Afterimage Vol. 38 No. 5


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by David LaRocca [DDET (+)]

In The Noir A-Z (2009), Julian Hibbard not only creates a visual
alphabet to accompany the dominant terms and tempers of
the noir universe, but also makes the reader the condition for
their amalgamation. Word and image are coupled, awaiting
definitions that we must discover, invent, or suffer as we discern
the proposed relationship. These definitions—or are they
stories?—are not provided by the artist; they emerge from the
synaptic transformation of what attracts and repels us.

At first blush, the book seems playfully provocative and wickedly
humorous, a stylish semiotic experiment in which Hibbard teases
out a word’s visual sense or seduces a photograph to pair up with
an illicit concept. Pages are turned with increasing trepidation
as one recognizes that the relationship between word and image
is not the result of some essential connection or logical rapport,
but the effect of one’s own unarticulated fear and latent desire.
At that moment, The Noir A-Z becomes a devastating emotional
Rorschach test. Words and images come together, and then
interact—finding affinities, affections, and affiliations that
ultimately divulge much about the viewer. These revelations
are seldom clear and comforting; rather, they instill agitation
and uncertainty. While every interpretive conclusion one makes
about Hibbard’s alphabet feels like a confession, it is not evidence
that can be used for judgment or assessment—the results are too
mercurial. Though a response to The Noir A-Z may be taken as
an inadvertent and revealing admission, such a reaction need not
be feared as an embarrassing expression of secrets, fantasies, or
repressed inner conflicts. Anyone looking at Hibbard’s alphabet
ends up defined by it—albeit often without the capacity to say
precisely how.

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by Paul Roberts [DDET (+)]

The Archive of Modern Conflict, an intriguing organization
begun in the early 1990s, collects photographs acquired
from a variety of sources both national and international,
covering the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While the
Archive’s name suggests a significant focus on military imagery,
its contents and the interests of those responsible for compiling
them is not restricted to such themes, and in fact encompasses
both professional and vernacular photography, discarded personal
albums, and press photos ranging across broad subject matters.

Little information regarding the Archive can be easily gleaned
from external sources (the Archive has no online presence save
its bookshop and seldom updated blog), nor from those who work
there. A 2006 article by Duncan Fallowell for The First Post recalls
the following encounter with “a mysterious couple” who worked
for the Archive:

“So what goes on here?” [asked Fallowell]. “Good question,”
[the man in charge] replied, adding, “Conflict is only how
we started.” [. . .] “How would you define this place?” “As
a curiously growing animal.” “And who owns it, who pays
for it?” He smiled, said “Not me,” and vanished backwards
‘round a corner.

An interview with the Archive’s curator, Timothy Prus, in Source,
serves as one of the few insights into both the collection and the
collector. In particular, Prus outlines his thoughts and approaches
to collecting and organizing the Archive—showing a concern for
insuring the integrity of photo albums and other acquisitions by
retaining them intact rather than cataloging their contents by
theme or other system of archiving.

Since 2005, the Archive of Modern Conflict has published
numerous books drawing upon its significant collection, including
Nein, Onkel (2007). This collection of photographs recounts the
daily lives of members of the Nazi military and was awarded the
Historical Book Award at Recontres d’Arles in 2008. In addition,
the Archive has published a number of Stephen Gill’s books and,
according to the The Telegraph, helped fund Gill’s projects by
collecting prints, documentation of his bookmaking process, and
other artworks.

My own interest in the Archive of Modern Conflict was piqued
when I was introduced to Draft 0064, in which artists and scholars
were given the opportunity to explore the Archive’s contents and
present their findings. Highlights include Martin Parr’s selection
of photos of garish 1970s private jet interiors, and Jeremy Deller’s
presentation of materials related to the 1969 Native American
occupation of Alcatraz prison following its closure in 1963.
Also noteworthy is Happy Tonite (2010), a collection of photographs
by contemporary Chinese photographers that documents a
changing social landscape. Like Nein, Onkel, this book offers an
alternative and sometimes intimate view of a culture and society
that Westerners may assume is familiar or predictable. However,
Happy Tonite shows a marked ability to surprise in terms of its
familiarity mixed with a strangeness, reflecting a country and
culture that is clearly drawn both to its cultural past and to
Western influences.

