Afterimage Vol. 40, No. 4

Afterimage 40.4 - Cover and Portfolio


The 56th BFI London Film Festival
London, UK
October 10–21, 2012
by Sharon Lin Tay

In July 2011, the U.K. Film Council was one of the first casualties of the coalition government’s ideologically driven program of cuts to public bodies. As the result of the Film Council’s demise, the British Film Institute (BFI) became responsible for the funding of film production and development along with its usually more academic and archival responsibilities. These seismic shifts appear to have affected this year’s somewhat pared-down London Film Festival, for better or for worse.

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Truth is Concrete: A 24/7 Marathon Camp
Graz, Austria
September 21–28, 2012
by Ahmad Hosni

“This looks like a concentration camp,” quipped one of the guests as he pointed to the makeshift toilet cubicles separated by plastic curtains. The trenchant remark did not leave as much consternation as it otherwise would; the mood was jovial and nothing was to be taken too seriously. The dormitories were housed in an old city council building. Wooden slats rested on empty plastic crates of Gösser beer and made for beds. The steps of the makeshift metal-railed stairs wobbled underneath our feet. The event was, after all, officially entitled a “camp.” Invited by the curators of streirischer herbst, three hundred activists, artists, curators, and theorists gathered in Graz, Austria, to partake in a weeklong marathon of presentations, talks, and debates around the current historical conjuncture of art and politics. The idea was to turn the city’s annual performance festival into a platform on political strategies in art (and artistic strategies in politics) under the title “Truth Is Concrete.” The title came from words written on Bertolt Brecht’s wall during his exile in Denmark. Something of that statement left its imprint on the course of the event; one could see it on the placards peppering the camp’s walls along with other less renowned statements, from “Bring down patriarchy now!” to “Shut up white boy!” There is a kernel of solidity to the statement, in its rejection of ambiguity and skepticism and its commitment to the obviousness of things, which is indeed characteristic of the current moment.

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NAMAC 2012 conference
September 6–8, 2012
by Karen vanMeenen

The strength of National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) gatherings seems to be the organization’s dual focus on providing a space for media arts workers (administrators, programmers, and policymakers) to network, and offering both information and practical tools to help them enhance their efficacy in their communities.

The year’s conference operated under the theme of “Leading Creatively” and the opening plenary, “Artists as Leaders,” focused on the challenges and strengths of organizations led by working artists. Jean Cook of the Future of Music Coalition noted the presence of an underlying insecurity in terms of funding, space, and other resources, saying, “There is no ground—you make the ground” and spoke of the survival mechanism of “embracing uncertainty.” Hank Shocklee, one of the founders of hip-hop heroes Public Enemy, harkened back in history, reminding us that many important social movements have been initiated by artists, particularly musicians. Marcus Young, City Artist in Residence at Public Art St. Paul spoke of a need for “fearlessness.” In the Q&A period Alyce Myatt of the National Endowment for the Arts echoed this sentiment, calling for us to work to move beyond a culture of fear. Extending the artistic nature of arts workers to their constituents, Vera Allen of Minneapolis Television Network raised a concern about reaching an urban youth population who, all too often engaging in violent lifestyles, are far removed from identifying as artists.

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Capture 2012: Photography, Nature, Human Rights
Yale University
October 12–13, 2012
by Karen vanMeenen

Yale University’s recent convening, Capture 2012: Photography, Nature, Human Rights, was a small but interdisciplinary international gathering of academics, student scholars, historians, and artists all working in far-reaching eponymous realms, both historic and contemporary. The conference brought this seemingly disparate group together for two days of plenary presentations intended to connect multiple disciplines and consider how these “spheres of action interact,” as stated in the event’s press materials, and specifically how photography can capture slow-motion environmental disasters and the ways in which society is implicated in both ecological and human abuses.

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by Jen Saffron

For millennia, human beings have gathered into affinity groups, creating collective identity through tribe, gender, genre, or cause. Although the archetypal “Artist” may conjure stereotypes of the solitary painter struggling in the studio, or a singular photographer alone in the darkroom, artists seek, and thrive in, communities. Consistent with this has been a decades-long trend toward the formation of collectives of photographers seeking to privilege an intangible “something” beyond the art object itself: community dialogue.

