Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Initiative

Bike Lot for Postal and Delivery Service

Converted bikes for taxi service

"Increases in train ridership, funding for better bike-train connections — looks good. Hopefully, the US will take a hint and create similar programs. With the increased ridership bicycle access can provide, this would help to fuel the US’ lagging train ridership

Now, this quote seems vague and almost irrelevant to biking in which i am focusing on, but I do feel that there's at least a little amount, if not more, of eco-concern that is involved in my work. These articles, and many others, say that if a country wants to become more eco-friendly, their systems of transportation must work together, rather than compete for funds in an already tight global economy. England, and other European Union countries, have already realized this, that transportation services thrive upon each other. England has put 14 million pounds into a revamp of train and biking services. 14 mil. pounds! Granted the country is much smaller than our own, but we as a nation have PREACHED about how we want to become less dependent on oil! In my opinion, when the government bails out the auto industry with BILLIONS of dollars to try and help out the CEOs of vast empires of corporations, there seems to be a bit of a contradiction in their ways. This gets off topic, but General Motors and Chrysler are terminally wounded companies anyways, with really shitty cars! Ford really didn't need that much help they own so many other car companies that would would have survived. If America would have invested that money into public transportation, biking, trains, and the infrastructure that is required to maintain such things, then our outlook on becoming a GREEN nation would have been brighter. The transportation industries must network and help each other out, build upon one another. If America took some of that billions of dollars from the auto industy and put it into a new American Global Green Initiative (I just made that up too) then we (America) could try to look towards the future, rather than trying to fix the past.

Shahan, Zachary. "Bikes & Trains - New Initiative For England : Ecowordly." Web log post. EcoWorldy. 30 Sept. 2009. Web. .

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jim Goldberg

Jim Goldberg is a photographer that is currently with the prestigious Magnum Photographers group. His photographic works are a new form of documentary, the work is much more corrupted than, say, a photojournalist. The photography of his that i have chosen to focus on is his series named "Raised By Wolves." A project where he followed teenagers and adolescents in the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. This series was shot from 1987-1993 where he interviewed and photographed the teens, their social workers, and the police that wrangle these youths up. By photographing all of these aspects and people, he find a very developed and diverse subject matter that really works with how he presents these images, in a book. That's another reason that I have chosen to talk about him, I feel that possibly my current works is going to be best suited in a book format, possibly not as a traditional book, but maybe an accordion style book (i.e. Ed Ruscha's Gas Station book).

I hope that I can really follow and understand how Jim Goldberg photographs and how he looks at imagery. I want to take as much as i can from him. This book is presented as almost a scrapbook of ideas, photos, film stills, and handwritten texts that help convey the legitimacy of this series. At this book's roots, it is a compassionate tale of the lives of adolescent, displaced and misunderstood youths of urban America. It involves their drug lives, love lives, survival, violence, exploitation, and their pursuit of happiness.

All Photographs have variable dimensions and are from the Series "Raised By Wolves" 1987-1993.



Monday, October 19, 2009




noun, plural -phies.
1. the detailed mapping or charting of the features of a relatively small area, district, or locality.
2. the detailed description, esp. by means of surveying, of particular localities, as cities, towns, or estates.
3. the relief features or surface configuration of an area.
4. the features, relations, or configuration of a structural entity.
5. a schema of a structural entity, as of the mind, a field of study, or society, reflecting a division into distinct areas having a specific relation or a specific position relative to one another.

n. pl. to·pog·ra·phies

Detailed, precise description of a place or region.

Graphic representation of the surface features of a place or region on a map, indicating their relative positions and elevations.

A description or an analysis of a structured entity, showing the relations among its components: In the topography of the economy, several depressed areas are revealed.

The surface features of a place or region.

The surface features of an object: The topography of a crystal.

The surveying of the features of a place or region.

I have chosen the word topographies, due to its reference to visual language in photographic and artist measures. Although, it primarily is used in reference to describing the mapping and plotting out the landscape of specific regions and places, the way artists have commandeered the term to focus on how they see the visual landscape of certain specific schema of a group or place really makes me wonder about my own photographic language and how i can expand on what I already know.

