NO PEOPLE – Curatorial Statement
by Alex Wisser
artists: Damian Dillon, Ella Dreyfus, Georgia Blackie, Georgina Koureas, Goran Tomic, Hayley Hill, jason White, Jenny Evans, Jon Reid, Kurt Sorenson, Lena Obergfell, Marcela Vilaplana, Marieka Walsh, Melissa Howe, Melissa Verschelde, Polly Thornton, Alex Papasavvas and Clare Devlin-Mahoney, Rachael Everitt, Sarah Versitano, Sue Storry, Thomas C. Chung, Yvette Hamilton, Zachary Handley-Garben
The idea for a show of photomedia that excluded the human form came out of two related frustrations I have with this medium. The first is the dominance of the human figure within the commercial and popular photographic industry and the second is the self-congratulations with which much contemporary theory and some of the art based in it reach unthinking, almost absolute conclusions on the anthropomorphic nature of photomedia. The two issues are related in that the former insists within a material economic and cultural context upon the importance of the human figure while the latter insists within a theoretical and discursive context that the human figure is not essential as every instance of photomedia is itself an expression of anthropomorphic projection and concern. I find myself trapped between two positions, neither of which adequately describes my own relationship to the photographic — a relationship I find to be profoundly ambivalent, uncertain and paradoxical.
On the one side I wanted to mount a show that explored and celebrated the scope of potential within contemporary photomedia for making meaning in the absence of a human subject and on the other hand I wanted to examine the capacity of the photograph to sustain the decision, desire, or will of its maker as well as to resist and defy the human motives and investments that went into its making. The question I suppose I am asking is “How human is a photograph?” Is it as human as a painting say? To what extent is a photograph no more than the sum of the decisions, investments, projections and subjections of the human being either making or viewing it? And if it is more than a trace of the will and desire of its maker or viewer, what is the nature of that “more”? Is it anything so unspeakable as the “world”, or “reality”, or “truth” or is it just another means of weaving fictions? If the camera is not, as we have discovered, “the pencil of nature”, does that automatically mean that it is the pencil of man?
The paradox of the photograph, and by extension photomedia at large is that the image produced is ultimately an index, a physical trace of surfaces reflecting light in the world produced through the functioning of a machine. At the same time, this machine sits in the hands of a human being, guided by the human eye, manipulated by human intelligence, and finally inserted within a context of conventional signifying practices. Ultimately, the camera is a portal device, existing somewhere between the subject and the world. Its product is derived from both, but in what measure cannot be determined. This, for me, is its essential mystery and its transcendent value as a medium for art: it belongs to the unknowable border between our selves and the world and in rare instances can speak powerfully on this relationship, if only to make us experience our own inability to discern one from the other, fact from fiction, idea from manifestation. The fact that the premise for NO PEOPLE is negative meant that the show would hang together on what it was not rather than what it was, and left it open to a wide field of submissions. I attempted to represent this scope by creating as broad a survey as possible, including works that I felt variously supported or challenged the ideas behind the show. And yet, despite the broad field, there was also a fascinating cohesion (with notable exceptions) to much of the work that seemed to centre around the figure of the house in a continuum that progressed from the domestic, and interior toward the industrial or urban and natural exterior.
The fact is that you can’t take a photograph of a generality: you can’t take a photograph of the general concept: house, you must take a photograph of an actual, particular house (however that might later become generalized). Most of these works are of a single city, and beyond that a single country. I like the necessary nature of this constriction because it is particular to photomedia. No matter how an artist may render their work imaginary, the nature of this medium means they must traffic with the actual, the particular, the real. While this dialogue is to be found in all art, the indexical nature of the photographic renders it particularly acute — dramatizing the conflict that rages between the imaginary and the real and confronting us with our need or desire to know one from the other. For me, to reach one conclusion is the same as reaching the other — I much prefer to witness the paradoxical commerce that passes between the two sides.
I would like to thank the participating artists for all that they have taught me through the generous pursuit of their practice, and for the opportunity they have given me to indulge my obsessions and explore the objects of my fascination on a field far larger than I could provide for myself.