Afterimage Vol. 45, No. 4

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From the Issue
Reports

Bubbly Creek Performance Art Assembly

Bernard Roddy

Much will be oversimplified in this review of the Bubbly Creek Performance Art Assembly. Over three successive evenings in three very different spaces, the art was realized within an extremely complex set of references. The south branch of the Chicago River runs through Bridgeport, a working-class neighborhood in Chicago known in recent decades for its alternative art spaces. Joseph Ravens, familiar as an organizer of live performance under the title of “DfbrL8r” events, recently moved into the neighborhood. Identified also with the performance art festival Rapid Pulse, Ravens says Bubbly Creek derives its name from the shorthand among locals for effluvia bubbling up from slaughterhouse waste upstream. One performance from each of the three days will be described here (by Ryan Greenlee, Michelle Murphy, and Hee Ran Lee).

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Northern Spark 2018: Commonality

Annie Dell’Aria

Urban light festivals, often taking place in business improvement districts with public and private financial backing, transform downtown spaces into all-ages parties, strategically designating places of innovation, play, nocturnal safety, and economic development. Though many festivals have a troubling relationship to the branding strategies of the “Creative City” and forces of gentrification, when done with curatorial nuance they can also provide platforms for local and emerging artists making provocative public and socially engaged work that reaches a broad and diverse audience. Minneapolis’s Northern Spark generated just these kinds of challenging yet accessible encounters in its latest iteration last June.

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Plana International Festival of Publications

Stephanie Sauer

São Paulo’s Plana International Festival of Publications, organized by artist Bia Bittencourt, is South America’s largest artist publications fair. In its seventh year, Plana attracted over twelve thousand visitors to its three days of events, performances, talks, exhibitions, readings, and vendor tables. This year’s theme was “Volta ao Nada,” or “Return to Nothing,” and corresponded to a shared feeling among exhibitors about the need to revisit the initial impetuses behind contemporary artist publishing movements amid the current political climate.

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Features

Spectacular Atrocity: The Capture and Dissemination of Images for Terrorist Aims

Justin Barski

In early February of 2015, Islamist militants occupying portions of Iraq and Syria released a video titled Healing the Believers’ Chests. This group, alternately referred to as ISIL or IS, but originally and most commonly known as ISIS since its seizure of large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014, has been working to craft popular perceptions of their brutality, battlefield success, and creation of an idyllic Muslim utopia. The video features the drawn-out immolation of a Jordanian F-16 pilot, Lieutenant Muath al-Kaseasbeh, captured after his jet crashed during anti-ISIS operations. Condemnation was swift from governments, political analysts, and others from across the globe. One senior analyst from the RAND Corporation, Brian Michael Jenkins, said of the killing: “I can’t recall a single incident in modern terrorism where terrorists deliberately killed a hostage with fire. There’s no religious basis for it this side of 17th-century witch burning. The sole purpose is terror. It will enrage some in Islam.” Most commentary in the media echoed a similar evaluation but one journalist and political commentator, Bill Moyers, wrote a very sober, penetrating, and some might say provocative article a week later in which he discussed atrocities committed in the modern age by white Christian Americans whose sole mission was to perpetuate their own brand of terror through the phenomenon of lynchings. He cites one gruesome but not atypical case from 1916—that of Jesse Washington, a black seventeen-year-old, who, minutes after being convicted of the murder of a white woman, was dragged outside by a courthouse mob who cut off his testicles and raised and lowered him over a bonfire for two hours until he died. Thousands, including city officials and police, attended this event, which was described as having a carnivalesque atmosphere and attracting half the town of Waco, Texas. When the event was over, Washington’s body was torn to pieces, which were then sold as souvenirs while photographs of the event were turned into postcards. This comparison gives two seemingly disparate groups, who would presumably be entirely antagonistic to each other, a commonality in tactics. Both are groups with highly defined exclusionary identities that are used to justify their violent actions with recourse to religion, and both staged spectacular modes of atrocity from which images were created and disseminated to viewers of like minds and presumably to potential victims. The elaboration of these actions for the sake of public viewership reveals their spectacular nature. For purposes of this article, “spectacle” refers to any event or display manufactured to be visually striking and arrest attention. Spectacle thus measures its success largely through the size of its audience. Photography as a medium is characterized by its easy legibility and high exhibition value and thus represents an obvious choice to advance the aims of any spectacular event and its associated mission. This essay examines the phenomenon of photographs of atrocity that were not surreptitiously captured by an outside observer or by a perpetrator who took them for private use. Instead, it will look at examples of atrocity images that were created and distributed for the purpose of creating spectacle as part of a terrorist agenda.