Tim Johnson

The Sun. 1994. Acrylic on Canvas. 60 x 96 inches.

Phoenix Hall. 2004. Acrylic on Linen. 76 x 100cm

Julie Ewington and Wayne Tunnicliffe

Tim Johnson is a fascinating Sydney painter who is making a significant contribution to Australian art.

His visionary search for connections between cultures is based in dialogue and respect.

Tim Johnson traces connections that are not limited to the earthly realm. Since the late 1970s spiritual beings have cohabited with living people in his universethe Buddha, Bodhisattvas, Aboriginal artists, Native Americans, Tibetan monks, Vietnamese farmers, extra-terrestrials and Christian figures emerge from fields of dots or float across shimmering colour.

A major retrospective of his work, Painting Ideas: Tim Johnson, is about to go on a tourorganised by the Queensland Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of New South Wales and will feature key Johnson works from 1970 to the present. It focuses on the humanist project underlying Johnson's engagement with Aboriginal culture, belief in collaboration and his search for spiritual meaning.

Johnson began as a painter but soon turned to experimentation and by the mid-1970s developed a form of conceptual painting, that looked beyond European and American art and which was influenced by travels through India, Nepal and South East Asia. Back in Australia, an interest in music and involvement in the punk music scene further fuelled Johnson's cultural eclecticism.

In 1980 Johnson visited Aboriginal artists at Papunya, and he is now best known for his influential and at times controversial paintings of Aboriginal artists and collaborative works made with leading painters such as Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. He was given permission to use non-sacred motifs, which have since appeared in many of his paintings, contributing to a sense of space and time which links disparate elements into a harmonious field.

In the 1980s, however, appropriation became controversial and Johnson's eclecticism incited debate about whether artists using Aboriginal motifs were engaged in naïve theft or more meaningful engagements. The issue is complex, but because of his unique artistic vocabulary, his collaboration and his work to promote Aboriginal desert art, Johnson is often viewed as an artist who respectfully engages with Aboriginal culture.

His interests spread wider than Australia, to Buddhism and Asian art. He saw similarities between the art of cultural forms and Aboriginal art, which led to magnificent multi-layered canvases, such as Yuelamu (Queensland Art Galley), where a plethora of events, moments and places occur simultaneously.

The visionary nature of Tim Johnson's art suggests that disparate strands of earthly life, otherworldly manifestations and spiritual imaginings make sense as part of a greater whole. This is a truly generous vision.

The Painting Ideas: Tim Johnson exhibition is supported by the Australian Government's Contemporary Touring Initiative.

The exhibition tours to the Art Gallery of New South Wales 13 March - 17 May 2009;

Queensland Art Gallery 13 June - 11 October 2009; and the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne 11 November 2009 - 14 February 2010.

The co-authors of this article are Julie Ewington, head of Australian art, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art and Wayne Tunnicliffe, senior curator of contemporary art, Art Gallery of NSW.

Lee Mullican

Space. 1951. Oil on Canvas.

Section from the Burlap Plain. 1951. 40 x 50 inches. Oil on Canvas

For over fifty years, Los Angeles-based artist Lee Mullican (1919–1998) created paintings and drawings of great beauty and almost shamanistic power. Drawing on interests and influences including Native American art, Surrealism, Byzantine icons, Paleolithic figures, Zen Buddhism, and Hinduism, Mullican created abstractions that engage the eye, the mind, and the heart. As the artist himself put it, he sought to conjure “invented worlds” through his art.

Born in Oklahoma, Mullican first became interested in art as a child and subsequently studied at the Kansas City Art Institute. During a wartime stint in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mullican served as a topographical draftsman, working with aerial photographs which, with their dense patterning of vegetation, roads, and rivers, would have an enormous impact on his paintings. In 1957 Mullican moved to San Francisco and showed with the Dynaton Group, which included artists Wolfgang Paalen and Gordon Onslow Ford. Five years later, Mullican relocated to Southern California, where he taught at a number of schools, becoming a pillar of the Los Angeles art community and mentor to a host of younger artists. His painting evolved over the five decades of his career but continued to reflect the same concerns as his work of the 1950s. Ultimately, Mullican forged a unique style and place for himself as an artist. Eschewing the grandeur and heroicism of the Abstract Expressionists, he chose a quieter, more personal and introspective vocabulary to investigate both his inner world and the cosmos.