Collectives such as ADP, Razón, the Cause Collective, MJR, and Piece of Cake (POC)1 bring groups of imagemakers together in trusted circles for friendship, critique, learning, and collaboration. Filling the vacuum of ongoing art exchange, abruptly lost in the post-collegiate, professional world of early work, these collectives nourish the next generation of photographers, such as Will Steacy of POC, named one of the Photo District News’s “Thirty Emerging Photographers To Watch” in 2011.

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by Rachel Somerstein

On the night of January 16, 1991, United States forces pummeled Baghdad, and CNN’s cameras kept rolling. Green nighttime still and film images, the product of “starlight systems” developed and rolled out by broadcasters for the first time during the Gulf War, appeared close to the action. But this cinema-verité-style footage belied the media’s limited access to the battlefield. Largely in response to the “free reign” enjoyed by journalists in Vietnam, during the Gulf War the military confined reporters to tightly controlled pools, which “failed to produce a single photograph, strip of videotape or eyewitness account of 300,000 US Army troops in combat with an estimated 400,000 Iraqi soldiers.”1 Still and film reportage showed precision-guided missiles landing their targets distant landscapes shown on computer screens, bombs raining in bull’s-eye—as if the war were as precise as it was bloodless. Historians and critics alike have since written extensively about the media’s fictional representation of the war, with Jean Baudrillard even devoting a book to the topic (1995’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place), but precision bombs and bloodlessness are the images we saw, the images that have largely been invoked by the media to commemorate and signify the war, and thus are largely the images we (collectively) remember.

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by Bob Rogers

In earlier times and societies, art objects and their creation were interwoven with the fabric of cultural life. Artists were often not even a distinct category, and when they eventually did emerge from the anonymity of the collective cultural background, as they did in the West in the fifteenth century, they continued overwhelmingly to give voice to that collective tradition. In the present, that collective expression appears to have receded and been replaced with the notion of personal vision—the expression of an artist’s individual and unique creative universe and a concomitant belief in the transformative power of creative genius. Together they have become the cornerstone of contemporary art creation, criticism, appreciation, and marketing. In 1961, the anthropologist and art collector Michael Rockefeller capsulized this belief by comparing our present society with the culturally imbedded tradition of the Asmat. He noted, “The Asmat culture offers the artist a specific language in form. This is a language which every artist can interpret and use according to his genius, and a language which has symbolic meaning for the entire culture.” “Our culture,” he continued, “offers the artist no such language.” Rockefeller went on to suggest that, “Only the greatest geniuses are able to invent an expression which has meaning for a nation or people.”1

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by Kim Beil

At a press conference hosted by Tate Britain in the winter of 2011, Google announced the release of a virtual museum tour application, Art Project, which, its promoters promised, would transform the experience of viewing artwork reproductions online. Art Project allows users to wander virtually through galleries as they are installed and zoom in on selected works to an almost microscopic level by combining Google’s “Street View” technology with high-resolution reproductions.1 While most critics tempered their enthusiasm for Art Project by suggesting that despite all its wonders, the new website could never replace the experience of standing in front of an authentic work of art—“the real, breathing thing”2—there was a unanimous fascination with Art Project’s high resolution images that warrants further investigation.3

Rather than simply redraw the typical lines in the long-standing debate over originals versus reproductions, we must think more carefully about how reproductions contribute to our understandings of original works of art.4 I am suggesting that we should consider reproductions like those on Art Project as valuable, if often overlooked, tools of historiography. By reading them against the grain, reproductions become visual texts that allow us to access historically and culturally specific ways of seeing that are so conventional as to remain largely invisible.

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Exhibition Reviews

In the Holocene
The MIT List Visual Arts Center
Cambridge, Massachusetts
October 19, 2012–January 6, 2013
Review by James Cunning Holland,

In the Holocene, on view at the MIT List Visual Arts Center, breathes like a perforated time capsule. With a curatorial strategy that manages to be at once achronic and archeological, the show presents a cross section of historical and contemporary artifacts that display a common quest for universal knowledge. Gathering the work in this way is paradoxical, as it seems to both affirm and contest the importance of historicity. With key insights originating in futurism, dada, pataphysics, and conceptual art displayed alongside more contemporary works, the net effect is to suggest that temporal distinctions are less consequential than tactics.

The exhibition title is borrowed from a 1980 novella by the late Swiss author Max Frisch entitled Man in the Holocene, which centers on one Mr. Geiser and his futile attempts to retain order in an increasingly entropic world. The inner tumult Geiser experiences mirrors the declining conditions of the valley in which he lives, and is further aggravated by reports of a coming deluge. As inward and outward dissolution accelerates, Geiser fends off desolation by covering his walls with fragments extracted from encyclopedias. Walking through In the Holocene, one is invited to commune with many artistic visions that, if not precisely commensurate with that of Frisch’s Geiser, tinker with the raw materials of everyday life in a quest for imaginary solutions.

