Afterimage Vol. 41, no. 4


Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal

Rachel Somerstein

Montreal, Canada
September 5–October 5, 2013

If for much of the twentieth century photography was, at its core, about the “decisive moment,” the thirteenth installment of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal suggests that the medium is moving in new directions. The traditional photographic still was rare in this iteration of the biennial, thoughtfully curated by Paul Wombell and titled “Drone: The Automated Image.” Instead, the exhibition, comprising work by some twenty-five Quebecois and international artists installed in fourteen sites throughout the city, privileged the mechanism of picture-making (endoscope, large-format scanner, robotic dog) and the digital and mechanical sources of those images (intercepted drone footage, Google Street View, and social media). This zeal for technology recalled the publicly celebrated, rapid technological changes of the turn of the last century, when electric lights at the Paris (1889) and Chicago (1893) Expositions sent revelers agog, exposing new ways of seeing. In a similar vein, this show’s surfeit of opportunities to extend human vision revealed ecosystems, altitudes, and planes of seeing only recently accessible to the human eye…

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Carnegie International

Scott Turri

Carnegie Museum of Art
Pittsburgh, PA
October 5, 2013–March 16, 2014

In this latest iteration of the Carnegie International, the three curators—Daniel Baumann, Dan Byers, and Tina Kukielski—have assembled a densely packed show with multiple overarching, at times intersecting, themes, with major emphasis on issues of politics, identity, and community. The overall tone of the show is one of seriousness balanced with nuggets of humor and tranquility. There is a great deal of photography, a fair amount of painting, some sculpture and video, and a very limited amount of installation art. The figure dominates, with a heavy dose of portraiture. Unlike many previous Internationals, in which spectacle predominated, here it is rare. The curators employed a more egalitarian approach in their selection, including two “outsider artists” and the Playground Project in the Heinz Architectural Center. Typically, the International extends into the modern and contemporary wing of the museum, displacing the permanent collection, but here a handful of artists from this year’s International were interspersed with highlighted artists from previous Internationals alongside other works from the permanent collection…

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Station to Station

Jen Saffron

Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening
Pittsburgh, PA
September 8, 2013

Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening was an art train traveling from New York City to California in September 2013, a “public art project made possible by Levi’s,”1 that raised questions about what exactly public art is and whether art can create “place,” particularly when situated in a fast train stopping for one-night events in nine cities across the United States.

Pulling into stations in New York State, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, Station to Station was filled with visual and performing artists both emerging and established, showcasing work from a range of artists, including filmmakers Kenneth Anger, Nam June Paik, and Jim Jarmusch; photographers Stephen Shore and Catherine Opie; and performers Cat Power, Beck, Jackson Browne, and Cold Cave. The train aspired to serve as studio, muse, and platform for a highly orchestrated art experience curated by artist Doug Aitken. Said music icon and participating artist Thurston Moore, “Rolling through the country and its giganticism, referencing an earlier America—it’s remarkable, magical…”


The Last Roll: A Conversation with Jeff Jacobson

Harry J. Weil

When my father died eight years ago, he left behind a large clunky Nikon from the late 1970s and dusty shoeboxes filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of slides shot on Kodachrome. They are simple scenes, of family gatherings that took place years before I was born, of days at the beach in Coney Island, and travels to Quebec with his first wife. They are grainy, and much yellowed from their time tucked away in the back of a closet. Yet, as I continue to sort through them, through memories that were never mine to narrate, my father becomes closer to me than he ever has been…

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Private Dancers: Social Media Platforms and Contemporary New York Drag Performance

Bradford Nordeen

Earlier this year I toured the West Coast with some recently discovered videotapes, presenting a posthumous première of works by the 1980s video artist Tom Rubnitz. Rubnitz is best remembered for his late-career short, a sandwich tutorial entitled Pickle Surprise (1989, 1 min. 30 sec.), in which drag queens Lady Bunny, RuPaul Charles, Sister Dimension, and a gaggle of assorted performers and club kids incant a decidedly American recipe for the construction of a perfect sandwich— “Take an English muffin! Spread sandwich spread! Plop the ham thusly please!”—leading RuPaul to beg the question of the hour, “Where’s the pickle?” Lady Bunny giggles knowingly into the camera, “That’s the surprise…”

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Exhibition Reviews

She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World

Alisia Grace Chase

Museum of Fine Arts
Boston, MA
August 27, 2013–January 12, 2014

Norman Mailer once remarked that giving a camera to Diane Arbus was “like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.” Although his quip was off-color, his observation of Arbus’s ability to use photography to detonate society’s preconceptions wasn’t off-base for, as unsettling as her images are, they give visual witness to those whom mainstream culture has cursorily surmised and then conveniently disregarded. In She Who Tells a Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World, curator Kristen Gresh convenes twelve artists in whose deft hands a camera is equally a means to a more truthful depiction of a typically misrepresented group: women of the Middle East. In this war-torn region, it’s fitting that their cameras become weapons that, while metaphorically explosive, inflict no actual physical damage. Rather, what this moving exhibition does destroy are Western sereotypes about women in the Arab world…