Lee Mullican: An Abundant Harvest of Sun presents approximately 70 paintings and works on paper as well as several sculptures. Although he has been acknowledged as an exemplar of “the postwar opening of the American mind,” this is the first major presentation in over twenty-five years and his first-ever solo museum show on the East Coast. Lee Mullican is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays by curator Carol Eliel, Amy Gerstler, and Lari Pittman. The exhibition is made possible in part by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Herta and Paul Amir Art Foundation, and The Judith Rothschild Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Pasadena Art Alliance. The presentation of Lee Mullican at the Grey Art Gallery is made possible in part by the Abby Weed Grey Trust. Public programs are supported by the Grey’s Inter/National Council.

Caryl Davis

Past Pants (#15). 1994. C-print, mounted on aluminum. 9.25 x 14 in.

Dramatic Locale. 2005. terrazzo paving area and a porcelain enamel steel panel. dimensions variable

Flight Patterns was an exhibition I organized for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. On view at the museum from November 12, 2000, through February 11, 2001, the exhibition featured work by twenty-three artists from the Pacific region on the theme of the topographic landscape. The artists were Lawrence Aberhart, Doug Aitken, Miles Coolidge, Caryl Davis, Center for Land Use Interpretation, Christina Fernandez, Simryn Gill, Rodney Graham, Anthony Hernandez, Gavin Hipkins, Igloolik Isuma Productions, Tim Johnson, Rachel Khedoori, Roy Kiyooka, David Lamelas, Simon Leung, Tracey Moffatt, Lee Mullican, Paul Outerbridge, Michael Parekowhai, Allan Sekula, Yuk King Tan, and Glen Wilson. The exhibition originated as an investigation of current manifestations of the North American topographic tradition in photography. Seeking to identify artists who had been influenced by the reductive, black-and-white pictures of 1970s photographers such as Lewis Baltz, Robert Adams, Henry Wessel, and others, but whose curren t reworkings included a renewed attention to social subtext and issues of cultural identity, the exhibition was always conceived of as primarily comprising photographic works, film, and video.

When the scope of the project expanded from its focus on West Coast artists to include those working in regions and geographies with a parallel history of landscape-based representation, it evolved to include painting and installation. Similarly, while the bulk of the material presented was new or recent work from the 1990s, the exhibition included three generations of artists and several historical referents that became critical to the project's thesis. Previously unpublished travel photographs taken in 1955 by the California modernist photographer Paul Outerbridge, for example, established Outerbridge as a precursor of topographic photography in his flattened abstractions of construction sites around the Tijuana border region. The presence of his luminous dye transfer pictures in the show, digitally produced for exhibition, also invoked the themes of travel and movement, as well as the translucent light of the California region. In the absence of a topographic photography tradition in New Zealand, the phot ographer Lawrence Aberhart speaks of inventing this kind of austere formal language for himself in his postcolonial representations of the landscape. His luminescent black-and-white pictures of Maori meeting houses, masonic lodges, and striking vistas that belie the contested land's history span thirty years and comprise a timeless portrait of New Zealand's bicultural present. Anthony Hernandez's 1979-83 series of black-and-white photographs titled Public Fishing Areas posits the social in what are otherwise extremely spare, documentary pictures of the always bizarre convergence of the natural and artificial landscape in the Los Angeles region. One of three such bodies of work influenced by the banality of the new topographic subject, Hernandez flatly portrays public spaces of transition and rest, creating a social document of Los Angeles's less glamorous masses.

