NO PEOPLE – Curatorial Statement

by Alex Wisser

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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.

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