In November 2010, I conducted an email interview with James
Welch, who works for the Archive and co-edited Happy Tonite
with Ed Jones.

Paul Roberts: Are the enigmatic and secretive Archive
of Modern Conflict and the publisher Archive of Modern
Conflict two strands of the same organization, or two
entities that coexist under a single name?

James Welch: Two strands of the same organization. What we
collect and are interested in as a photo archive naturally informs
what we decide to print as publishers. In some ways, the books we
publish can be seen as snippets of the Archive’s contents.

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by Mark James Liger [DDET (+)]

Perhaps one of the most egregious cases of unmitigated
injustice in the United States is the prosecution of the
Angola 3: Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace, and Robert
King Wilkerson. Although King was released from the Louisiana
State Penitentiary in 2001, his comrades continue to serve life
sentences in solitary confinement for the alleged 1972 murder of
a prison guard. This conviction is largely recognized as wrongful
and designed to silence the three Black Panther activists, who had
struggled for prison reform, to end prison rape, and to improve
the inhumane conditions that prevail in places like the Louisiana
State Penitentiary. Formerly an antebellum slave plantation,
today the prison complex is a 180,000-acre work camp, where
three quarters of the inmates are African American. As the
largest employer in the region, the Louisiana State Penitentiary
pays prisoners anywhere between four and twenty cents per hour
for their forced labor.

Brooklyn-born activist artist Jackie Sumell was moved by a
lecture given by Robert King in California in 2001 and began a
correspondence with Herman Wallace, who has been living in a
6 x 9 foot cell for more than thirty-nine years, a situation Sumell
refers to as a “psychological mind fuck.” Wallace is forced to
remain in this cell twenty-three hours per day, seven days per
week. In a 2003 letter, Sumell asked Wallace, “What kind of
house does a man who has lived in a 6 x 9 foot box for over thirty
years dream of?” Wallace’s response became the basis of The
House That Herman Built (2003–present), an ongoing collaborative
video project between Sumell and Wallace.

As part of this extensive collaboration, Sumell produced a video
featuring a CAD architectural drawing based on Wallace’s
written description of his ideal home, as narrated by King. The
video opens with an exterior view of the house, surrounded by
gardens and flowers. From a two-car garage, the viewer passes
a storage space with a pantry for dry goods. In his review of the
project, Wallace noticed that among the items represented in the
pantry, Sumell had forgotten the Tabasco sauce. The fact that
Wallace noticed such a tiny omission shows the extent to which
the project allows him to imagine himself in a wholly different
place, freed from confinement.

Among the many splendid aspects of the house, most striking is
Wallace’s commitment to revolutionary politics, as evidenced in
the dining and conference room with its wall of revolutionary
fame displaying framed pictures of prominent abolitionists John
Brown, Gabriel Prosser, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, and
Denmark Vessey. The bottom of the swimming pool in the yard
contains the Black Panther Party emblem. Wallace’s experiences
of militant struggle are reflected in the design of the house, which
allows for a quick escape. A fireplace in the second-floor master
bedroom leads to an underground bunker thirty-five feet away
from the house, equipped with military essentials, foodstuffs,
and first aid supplies. Wallace’s description vacillates between
details concerning construction materials, the size of rooms and
their furnishings, and uncanny reminders of life in prison and
yearnings for a just society. “I wonder,” Wallace concludes, “how
psychologists would evaluate me as a person.”

The House That Herman Built has been exhibited widely in
North America and Europe, and with the encouragement and
donations of architects, designers, builders, artists, an urbanist,
and a documentary filmmaker, plans to build Herman’s House are
underway. I interviewed Jackie Sumell in person and by email in
February and March of 2010 and subsequently corresponded with
Herman Wallace. In both cases, I inquired about the relationship
between the activist organizing of the present and the revolutionary
goals and aims of the Black Panther Party. Before I relate these two
interactions, I wish first to provide some analysis of the theoretical
and philosophical concerns that brought me to this work.