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Beyond the White Cube: Wang Bing at Documenta

Bernard Roddy

For some reason, to speak of architecture and cinema usually evokes shots in particular films representing architecture. Or one envisions a sequence of shots and the manner in which a space is constructed by means of
them. If we look for a plan in a film’s conception, if we interpret some aspect of a given film as its foundation, we remain within this representational understanding. By contrast, once the image of the cinema is set aside, all that seems to offer itself as architectural are circumstances of projection and structural qualities of interior spaces. A machine and a screen are housed within the cinema’s architecture and there are spaces for holding audiences. The following essay attempts to forgo making a choice between these two poles. Instead, architecture and cinema are to be thought of within a history of art, and the history of interest is to be conceived as having outgrown traditional distinctions between media. Last year’s Documenta 14 featured the cinema of Wang Bing. Simultaneously, Skulptur Projekte Münster, an event held every ten years in the town of Münster, Germany, featured public works of an architectural nature. Together the two presented broad parameters within which to consider the relation between architecture, contemporary visual art, and film. The town of Münster is approximately two hundred kilometers from Kassel. In what follows, a single film by Bing that was presented in Kassel will be framed by concerns explored in new public works observed in Münster and Kassel. The task is to highlight the merits of the film by Wang Bing. No curatorial intention linked the two events. But together they serve to illuminate the relationship of interest and thereby propose terms for the understanding of film.

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Photographing the Invisible: Katsumi Omori’s Everything happens for the first time

Taro Nettleton

“Sounds and scents, radiation, things that cannot be photographed, people live amongst such things.”
—Katsumi Omori

The filmmaker Werner Herzog has often stressed that the need for adequate images drives his practice. I have, with increasing frequency, wondered what sort of images would be adequate to post–3/11 Japan. Recognizable images of disaster, be it of wrecked houses, damaged photo albums, animal and human bodies left behind by the tsunami, or cities abandoned after being deemed exclusion zones, all feel outworn. Perhaps, as Susan Sontag suggests, this is not the fault of the images, but rather of the way our attention span has been abbreviated by various contemporary media such as television and the internet, which has taken its place. I don’t actually think this is the case. Currently dominant disaster images are inadequate in their generic quality; they only confirm what we already know about disasters. One of the things we know is that disaster and tragedy are always what happens to others, but the uncontainable nature of radiation radically undermines this sense of security, even for those who live outside the Northeastern region of Japan. The uniqueness of the relatively recent, and apparently all but already forgotten 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the meltdown of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and, particularly, the ongoing nuclear disaster require a new approach for visualization.

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Exhibition Reviews

Marx@200

Benjamin Ogrodnik

SPACE Gallery
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
April 6–June 10, 2018

As stand-up comics have long understood, comedy is not merely a form of entertainment, but also has the capacity for critique. Humor defuses our defenses and brings societal problems to light. Laying time bombs in socially accepted forms such as anecdotes, impersonations, or slapstick, comedy can be a way to cope with—or in some cases engineer—situations of political unrest. In the history of art, some of the most radical artworks exist as and through a comedic form. Marcel Duchamp’s founding gesture of conceptualism—1917’s Fountain—was a grand joke that, in its negation of beauty, summoned forth the invisible linguistic apparatus of art. The Dadaists and Surrealists made audiences laugh and squirm simultaneously. They sabotaged classical ideals of art through jarring juxtapositions, found objects, and visceral photocollages of war.

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Bill Jones: Waking Dream

Jill Glessing

John B. Aird Gallery
Toronto, Canada
May 8–June 8, 2018

Where do images come from? Western art history tells us they come from male genius. Yet, stories scattered through ancient mythology assign primordial roles for women: Pliny the Elder attributed the origin of painting to a young Corinthian woman who traced her lover’s shadow before he departed; a pagan woman, Hypatia, birthed Christ’s image from an amniotic lake, establishing the first icon from which all following icons were copied; Veronica printed Christ’s face on her veil. New York City–based artist Bill Jones considers such mythical moments as pre photographic; these early tracings, direct copies, watery images (as in a darkroom tray) generated a lineage that led directly to modern photography, film, and digital media. This lineage—woman imagining and birthing images—glows at the heart of Waking Dream. Jones’s exhibition, a summation of his long-term aesthetic and theoretical inquiries, developed a conversation that was at once dense and enchanting. Two multimedia projections, ten large cyanotype and digital prints, and four small vitrines displaying mostly historical photographic technologies and images charted a tangle of themes that engaged technological, psychological, metaphysical, and social relations.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment / Elliott Erwitt: Pittsburgh 1950