While Flight Patterns was by no means comprehensively international, of particular importance to the Los Angeles audience was the exhibition's curatorial reorientation toward the Pacific and away from the dominant EuroAmerican perspective prevalent in so many large-scale contemporary exhibitions and biennials. Originally titled On the Edge, a reference to the idea of the Edge City, but also a nod to Mike Davis's heavily encumbered, noirish read of Los Angeles in his now highly influential book City of Quartz, the exhibition was also influenced by my own preoccupation with the idea of westward expansion as read through the geography of an exhibition and its intensely local or regionally based concerns. By focusing on the thematic of representations of the land, its relationship to cultural identity, and its spatialization in relationship to urbanism, and our physical experience of dystopic cities such as Los Angeles, the exhibition was intended to be "international" or perhaps have implications toward the glo bal, but cohere around pictures with an extremely specific agenda.

Doug Aitken

Blow Debris. 2000. Video Installation. Dimensions Variable

Blow Debris. 2000. Video Installation. Dimensions Variable

Aitken’s style of art lingers in a realm between popular culture and media art. He has taken the liberty of incorporating video into much of his work, revealing a wealth of intensities. “There is no linear narrative in Aitken’s videos; the story line is disjointed both in terms of the films’ structure and sequence of images, as well as in their prism-like projection.” Grosenick, pg.20

Atkins is not only a videographer, but a photographer as well. He creates photographs influenced by epic road movies, as well as photographs manipulated through the use of a computer. Atkins’ photographs “kaleidoscopically fragment their motifs, thus attempting to translate the principle of his video projections into a single flat surface.” Grosenick, pg. 20

“He belongs to a generation of artist that enriched the presentation of the medium of video. Aitken’s work questions nature and civilization as well as people and their relationship to time and space. Obsessed with the idea of present time, Aitken refers to his films and installations as being pure communication. In the process, he utilizes the vocabulary of Hollywood and advertising films. Alongside his freelance activities as artist and photographer, Doug Aitken is also known for his video clips, completed for artists such as Iggy Pop and Fatboy Slim.” -Media Art Net

Yuk King Tan

Yuk King Tan is one of New Zealand’s best-known young contemporary artists. Exhibiting for the first time in Vietnam in a solo exhibition, she explores perennial human needs and desires in the context of the urgent economic development of industrial cities, through video, photography and a series of ‘drawings’.

The multi-layered works presented in Shelter are created in an extraordinary and unique way. Photographs are first printed onto the paper, which is then ‘smoked’ with candles to create a dark cloudy background – as if an inversion of the tonality of Chinese ‘mountains and mist’ painting or an upset in the cosmology. This surface is then etched back, and exquisite images of human figures, bridges or factories are drawn or painted on. With titles such as Boomtown and Ghosts of Tent City, the artist’s work creates a poignant portrayal of humankind’s desire to forge ahead economically, but at the same time questions the human and environmental costs of this desire. Tan states: “As I make the works I think about diverse ideas about society and social order, cities and the needs of civilization….also city plans and architectural diagrams. Like the dramas of a master-city builder who by day plans the future of a city and by night has hallucinations about its past and present.”

Nevertheless, Tan’s engagement with these issues is by no means geographically specific. Her commentary is quite relevant in the Vietnamese context of rapid economic development which occurs often at the cost of human health and environmental degradation.

Also featured in the exhibition is a video work, I am the light of the world, in which Tan uses firecrackers to create images – a technique that is her signature. Firecrackers are attached to the wall, outlining a portrait of New Zealand missionaries active in China in the 1920s, and are then lit. The image bursts and crackles apart for the next 5 minutes. Shelter has been curated by a little blah blah (albb) – an initiative by two HCMC-based visual artists, Sue Hajdu and Motoko Uda. albb functions as a platform for contemporary art through the organization and curation of a range of art activities such as exhibitions and events. Please visit for more information.