In a well-known debate among cultural and political theorists
Slavoj Žižek, Judith Butler, and Ernesto Laclau, Žižek concretized
one of his most prescient criticisms of the postmodern cultural
politics of difference—that is, the view that because capital
functions as the concrete universal of late capitalist globalization,
the categories of class, race, gender, and sexuality do not operate as
equivalents. Žižek asks us to consider how a class analysis allows
us to distinguish universal emancipatory radical politics from the
plurality of struggles based on race, gender, and sexuality that
function today as the basis of a neoliberal “post-politics,” leading
to what he refers to as the “culturalization of politics.” Žižek
argues that in the chain of signifiers race, class, and gender, class is
named but rarely theorized; anti-capitalist struggle is regarded
as just one among a series of struggles. While many may be
prepared to concede that neoliberal capitalism is fundamentally
anti-democratic, few are prepared to take the “next step” and
“make capitalism history.” Alain Badiou, for example, argues
that the “communist hypothesis” must be upheld against today’s
reactionary restoration of class power, but believes the Leninist
sequence of vanguard party organization and mass mobilization
of the proletariat is no longer a viable option.

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by Harry J. Weil [DDET (+)]

A tuna fish sandwich on wheat toast with butter and lettuce,
no mayo, and a cup of soup or glass of buttermilk.” Alison
Knowles first began eating the Identical Lunch in 1969,
but did not conceive of it as a performance until her friend
Philip Corner pointed out she was eating the same lunch at
about the same time each day. Soon she invited friends to eat
the same lunch and record their experiences. Their accounts
were compiled into the Journal of the Identical Lunch (1971), and
a close reading reveals that no eating of the lunch is exactly
the same.

Tuna fish sandwiches, Nivea hand cream, beans, and shoe
soles are but a small sampling of the objects Knowles has used
in her career of more than half a century. She is a founding
member of Fluxus, having performed at the group’s inaugural
1962 show in Wiesbaden, Germany. After a tour of Europe, she
returned to New York City with her partner Dick Higgins and
continued to perform with Fluxus. She expanded her oeuvre to
include music compositions, radio shows, papermaking, sound
installations, and artist books.

Knowles’s work has recently received a wave of attention as
interest in Fluxus has piqued across the globe. In 2008 she
performed Make a Salad to a crowd of over 3,000 at the Tate
Modern in London. She was the artist-in-residence at the
Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University
in the fall of 2009. In January 2011, she served the Identical Lunch
to select participants at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
in New York City. Several of her artist books were included in
the small exhibition “Experimental Women in Flux” (August
4–November 8, 2010) at MoMA, as part of the recently donated
Silverman Fluxus Collection. As part of the exhibition, Knowles
discussed her early career and influences with art historian
Julia Robinson. Knowles sat down with me at her New York
apartment in December 2010 to further discuss her early
collaborations with Fluxus artists Higgins, Nam June Paik, and
Ben Vautier, as well as with artworld luminaries John Cage and
Marcel Duchamp.

Harry Weil: Alison, let’s begin at the beginning. At your
recent MoMA lecture you discussed your early work in
silkscreening. Could you elaborate more on that?

Alison Knowles: When I first got married [to Higgins] I had to
get a job, and I started working at a silkscreen studio. We made
advertising signs for airports for backlit plexi[glass] panels. Air
France was one of our customers. My job was not to design the
typeface, but to configure the proportions of it for the sign. I
would then take that into the darkroom, make a film positive,
and make the silkscreen that would be used for advertisement.

HW: Did you train in silkscreening while an
undergraduate at Pratt, or was the process new to you?

AK: There weren’t any silkscreen courses at Pratt. I took painting
with Richard Linder and Adolph Gottlieb. Linder also taught
book design. There was etching and drypoint, but that didn’t
really catch my eye. When I graduated I had to get a job right
away, and that is when I started working with silkscreens. The
owner humored me. He liked me, and I got away with shorter
hours—four or five hours a day—and more pay than I deserved
at that point.