Marjorie Backman

International Center of Photography
New York City
May 23–September 2, 2018

For Henri Cartier-Bresson, it was an ironic turn of events. When the first large photo book of the French photographer was simultaneously published in Paris and New York in 1952, its English title, The Decisive Moment, ended up telegraphing a meaning opposite to his intentions. The book’s French title, Images à la Sauvette, literally meaning “images on the run,” perfectly summed up his approach to photography: operating like a stealthy street peddler without a license, capturing with his lens what he found. But the US publisher Simon & Schuster had culled from his introduction a quote by Cardinal de Retz (“There is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment”), extracting a catchy phrase (and perhaps a nod to commerce) for the English title. Cartier-Bresson later bristled at the implication when it became known as his brand, for he didn’t believe that a photo could be taken at only one decisive moment. Read now>

A.K. Burns: Survivor’s Remorse

Anisha Baid

Lightbox Gallery, Harvard Art Museums
Cambridge, Massachusetts
May 19–August 12, 2018

“I am consumed in the sense of your weight the way your flesh occupies momentary space the fullness of it beneath my palms. I am amazed at how perfectly your body fits to the curves of my hands. If I could attach our blood vessels so we could become each other I would. If I could attach our blood vessels in order to anchor you to the earth to this present time to me I would.”
—David Wojnarowicz

Survivor’s Remorse, A.K. Burns’s new video installation at Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, occupies a small passage in the Lightbox Gallery, in between two sides of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies on the fifth floor. Across from the installation, a glass wall allows the museum visitor to peer down into the rest of the museum and also catch a glimpse of conservationists and researchers at work in the lab. This is perhaps the last stop for most visitors. The installation is in fact part of the larger Analog Culture exhibition on view in the third-floor galleries. Commissioned by the museum in response to their recently acquired collection of prints (including those by Peter Hujar, Nan Goldin, and David Wojnarowicz, among others), the video begins with footage from protests against government neglect of the AIDS crisis following Wojnarowicz’s death in 1992. Taking his life and work as a point of departure, Survivor’s Remorse mediates a discussion around art institutions, preservation, and mortality.

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Book Reviews

Across the Art/Life Divide: Performance, Subjectivity, and Social Practice in Contemporary Art

By Martin Patrick
Intellect, 2017

From the perspective of a leftist critique of the “ideology of the aesthetic,” there are three potential ways for cultural theory to assess the prospects for cultural radicalism in the long postwar period that has lasted until today. The first relates to the distinction between the heroic studio art of the alienated modernist artist and the pluralist as well as commercial sensibility of an art in the expanded field of heteronomy that encompasses the myriad facets of social reality, including identities, ecology, institutions, science, technology, etc. A second strand establishes criteria for postwar art that are not only historical and aesthetic, but also ideological, defining cultural production in the context of economic competition within a global capitalist world system. In this case, one either considers the possibility of aesthetic resistance to the capitalist culture industry to be systematically instrumentalized, or instead emphasizes art’s relative autonomy and critical distance as necessary conditions for the critical cognition of reality. This would apply unevenly to the third option, which involves the more engaged and activist trends in social practice art. For many engaged artists, the institutional location and theoretical trappings of art are ad-hoc occasions for extra-discursive forays into praxiological undertakings.

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Portfolio

Portfolio: Shrukk (Knot)

Mudabbir Ahmad Tak

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Media Received

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FROM THE ISSUE

Current Issue, Vol. 45, no. 4

PORTFOLIO
Shrukk (Knot) by Mudabbir Ahmad Tak


EXHIBITION REVIEW
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment / Elliott Erwitt: Pittsburgh 1950 by Marjorie Backman

PREVIOUS ISSUE
Vol. 45, nos. 2 &3



PORTFOLIO
Citizen by Michael Danner


PORTFOLIO
Shame by Elissa Levy

ONLINE EXCLUSIVES


REPORT
Image Text Ithaca Symposium


FEATURE
Film as Verb: Documentary Imperfection in the Post-Factual Era by Gabrielle McNally


DOSSIER
Speculations and Inquiries on New Participatory Documentary Environments


DOSSIER
Toward a Theory of Participatory New Media Documentary


DOSSIER
Documentary Untethered, Documentary Becoming


DOSSIER
Collaborative Documentary Practice: Histories, Theories, Practices

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Silos by Andria Hickey and Matthew Chasney

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