Afterimage Vol 44, no. 3

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Reports

Riga Photography Biennial 2016

Riga, Latvia
April 15–August 21, 2016

Jacquelyn Davis

It is always a visual and intellectual pleasure to visit Riga, with its art nouveau architecture on Albert Street, uniformed guards protecting the Freedom Monument, and lush parks that line the Daugava River as it loops through this romantic city. As Riga is the largest city in the Baltics, its arts and culture scene appears to be more advanced than most of its neighboring metropolises, yet there is still room for progress in certain fields—one of these being photography. As I revisited the unique city, I was greeted by one of Riga’s leading curators, Inga Brūvere, who graciously guided me through cobblestone streets to visit p articular venues of interest, such as her curation for the 2016 Riga Photography Biennial, Restart, and other satellite events. As  e walked together through the city center by foot on a spring day, Brūvere explained that Latvian photography had previously been perceived more as a recording and archiving tool than a contemporary art form within the Baltic art scene—partially due to the fact that, according to Brūvere, Riga’s photography departments, museums, and cultural institutions place emphasis on photography as a means to document history and our given era using nonfiction and factual modes of expression to reflect more digestible versions of reality….

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The Third Island

Triennale, Milan
December 1–20, 2015

OIGO n.1 The Third Island

Edited by Antonio Ottomanelli
Planar Books, 2015
240 pp (book) +42 (booklet)/€38

Luisa Grigoletto

In the post-photographic era, where image dissemination on the internet has made billions of images, from satellite photography to Instagram, readily available, is there any meaningful room left for documentary photography with a strong social bent? A new, ambitious project by OIGO (International Observatory on Major Works), a collective of photographers, argues in favor of the affirmative, with a book and traveling exhibition curated by Italian photographer Antonio Ottomanelli, titled The Third Island.

Its first installment, The Third Island, brought together photographers and writers in 2014 to focus on the impoverished region of Calabria, and particularly its often failed infrastructure, which is frequently the first thing Italians think of when they hear the word “Calabria.” The goal is to prod politicians, city planners, and citizens to take a critical look at the long-term effects of such building projects on the economy, environment, and landscape…

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When Art and Science Collide:
Arts at CERN

Gabrielle Decamous

Located in Geneva, Switzerland, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN (from the French Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) is an immense international research project in particle physics that inquires into the origin and composition of the universe under the motto “CERN accelerating science.” One interesting study aims at demonstrating the theory behind the Brout-Englert- Higgs mechanism, that the whole universe existed within a field (the Higgs field) after the Big Bang, which would have allowed the particles to interact and have mass. This would ultimately explain how we exist. In order to pursue the research, extensive means have been employed over several decades.

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Essays & Features

Outcasts: Exploring Documentary Photography and Photo-Elicitation with Long-Term Heroin Users

Aaron Goodman

When Providence Healthcare won a legal challenge in May 2014 at British Columbia’s Supreme Court to prescribe medically supervised heroin to two hundred and two of Vancouver’s most severely addicted drug users, a firestorm lit up online. Many called it a positive step for harm reduction that would help keep addicts from engaging in crime and using potentially lethal street drugs. Others said it was shameful that taxpayers would be funding a program for drug users who “contribute nothing to society,” according to one individual. Many had even more scathing things to say about heroin users…

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A Harsh Game: Ericka Beckman’s (Virtual) Reality

Robert Grand

In a 1983 issue of the Village Voice, J. Hoberman outlined the mayhem that occurred during the New York Film Festival’s screening of Ericka Beckman’s now-seminal short film You The Better (1983). The film was billed as a double feature with Jean-Luc Godard’s Passion (1982), and impatient audience members caused a clamor when forced to view Beckman’s film first. “The film was attacked by a sustained volley of hisses, whistles, and derisive clapping,” Hoberman recounts. “At the end [of the screening], Beckman was not only booed but actually pelted with programs.”..