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Yangtze—The Long River
By Nadav Kander
Flowers Gallery
New York City
October 19–November 24, 2012
Review by Kathryn Kramer

Despite their continual presence in all visual and literary discourse since earliest antiquity, river metaphors never achieve timeworn status, due perhaps to their embodiment of life’s constant flux. Nadav Kander’s photo essay, Yangtze—The Long River, took full advantage of this notion by documenting China’s momentous transformation from the mouth of the river at Shanghai to its source on the Tibetan Plateau. As he followed the Yangtze upstream over three years in five trips to different parts of the river each time, Kander captured the consequences of the desperate rush of industrial revolution overdrive that so quickly destroys what had emerged over geologic time. His odyssey resulted in images of life along the river quite at odds with the picturesque photo ops offered by a typical tourist cruise up the Yangtze.

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Feminist and . . .
Mattress Factory
September 7, 2012–May 26, 2013
Review by Alisia Chase

In her 2011 comic memoir, How to be a Woman, British critic and gleefully self-professed “strident feminist” Caitlin Moran offers female readers who have been made wary of the f-word an easy test to determine whether or not the term applies to them. First, she says, “Put your hand in your underpants” and then asks them to answer the following two questions: “a) Do you have a vagina? and b) Do you want to be in charge of it?” As to assessing the outcome, she continues, “If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.” While her measure is intentionally crude, as well as exclusive of men, Moran’s larger point is successfully made: At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is no singular definition of a feminist and no singular definition of feminism. Most simply, Moran suggests, a feminist believes in the radical idea that women should be able to control their own bodies and destinies. Feminist and . . ., organized by Moran’s compatriot, Hilary Robinson, proffers a similarly expansive definition, and her selection of six women artists lays to waste any monolithic ideas about what constitutes feminist art. As such, the show serves as a corrective to blockbuster feminist exhibitions of the last decade, which Robinson believes constrained what is—undeniably—a perpetually ongoing and continually evolving “set of processes in the wider world.”

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Another Country
By Mitra Tabrizian
Wapping Project Bankside
London, UK
September 21–November 2, 2012
Review by Outi Remes, 

Historically, the concept of “the Middle East” has been constructed from the outside. The region bears the scars of Ottoman, French, British, and American politics and mandates. Its geographic borders are notoriously contested, while a wave of recent political uprisings, including the 2011 Arab Spring, has put the region under the spotlight. Postmodern and globally aware curators and art critics, as well as the popular media, have focused on these political and religious extremities and conflicts that have come to influence our readings of the artwork from the region. It would not have been surprising if spectators of Mitra Tabrizian’s exhibition Another Country at the Wapping Project Bankside, London, approached the exhibition with preconceptions of the work.

Tabrizian was born in Tehran, Iran, and lives and works in London. Another Country consisted of a series of large-scale choreographed group and individual portraits of Middle Eastern sitters photographed in and around mosques, schools, bathhouses, cemeteries, and teahouses. The locations were pictured in full focus and appear to match expectation of what life might be like in the Middle East.

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Dor Guez: 100 Steps to the Mediterranean
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University
September 20–December 9, 2012
Review by Adi Louria-Hayon 

On a dreary November day in 1856, American novelist Herman Melville set out on a pilgrimage to the Mediterranean and then the Holy Land. He was in despair—his faith, his marriage, and his career were deteriorating, and his homeland was shadowed by the looming threat of civil war. So he sought to make tangible the biblical texts that once triggered his imagination and gave him hope. Yet, scripture did not coincide with his experience of the place. Barren, bitter, desolate, and diabolical is the ancient land; it lacks the “grace of decay,” he wrote. “No country will more quickly dissipate romantic expectations than Palestine.”1 Riding from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to Jaffa on January 20, 1857, Melville stopped at the city of Lydda and was disturbed by the violent mayhem that plagued the place.2

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Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture
Miller Gallery, Carnegie Mellon University
September 15, 2012–February 24, 2013
Review by Robert Raczka

Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture is an exhaustive exhibition with all the trappings of book-length catalog, online video channel, and public programs.1 Curated by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal, the exhibition is organized around useful, if somewhat porous themes such as “Epidemics,” “Obesity,” and “Aging,” and marshals an avalanche of diagrams, proposals, miscellaneous printed matter, photographs, air samples in jars, videos, a video game, and more. This array of scrupulously assembled materials is a professional resource of breadth and depth. Yet what is presented here was originally produced with such varied purposes and is so abundant that it can be difficult to discern the intended takeaway.

