowboy Prince, by John Aäsp

Read this essay

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