HW: So you are a painter by training? How long did
that last?

AK: When Dick and I moved to Chelsea on 22nd Street, I stopped
painting. It wasn’t that Gottlieb disappointed me, but I had my
first show with these huge abstract expressionist paintings. I
wasn’t too pleased. This was before 1962; it was pre-Wiesbaden.
I put up all those canvases and had the feeling that I wasn’t a
painter. I formed that [idea] very definitely when I listened to
people around me; people much brighter than myself. They said
the work looked very derivative, and they asked if I wrote poetry.
To go in another direction.

HW: Had you ever written poetry before?

AK: I have always written [. . .] as far back as Scarsdale High
School, where I was in an honors class with someone named
Sam Whitters. He was someone I adored. He told me I should
write and be an artist. [He was] one of those great people who
push you along, who inspire you. I have a lot of journals from
when I was ten or twelve that I would paste pictures into and
write about Walt Disney. When I got to high school I stopped
those journals and wanted to learn French. In Scarsdale I had
to work hard just to stay there. From there I went to Middlebury
[College] and then to Pratt Institute.

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Exhibition Reviews

“Pae White: Material Mutters”
The Power Plant
October 9, 2010–January 2, 2011
Review by William Ganis [DDET (+)]

In “Material Mutters,” Pae White engaged the Power Plant’s
architectural spaces with her monumental tapestries. While these
textiles dominated the exhibition, two video pieces and many
intimate computer “carvings” informed viewers about the digital
imaging strategies applied across the displayed works.

Skygazing (2006) consists of eight textiles, each functioning alone
as a complete composition. Together they comprise a mural-sized
continuity evocative of James Rosenquist’s layered surrealist
billboards. White aggrandizes cast-off objects such as telephone
book pages, weeds, and fabric cuttings in her textiles, and
layers her photographed or Photoshopped elements to achieve
astonishing trompe l’oeil effects. Illusionistic space that initially
reads as convincing becomes ambiguous through complex
layering and illusionistic holes (including White’s hallmark
hexagons) that seem cut into images of scattered paper and cloth
bits. The imagery includes references to tapestry, notably pictures
of colorful threads and cut paper, woven together like fabric.

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“Emergency Contraception”
By Jessica Ann Peavy
Collette Blanchard Gallery
New York City
November 5–December 29, 2010
Review by Jody B. Cutler [DDET (+)]

In our era of ubiquitous real-time images, faux-documentary
film, and YouTube picks at the Guggenheim Museum, much
current video art seems poised at the final frontier between art/
artifice and life. The occlusion of naturalism and dramatization
is a crucial point of tension in the videos of Jessica Ann Peavy, as
evidenced in her first solo show in Manhattan. The title series
was comprised of four nearly wall-sized projected pieces in which
individual women of color delivered monologues (more or less),
all related to male trouble.

Three of these works presented their subjects in contemporary
little-black-dress attire reclining on patterned sofas, suggesting
both portrait studio set-ups and therapy sessions. The
simultaneously spoken narratives are nearly incoherent, yet echo
the surrounding female presence of the projections. But when the
viewer stepped closer to an image, fragments of dialogue came
into aural focus: “How could you know? . . . I saw you look at her
. . . You didn’t answer . . . I remember what you said. . . .” The
women appeared alternatively defensive, vulnerable, matterof-
fact, and, at times, on the verge of anger, but without much
crescendo. Occasionally a male voice was heard—the object
and other side, as it were, to the foreground story. The series was
inspired by the long-running Oxygen Network reality television
show Snapped, which examines the stories of women who kill their
abusive boyfriends or husbands. Reported by law enforcement
and others involved with the cases, occasional stand-ins for the “criminals”
are used in reenactments. Peavy’s women, on the other hand, escaped
before a final stand-off, hence the title—Emergency Contraception. The
post-partum confessional doubles asa talking cure.