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Album: Cinémathèque Tangier, a Project by Yto Barrada

Suzanne Szucs

Walker Art Center
Minneapolis, MN
November 21, 2013–May 18, 2014,

Moroccan artist Yto Barrada describes cinema in her hometown of Tangier as “a gathering place, a place for discussion, for learning, for keeping history alive.” She has teamed up with the Walker Art Center to create a taste of Moroccan-style cinema in an installation that features not only her original artwork, but a gathering of artifacts, imagery, and films representative of her efforts to keep cinema alive and relevant in Tangier. Her approach to cinema and enthusiasm for the medium as a cultural force is at odds with a mainstream American understanding of film. Although independent and art films thrive in this country, for average Americans movie-going means a trip to the megaplex to see the latest blockbuster with little thought given to its cultural relevance. It’s different in Tangier, “where film,” as Barrada noted as she introduced the exhibition, “is an integrated part of our cultural lives.”

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Radical Presence/ The Shadows Took Shape

Tiffany Barber

Radical Presence: Black Performance in
Contemporary Art

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
Houston, TX
November 17, 2012–February 16, 2013

New York University
Grey Art Gallery
New York City (Part I)
September 10–December 7, 2013

The Studio Museum in Harlem
New York City (Part II)
November 14, 2013–March 9, 2014

The Shadows Took Shape

The Studio Museum in Harlem
New York City
November 14, 2013–March 9, 2014

In Pretending to Be Rock (1993), an 11-minute video documentation of a two-hour performance action, artist Sherman Fleming, partially nude, is positioned on his hands and knees below a makeshift candelabrum. A pool of hot wax accumulates on Fleming’s back, and an unnamed female collaborator in a brown unitard and harness hangs from the ceiling as water steadily runs over her from head to toe. Here, Fleming’s back becomes a site of trauma, and the scene a channeled expression of the horrors of chattel slavery. But just as Fleming’s black male body registers the scarring and wounding effects of bondage, it also bears the weight of the wax and, more importantly, representation—that is, expectations of blackness and masculinity. As the camera pans, audience members look on in awe, recalling the spectacles—arranged and spontaneous—that served as the subjects of lynching photography…

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Douglas Max Utter

May 6, 2013–ongoing

The disillusionment and sheer creative chutzpah of the Nixon era are conjured in the typescript facsimile pages that make up the catalog for the 1970 show Art in the Mind, which was held at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. It was a time of social division, systemic change, and raw anger perhaps not unlike the present moment in America, and the show of conceptual art that the young Oberlin College sculptor Athena Spear (later Athena Tacha) assembled then captured an intriguing chunk of the zeitgeist. Conceived as a text-only exhibit, it included proposals and notions by some of the era’s brightest conceptualist-oriented lights, including Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Jonathan Borofsky, Luis Camnitzer, Joseph Kosuth, Les Levine, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Claes Oldenburg, Adrian Piper, William Wegman, Hannah Weiner, and many others—sixty-five altogether. It’s a remarkable thought experiment in itself to imagine their letters and telegrams, detailing impossible fantasy projects and whimsical aesthetic exercises as they clunked across the nation in that pre-internet epoch, courtesy of the newly independent US Postal Service, or via Western Union…

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Will Wilson: Toward a Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange

Alexander Brier Marr

Davis Gallery, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Geneva, NY
October 4–November 1, 2013

A selection of digital prints from Will Wilson’s ongoing project Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX) recently filled the Davis Gallery at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Known for his uncanny vision of environmental apocalypse in his series Auto Immune Response (2005–ongoing), Wilson’s turn to studio portraiture marks a career development. More broadly, by highlighting the collaboration between photographer and subject required to produce a portrait, CIPX critically advances Native photography. Using a 140-year-old Gasc & Charconnet lens, an Eastman View No. 2 camera, and the wet-plate collodion process, Wilson (Diné, or Navajo) photographs strangers and friends. After exposing, developing, and fixing a plate, Wilson gives the tintype to the sitter. Trading the photograph itself for permission to use a digital image scanned from it, the artist folds a nineteenth-century technique into current imaging practices…

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Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity

Harriet Riches

The Photographers’ Gallery
London, UK
October 11, 2013—January 5, 2014

Sifting through racks of vintage postcards and orphaned family photographs in an old ice works in the faded English seaside town of Margate, I came across a portrait of a baby, sweetly smiling at the camera, sprawling across a velvet throw. So far, so normal. But just behind her was a blur of fabric, or flesh—something that led my eye to a series of cross-hatched marks that seemed to scrub out another figure on the plate, leaving only the shadow of a silhouette. Excited by my find, I quietly paid the fifty pence price tag, and left…