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Nude Animal: Vanessa Renwick and the Wild

Bernard Roddy

In The Animal That Therefore I Am (2006) Jacques Derrida remarks
on texts by René Descartes concerning the animal. His attention
is drawn to the look the animal returns. Standing naked before
his cat, the philosopher sees it looking back at him. If now we
introduce this mutual look into an account of screen work by
Portland-based film and video artist Vanessa Renwick, the opportunity
arises to think in terms of animality and women…

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Beyond Mourning: On Photography and Extinction

Ella Mudie

Over the course of its approximate 3.5 billion-year history of life, the Earth has witnessed five mass extinction events thought to be triggered by causes as diverse as asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, ice ages, and other extreme shifts in climate. The fifth and most recent mass extinction event, the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction, occurred some sixty-six million years ago, and while it resulted in the loss of up to eighty percent of species, it is most known for the death of the dinosaurs. Fast forward to today, and scientists estimate we are currently losing animal and plant species at more than one thousand times the background or natural extinction rate. The evidence increasingly suggests we are living in a period of such highly elevated species loss as to warrant its naming as the sixth great mass extinction event. It is the first in the Earth’s history for which human activity can be counted as a primary causal agent and, in turn, there is no guarantee the human race will survive it…

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Exhibition Reviews

Less Than One

The Walker Art Center
Minneapolis
April 7–December 31, 2016

Suzanne E. Szucs

A dense offering from sixteen multidisciplinary artists of work that dates from the 1960s through today, the Less Than One exhibition at the Walker Art Center demands a slow and thoughtful viewing. The Walker’s artistic director and curator of the exhibition, Fionn Meade, has put together a selection of artworks— some newly acquired, others old standards—that support and provoke one another to explore the construction and performance of identity. Filling a generous amount of the Walker’s main gallery spaces (Galleries 1, 2, 3 and the Perlman Gallery), the work is organized into sub-groupings such as Iconoclasm and Graphic Impulse, with older and younger artists exhibited side by side rather than chronologically. Some of the groupings work marvelously to breathe new life into older work while providing a solid foundation for new explorations. Other additions feel forced into the overall exhibition structure, although all of the work presented is of merit. Despite these minor inconsistencies, the curatorial effort strives to connect work across time through technical as well as intellectual motivations. This overview will discuss the most memorable and media-based contributions….

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Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers

Barbican Art Gallery
London
March 16–June 19, 2016

An Ideal for Living: Photographing Class, Culture
and Identity in Modern Britain

Beetles+Huxley
London
July 27–September 17, 2016

Harriet Riches

Two photography shows in London this year focused on the representation of British culture and identity. At the Barbican, Strange and Familiar: Britain as Revealed by International Photographers comprised over 250 photographs by twenty-three photographers from the 1930s to the present, covering social documentary, portraiture, street photography, and architectural photography, to explore the various ways that the nation’s social, cultural, and political identity has been perceived by the non-native lens. Curated by Martin Parr, the extensive show combined what have become iconic images of British history with archival finds and contemporary works, and alongside the chronological display were a selection of fifty-eight related photobooks that put the work on the walls back into its original context. A similar theme was at the heart of Beetles+Huxley’s An Ideal for Living: Photographing Class, Culture and Identity in Modern Britain across town. Covering the same time period, this smaller show’s presentation of what it describes as a “particularly British way of life” includes international contributions from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, and Elliott Erwitt looking from the outside in, alongside British ones turning their cameras upon themselves and their fellow citizens in sometimes problematic ways…

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Cao Fei

MOMA PS1
New York City
April 3–August 30, 2016

Godfre Leung

It has been nearly a decade since Cao Fei, then twenty-nine years old, represented China as the youngest of the four women artists in its Everyday Miracles pavilion exhibition at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Her contribution was the now-legendary China Tracy Pavilion, a virtual biennial pavilion in RMB City (2007–11), the digital city Cao built in the online gaming platform Second Life. The physical manifestation of Cao’s Pavilion, authored under the auspices of her online avatar China Tracy, was an inflatable domed structure at the actual Biennale modeled after its virtual form within RMB City. The “real-life” pavilion opened with a live stream of a virtual opening in Second Life, presided over by well-known curators, gallerists, collectors, and patrons controlling avatars of themselves from remote locations…

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The Female Gaze, Part Two: Women Look at Men

Cheim & Read
New York City
June 23, 2016–August 31, 2016

Alisia Chase

Artists have always flattered those with the most power—and money—by giving them what they desire to view, and for most of Western history it has been white heteropatriarchy that has been in control. A wise cultural critic would say it’s therefore no surprise that many of the images made by and for men are of desirable women. But hindsight is 20/20, and it’s only due to some smart deconstructionist theory that we now understand the complex politics of “looking.” In 1972, John Berger illustrated how a culture’s “ways of seeing” are determined to a large degree by dominant social groups’ subject positions and experiences. Drawing a direct expressive parallel between Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s La Grande Odalisque (1814) and a Playboy pin-up, Berger opined that..