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“Without You I Am Nothing: Art and Its Audience”
Museum of Contemporary Art
November 20, 2010–May 1, 2011
Review by Luke Strosnider [Read the Full Text]

“Het onvermoeibaar epos (The tireless epic): Fieret–Tichý–Heyboer”
Fotomuseum Den Haag
The Hague, the Netherlands
October 2, 2010–January 9, 2011
Review by Luisa Grigoletto [DDET (+)]

The connection between artist Gerard Peter Fieret (1924–
2009) and the Fotomuseum of his hometown, The Hague, the
Netherlands, has always been strong. In 2004 the museum
featured a major retrospective of Fieret’s work to honor him
and to celebrate his eightieth birthday. Six years later, the
retrospective’s curator, Wim van Sinderen, decided to deepen
this achievement by displaying the work of Fieret and two
other self-taught photographers and outsiders to mainstream
photography, Anton Heyboer (1924–2005), who was also Dutch,
and Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý (1926–). Multiple factors
occasioned the exhibit: the Gemeentemuseum’s acquisition of
the Fieret’s estate after his death, the growing global attention
to Tichý—marked by the solo shows at the Centre Pompidou in
Paris in 2008 and at the International Center of Photography
in New York City in 2010—and the “accidental” discovery of
mislabeled photos by Heyboer in the Gemeentemueum collection
in 2009.

The show aimed to provide a panoramic view of the vast
production of the three artists (displaying roughly fifty images
from each), and highlighted the similarities in their works as
well as the differences in their approach and intentions. This
parallelism greeted the viewer from the exhibit entrance, where
an introductory panel explaining the theme was wedged between
a selection of three works from each artist.

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“That’s Novel! … Lifting Comics From the Page
London Print Studio
London, England
October 22–December 18, 2010
Review by Alison Frank [DDET (+)]

Comics have long transcended the domain of children’s
entertainment in the Saturday papers. Although some persist
in seeing the medium as lightweight, there are many credible
reasons for taking sequential art seriously. One is its implicit
relationship to film: both film and comics are based on a series
of frames used to visually narrate events in space and time. On
a practical level, films and comics closely resemble each other in
their early stages. A film’s storyboard resembles a comic book’s
sequential appearance, while the planning stage of a comic strip
often involves cinematic descriptions illustrating the way the
frames should be drawn.

“That’s Novel! . . . Lifting Comics From the Page” presented
highlights of contemporary British and international comics. It
was the centerpiece of last year’s Comica, an annual international
comics festival in London. In addition to numerous special
events, the festival included a smaller exhibition featuring the
winners of The Observer/Cape Graphic Short Story Prize 2010 (at
Orbital Comics in London’s West End). This year’s winner, Room
208 (2010), is writer and illustrator Stephen Collins’s stylistically
unique breakthrough piece about an unusual honeymoon. In
this comic, each frame adds its own piece of information to the
story, as is standard, but the frames also fit together to form a
larger image that fills the entire page. With this uncommon
use of visuals, Room 208 stands out when compared to more
traditionally styled comics.

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“Deep Impressions: Willie Cole Works on Paper”
The James Gallery of the Graduate Center, The City University of New York
New York City
September 21, 2010–January 8, 2011
Review by Jody B. Cutler [DDET (+)]

Willie Cole is best known for assemblage sculptures and
experimental prints that transform prosaic objects into symbolic
representations of African American identity. The most
recognizable object and image in Cole’s oeuvre over the past two
decades is the household steam iron, in which Cole has discovered
rich content related to the diaspora, from Yorubaland to black
female labor in the Americas to his own chance encounter with a
cache of abandoned irons and ironing boards near his first studio
in his native Newark, New Jersey. Cole has employed the irons
not only as readymades, but as printing tools that have yielded
some of his most memorable works to date, as seen in his recent
retrospective of works on paper organized by veteran curator
Patterson Sims.

Cole began exploring the metaphoric and formal potential of
iron scorching in the early 1990s. In Domestic ID II (1991), heated
steam irons were pressed, tapered end pointed down, into thick
paper to suggest sepia-toned masks ornamented with distinctive
perforation patterns. Arranged in rows and framed by a mullioned
window, each floating image is labeled with the brand name of its
iron matrix, as in an ethnographic display. The singed contours
of the rusty imprints enhance the faded-photograph illusion.
This work broaches the social mutability of gender associations
in its synthesis of “New World” women’s work and mask-making,
traditionally an exclusively male domain in most West African
cultures (along with wood and metalwork).