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Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950

Kathryn Kramer

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Washington, DC
October 24, 2013–May 26, 2014

The tricky process of cranking operations back up just a week after the federal government reopened resulted in a mashup of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s press preview and opening reception of Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950. While the press was pleased to be part of the festivities, especially to witness Raphael Montañez Ortiz’s Piano Destruction Concert performed live in the museum’s outdoor plaza, others may have been aggravated by the opening’s shattered exclusivity. Whether perceiving the schedule annihilation as positive or negative, all those who grappled with the exhibition’s thematics of destruction had to note a correlation between the government shutdown’s destructive dimensions and what is currently on exhibit in Damage Control. And even if one is unwilling to concede congressional antics of self-destruction as art, it is nevertheless hard to deny that strange pleasure often felt upon confronting spectacular wreckage, whether inside or outside museum walls. I contemplated this uncanny linkage of congressional and museal display while watching Ortiz wield an ax forcefully enough to make bits of white piano keys fly around the Hirshhorn courtyard like so many tooth fragments…

Women of Vision: National Geographic Photographers on Assignment

Jen Saffron

National Geographic Museum
Washington, DC
October 10, 2013–March 9, 2014

Being a woman is just one consideration among many for the female photojournalist, particularly one shooting for the esteemed publication National Geographic. There’s also age and cultural and economic background—bearing on how a photographer interprets another culture as well as how they might be perceived. One might wonder if there is a reason to single out women, who comprise more than half the population, as having particular attributes that make them able to tell some stories better than men…

Book Reviews

An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology by Anna Munster

Jay Murphy

An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology
By Anna Munster
MIT Press, 2013
248 pp./$30.00 (sb)

The topic of networks and networking is already the subject of a veritable glut of analyses, theses, and discussions. One of the virtues of Anna Munster’s An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology is that it questions what we think we know and have defined in regard to such. In this searching, rich, and extremely efficient treatise, Munster often counsels us to disjoin and deconnect assumptions—for example, she writes “the human in the network . . . is a conjunction and/or disjunction of networking. The edge that is human-technics in online networking offers something to be explored. It should not simply be assumed that it is comprehensible either because we ‘know’ what constitutes humanness or we know the parameters of a technical system” (39). It is Munster’s mission to restore the dynamic sense of relations in our understanding of networks. To do this she utilizes a full multiplicity of means—including telling applications of concepts such as Michel Foucault’s dispositif or Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s refrain—but her essential grounding here reaches back to pragmatist psychologist Williams James and his “radical empiricism…”

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Cinema by Alain Badiou

Paulette Moore

By Alain Badiou
Polity Books, 2013
320 pp./$69.95 (hb); $24.95 (sb)

“Cinema is an art, that is, the presence of humanity and the meaning that humans ascribe to the world” (28). This is the driving theme behind philosopher Alain Badiou’s 2010 book Cinema, translated in 2013 from the original French. The camera is particularly adept at embodying the dialectic of the meaning-filled gaze, he notes, and for Badiou the results are matters of justice, liberation, and the future of cinema. “Of all the arts,” Badiou writes, “this is certainly the one that has the ability to think, to produce, the most absolutely undeniable truth” (18)…

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Software Takes Command by Lev Manovich

Michael Litwack

Software Takes Command
By Lev Manovich
Bloomsbury Academic, 2013
357 pp./$29.95 (sb)

When, nearly two decades ago, media archaeologist Friedrich Kittler pronounced that “there is no software,” he urged new media critics and users alike to attend more fully to the physical architecture and technical substrate of computational media. With this now infamous aphorism, Kittler sought to foreground the inextricability of programming languages, operating systems, device drivers, and media applications from the hardware functions on which they depend. For Kittler, to think software itself—to think the matter of software and how it comes to matter— was ineluctably to return to hardware, for, he polemicized, all code operations ultimately “come down to . . . signifiers of voltage differences.”There was, to be sure, a political animus that drove Kittler to this arguably crude physicalist conception of the computer’s essential formal properties and to the underlying conflation between medium and material support that bolstered his claim…

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Online Features

Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950, by Katheryn Kramer (exhibition review)

Read this review now!

The Street by Richard Whitlock (video & interview)

View this video now!


Current Issue, Vol. 45, no. 5

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Vol. 45, no.5

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Image Text Ithaca Symposium

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

Speculations and Inquiries on New Participatory Documentary Environments

Toward a Theory of Participatory New Media Documentary

Documentary Untethered, Documentary Becoming

Collaborative Documentary Practice: Histories, Theories, Practices


Silos by Andria Hickey and Matthew Chasney

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