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Kiera Faber: Completely Human
Center for Photography at Madison
Madison, Wisconsin
October 4–31, 2012
Review by John Powers

Completely Human (2012), the latest work from Minnesota-based artist Kiera Faber, consists of thirty-six carefully composed photographs depicting the artist perpetrating and being subjected to a string of psychological and sexual traumas in various domestic locations. The series, a selection from which was recently exhibited at the Center for Photography at Madison in conjunction with PhotoMidwest 2012, suggests an oblique narrative that is both alluring and disturbing, at once beautifully constructed and undeniably upsetting. For Faber, who explored similar themes in earlier film and stop-motion work, the series represents a shift toward photographic selfportraiture that recalls work by artists such as Ana Mendieta, Cindy Sherman, and Francesca Woodman.

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Ai Weiwei: According to What?
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington, DC
October 7, 2012–February 24, 2013
Review by Kathryn Kramer

The current Ai Weiwei retrospective, Ai Weiwei: According to What?, represents a collaborative effort between the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, where it opened in 2009, and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, where it is on view until February 24, 2013. When it opened in summer 2009, the Mori edition of this exhibition functioned as an overview of a mid-career artist with an ever-widening reputation both inside and outside of his native China. Ai had maintained a secure place on the international exhibition circuit for at least a decade, which was arousing interest in his earlier work. He was increasingly lauded for his multimedia embrace—at once sculptor, architect/designer, installation artist, performance artist, photographer, and documentary filmmaker—all with neo-dada flair. His vocal objection a year before the Beijing Olympics to China’s co-optation of the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium for nationalist purposes led him to repudiate his role in its design, thus expanding his artist provocateur profile to activist. His participation in 2007’s Documenta 12 was still a vivid memory, as was his debut at New York City’s Mary Boone Gallery in 2008. Ai’s signature architectural/design sampling of the ongoing destruction of old for nouveau riche China—from reconfigured pieces of Ming and Qing Dynasty temples to giant, gaudy crystal chandeliers—were sensational new spins on a transnational avant-garde’s by now familiar response to relentless urban transformation. Such work was a mainstay of the Mori exhibition, but the true centerpiece of the exhibition was new work representing Ai’s outrage over the poor engineering and construction practices that caused tens of thousands of deaths in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008. School buildings in particular collapsed, killing more than 5,000 children.

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Book Reviews

The Cliffs
By Betrand Fleuret
J&L Books, 2012
64 pp./$30.00 (hb)
Review by Adam Bell

It begins with a dream. Berlin. September 3, 2006.

Bertrand Fleuret’s daring new book, The Cliffs, flirts with the most dangerous of artistic clichés—the dream. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Michael Chabon recently opined, “I hate dreams . . . I hate them for the way they ransack memory, jumbling treasure and trash . . . The recounting of a dream is—ought to be—a source of embarrassment to the dreamer, sitting there naked in fading tatters of Jungian couture.”1 What saves Fleuret’s foray into such treacherous terrain is his self-conscious embrace of the artistic device and its limitations. Modest in size and scope, the book does not proclaim any grand intensions or meaning, but operates within its own parameters. Either unafraid or unaware of such dangers, Fleuret presents us with his own dream—a dream of ascent, exploration, and hellish confusion. Cliffs loom in the distance and chaos reigns.

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The Latin American Photobook
Edited by Horacio Fernández
Aperture, 2011
256 pp./$75.00 (hb)

Resisting Categories: Latin American and/or Latino?
Edited by Héctor Olea and Melina Kervandjian
Yale University Press and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2012
1,200 pp./$60.00 (hb)

Review by Bonnie Huie

The word “curate” was desacralized when the act of consumption was anointed with the aura of cultural inheritance. If one is not looking after legacies, lineages, or narratives above all else, and if one has not made arrangements for the care, interpretation, and public trust of an object beyond one’s own death in the name of custodianship, then perhaps one has not quite curated. Moreover, there are a number of expressions including “select,” “promote,” or “facilitate the consumption of” that might better suit the motive at hand.

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