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“Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960s to Now”
Exit Art
New York City
September 20–December 6, 2008

Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures 1960s to Now
By Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee in association with Exit Art
AK Press, 2010
178 pp./$28.95 (sb)
Review by Daniel Tucker [DDET (+)]

“We’re Still Here” read the large script on a mid-sized street-level
billboard below a black-and-white photograph of a family staring
confidently at the camera. The image was tiled and wheat-pasted
in four pieces to cover a paid advertisement. This poster was not a
paid ad, but an illegal public service announcement produced by
anti-gentrification activists in San Francisco’s Mission District.
It signaled to all who viewed it that working-class immigrant
families being priced out and evicted from the neighborhood
were not leaving without a fight.

Graphics like “We’re Still Here” make up a small fraction of the
catalog and recent exhibition “Signs of Change: Social Movement
Cultures 1960s to Now” by Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee.
Other movements profiled in the catalog include the Zapatistas,
the United Farm Workers, the Attica Prison Rebellions, the
Anti-Apartheid movement, squatters from Amsterdam to New
York City, and, more recently, activism around climate change.
The project is organized into seven broad thematic categories
ranging from the relatively straightforward “Struggle for the
Land,” which includes American Indian, Northern Irish, and
Palestinian struggles, to the more abstract “Let It All Hang
Out,” which encompasses 1960s and ’70s countercultures like
Provo, the Yippies, and more recent punk-inspired subcultures
experimenting with ways to circumvent the commodification of
everyday life.

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“Madame Curie”
By Jennifer Steinkamp
Museum of Contemporary Art
San Diego, California
January 23 –June 19, 2011
Review by Drew Snyder [DDET (+)]

In her latest large-scale animation titled Madame Curie, artist
Jennifer Steinkamp mobilizes a complex narrative of art,
innovation, triumph, and disaster. She uses new media to tell old
stories, alluding to pain through pacific movement, and tasking
science to illustrate her poetry. In effect, virtually every part of this
monumental seven-channel video installation implies its opposite,
opening up an exegetic space of reflection and unease. In the end it is
the animated sway of the flowers, at once beautiful and foreboding,
in which the installation’s overarching narrative is revealed.
Drawing from some forty flowers mentioned in Eve Curie’s
biography of her mother Marie, Steinkamp digitally renders a
diverse floral ecosystem over an infinitely non-descript black
background. In four-and-a-half-minute loops, she animates this
convoluted network of flower petals, stems, and leaves in varying
shapes and contrasting speeds to create a rather dizzying sense
of deep space. The immersive quality of the large projections,
combined with a vast gallery floor intentionally emptied of any
object or furniture, intensifies the viewers’ awareness of their
own bodily presence in, and movement through, the space. This
corporal engagement is what raises the piece’s status from mere
video projection to full-scale installation. Its aesthetic foundation
is the generation of these spatial layers within both the projected
surface itself and the gallery’s physical environment. Furthermore,
by engineering a situation in which bodies move within a
cavernous yet enclosed space, Steinkamp provides an echo of
atomic structures that enriches the installation’s narrative arc.

For the viewer who knows nothing about Marie Curie or the
artist, the installation—with its dominance of the wide-open
4,500-square-foot gallery and site-specific precision—is a
spectacular combination of technological mastery and aesthetic
grace. However, the story of Marie Curie and its engagement by
Steinkamp (an acclaimed contributor to the field of time-based
digital video) adds dimensions to this piece worthy of special

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“Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens”
The Phillips Collection
Washington, DC
October 10, 2009–January 10, 2010

Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens
By Wendy A. Grossman
International Arts and Artists, 2009
184 pp./$39.95 (sb)

Review by Patricia Johnston [DDET (+)]