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Pao Houa Her: My Mother’s Flowers

Bockley Gallery
Minneapolis
June 23–August 6, 2016

Alexandra Alisauskas

In her previous work, Pao Houa Her has used photographic and multimedia practices to explore the tensions of individual and collective desire within the Hmong American community in the Twin Cities, a community of which she has been a part since 1986, when she arrived with her parents to the United States as refugees from Laos. To these tensions, Her’s exhibition at Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis, My Mother’s Flowers, added the themes of global mobility and exchange, combining digital photographs of real and artificial plants, found images of Hmong women from dating sites, and original portraits of Hmong and Hmong American women…

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Carol Sawyer: The Natalie Brettschneider Archive

Carleton University Art Gallery
Ottawa, Canada
January 18–April 19, 2016

Jaclyn Meloche

Carol Sawyer: The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, curated by Heather Anderson at Carleton University Art Gallery, exemplifies many of the ways feminism can be practiced inside an art gallery. In the form of a curatorial intervention, Vancouver-based artist Carol Sawyer selected works by women artists from the gallery’s permanent collection and created a fictionalized artist, Natalie Brettschneider, situating her within Canadian art history as well as framing her contributions to photography, performance, and video through a feminist lens. Embedded within a discourse of gender politics, Sawyer’s body of work challenges the omission of women artists from the predominantly male-dominated canon and, more importantly, asks viewers to consider how women artists produce knowledge through historical citationality…

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Book Reviews

The Composition of Movements to Come: Aesthetics and Cultural Labor After the Avant-Garde

By Stevphen Shukaitis
Rowman & Littlefield
176 pp./$39.95 (sb)

Marc James Léger

Riffing off of Ornette Coleman’s classic 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come and its later appropriation by the Swedish band Refused, Stevphen Shukaitis’s new book makes a forcible and compelling contribution to a rejuvenated discussion on avant-garde art and politics. A co-editor of Autonomedia press and editor of Minor Compositions press, Shukaitis comes to the subject of avant-gardism as a well-informed strategist of anarchist and autonomist politics. While contemporary autonomists typically balk at the term “strategy,” which was associated by Michel de Certeau with a politics of power and domination, Shukaitis frames his book as a plea for strategic thinking within micropolitics…

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Jet Lag

By Chien-Chi Chang
Edited by Anna-Patricia Kahn
Hatje Cantz, 2015
120 pp./$60.00 (hb)

Néha Hirve

At first glance, the nondescript airport on the cover of Chien-Chi Chang’s Jet Lag (2015) appears to be a photographic negative of a daytime exposure: the scratched sky is black, the ground is white, and blurry sprocket holes line the top edge. It takes a few seconds to realize it is actually a long exposure made at night. The scratches are planes taking off, the sprocket holes are possibly artifacts on an aircraft window, and the ground is lit up with an indeterminate number of anonymous vehicles circling the airfield…

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At the End of the Street in the Shadow: Orson Welles and the City

By Matthew Asprey Gear
Wallflower Press, 2016
292 pp./$90.00 (hb), $30.00 (sb)

Matthew Moore

“Why yet another Orson Welles monograph?,” one might ask. The relevance of any work is in the eye of the beholder. If one beholds Welles’s oeuvre as one of the most multifaceted sets of modern artistic expressions, then surely one will find this newest book an enjoyable and stimulating read. Published earlier this year, Matthew Asprey Gear’s At the End of the Street in the Shadow: Orson Welles and the City has much to offer anyone interested in the numerous projects brought into being by Welles, though little of it breaks new ground in terms of critical theory or reevaluation of Welles’s influence. How can a single book that so clearly reveres its subject reevaluate Welles’s position in the pantheon— especially without resorting to hyperbole? Nonetheless, Gear’s latest treatment in a relatively long line of five decades of scholarly treatments presents a thesis that is at once accessible and (in today’s geopolitical climate) topical: Welles’s films show the city as the prototypical site of internationalism…

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The Camera Does the Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography

By Peter Buse
University of Chicago Press, 2016
308 pp./$30.00 (hb)

Grace Linden

Peter Buse’s recent book The Camera Does the Rest: How Polaroid Changed Photography is not a history of the Polaroid Corporation, but rather an investigation into the material and materiality of Polaroid film. Buse sets out to explore whether Polaroid photography is distinct from other kinds of photography and, if so, what makes it singular. (Spoiler: it is different, but not for the reasons we think.) In six chapters, he describes the rituals surrounding Polaroid, arguing that ultimately “the act of photographing is just as important as, if not more important than, the resulting photograph” (20). Anecdote is interwoven with science, gossip, and a close reading of many diverse images. The sheer difficulty in writing about vernacular photography is this variety—there is no overarching snapshot “style”—and a challenge Buse deftly accepts…

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