This fascinating exhibition and its accompanying catalog promise
discussion of Man Ray’s photographs of African sculpture and
their part in the history of modernism. They deliver that promise
and much more, examining a wider range of works than the title
suggests. The exhibition and catalog include images by Man Ray,
but also works by twenty-one additional American and European
modernist photographers who explored a great variety of non-
Western subjects—particularly Oceanic, Pre-Columbian, and
African arts. The Euro-American photographs featured in the
exhibit are skillfully interwoven with African masks, sculptures,
and reproductions of the original photographs from books and

In its goal to present a comprehensive survey of the representation
of non-Western art in early twentieth-century photography, the
exhibition and catalog make significant contributions to the
study of the history of modernism and photography. The wellknown
story of how modernist art incorporated the geometries
of non-Western art is illustrated, as is the process through which
photography helped transform non-Western sculpture from
artifact to art in Euro-American categories of aesthetics.

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Book Reviews

Abandoned Images: Film and Film’s End
By Stephen Barber
Reaktion, 2010
192 pp./$24.95 (sb)
Review by Lisa Patti [DDET (+)]

Over the past decade, several important books, including Paolo Cherchi
Usai’s The Death of Cinema: History, Cultural Memory, and the Digital Dark Age
(2008) and Laura Mulvey’s Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving
Image (2006), have examined the death of celluloid cinema in relation to cinema’s
digital forms. In the opening chapter of his new book, Abandoned Images:
Film and Film’s End (2010), Stephen Barber provides an elegiac and
anecdotal account of the eccentric histories of the movie theaters that
line Los Angeles’s Broadway, and briefly cites the current fascination
with cinematic death—from the decay of celluloid to the uncanny screen
presence of deceased stars. These theoretical and historical contexts recede
once Barber shifts his focus to the Broadway theaters that preoccupy the book.

Barber eschews a bibliography (citing only a few scattered texts) in
favor of direct engagement with this urban neighborhood and its
post-cinematic geography. He convincingly argues that an analysis
of the decay of cinema’s grand theaters should accompany the
broader analysis of the decay of cinema: “Abandoned cinemas—
whether left to disintegrate, obliviously re-used, conjured only
from a momentary spatial inhabitation, or else resuscitated into
filmic life—constitute the sensitized zones in which to explore
film’s end” (29).

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Killed: Rejected Images of the Farm Security Administration
By William E. Jones
PPP Editions, 2010
unpagniated/157 illustrations/$75.00 (hb)
Review by Patrick Friel [DDET (+)]

A 1935 photograph shows three men in a field in Brown County, Indiana.
One sits, one stands, and one crouches. The image is fine, if unremarkable—typical New
Deal photo-documentary work. The only anomaly is a black circle obliterating the
head of the crouching man.

This is not an instance of surrealist estrangement, playful dadaist
intervention, or some later self-reflexive attempt to foreground
photographic materiality. Nor is this visual rupture a case of
any kind of artistic or critical commentary. The truth is rather
prosaic: the photograph is by Theodor Jung, and the disfiguration
is simply an editorial rejection by Roy Stryker.

Stryker was head of a federal government photography unit that
operated under several agencies from 1935 to 1944, including the
Resettlement Administration, the Farm Security Administration
(FSA), and the Office of War Information. He hired a stable of
photographers who were tasked with documenting the impact
of cash loans to farmers and newly planned communities,
and the lives of sharecroppers and migratory workers, among
other subjects. During the decade it was active, the project’s
photographers produced more than 170,000 images.
One hundred and fifty-seven of these images have been selected
by filmmaker, artist, and writer William E. Jones for this volume.
Instead of selecting iconic work by Dorothea Lange and Walker
Evans—both of whom worked for the unit—Jones dug deeper
into the FSA archive (now housed at the Library of Congress) to
unearth work by lesser-known photographers and, particularly,
images that did not pass Stryker’s editorial muster (including a
handful by Evans).

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

Speculations and Inquiries on New Participatory Documentary Environments

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Documentary Untethered, Documentary Becoming

Collaborative Documentary Practice: Histories, Theories, Practices


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