Jan Kempenaer

" Spomenik #1" , 2006 , color photograph on alu , 101 cm X 124 cm

"Spomenik #13" , 2007 , color photograph on alu , 101 cm X 124 cm

Jan Kempenaers and the Picturesque
Steven Jacobs

Jan Kempenaers is most known for his large-scale, panoramic and detailed images of industrial and urbanized landscapes in Europe and Japan. Fascinated by today's hybrid landscape in which the differences between center and periphery, city and country, and culture and nature are no longer clearly defined, Kempenaers evokes in several ways the notion of the picturesque, which originated in the eighteenth century. In the aesthetics of the picturesque, the severe geometry of the French garden was exchanged for a predilection for the whimsicalness of natural landscapes contaminated by human interventions and cultural remnants. Furthermore, in the picturesque, nature was approached indirectly, through pictures. On the one hand, nature was perceived as if it was a picture and, on the other, landscapes were carefully created and staged in situ. With his fascination for a particularly soft lighting and non-descript places where nature and city intersect, Kempenaers associates himself with the picturesque's predilection for the pictorial framings of hybrid landscapes.

In a series of more recent works, Kempenaers elaborated on the theme of the picturesque more explicitly by focusing on natural scenery in Scotland, Nordic areas such as Iceland, and the American West - regions that have played an important part in the development of the Romantic imagination of nature in the nineteenth century. In Two Ruins (2006), for instance, the natural and the artificial seem to answer to the same organic laws. Buildings look like plants; they are as irregular and capricious as the green meadows. However, this harmonic unity is transected by two cables, which introduce geometrical order into the image but also emphasize its surface quality. As in his posturban landscapes, Kempenaers demonstrates that photographing natural scenery is always dependent on an act of framing. This is also explicitly the case in stage set-like space of Dead End (2006), which combines contemporary traffic infrastructures with a kind of "grotto" - a prominent icon of the picturesque, and in View (2004), which evokes Romantic landscape painting by its confrontation of small human dorsal figures with the endless vastness of nature. Kempenaers' images of natural scenery, however, are not the result of Romantic nostalgia. They stipulate that natural landscapes are turned into codified spectacles. Strikingly, pictures such as View, Gap (2005), and Niest Point (2006) do not evoke the utopia of a virgin nature. The photographer, after all, arrives at a spot that has already been framed before him. Kempenaers visualizes places that include an entire tourist infrastructure, which marks viewpoints and framings. In this perspective as well, Kempenaers' pictures answer to the logic of the picturesque, which constantly reverses the relation between a picture and its referrent. Kempenaers demonstrates that the contemporary natural landscape has been colonized and domesticized on a global scale thanks to the world-wide proliferation of images, from artworks to all kinds of mediated landscape images in cinema, television, tourism, and so forth.

A second series of photographs focuses on monuments, which have always played an important part in the aesthetics of the picturesque as well. In the context of his "Spomenik: The End of History" project, Kempenaers has photographed monuments erected by the communist regime of former Yugoslavia. Paying attention to their careful integration in the landscape, he demonstrates that landscapes are turned into sites of memory. Commemorating the common traumatic experiences during the Second World War and the partisan battles, these monuments were intended to provide the people of Yugoslavia with a common history and identity that would be productive in its future evolution. However, in the late twentieth century, these landscapes were torn by nationalist and ethnic violence and their monuments are now neglected. The idea of progress has been buried under the weight of history and the monuments, which were once machines of sightseeing and (photographic) image production, have become obsolete and invisible. Notwithstanding their futurist designs and their space age associations, these monuments have become modernist variations of the Romantic ruin - another preeminent icon of the picturesque. The entire Spomenik project will be exhibited in the Braem pavilion of the Antwerp Middelheim Museum at the end of 2007.

Michel Campeau

Untitled, from the series Darkroom 2005–2006. Pigment Print on Paper

Untitled, from the series Darkroom 2005–2006. Pigment Print on Paper

When I multiply 24 by 52, I get a total of 1,248. When I then multiply 1,248 by 21, I get a total of 26,208. That tally of 26,208 is a close estimate of how many hours I have spent in a darkroom over the course of my career. Having spent an average of 24 hours per week printing jobs for money and printing my personal work means that if that was a prison sentence served out under the amber glow of a safelight, then it would last 2.99 years with no time off for good behavior. That number does not include how many hours I spend each year teaching others how to print. That might be what I call my “community service” after parole.

I have loved printmaking since I was first introduced to the process in high school. It wasn’t the magic of watching the image appear in the developer tray that grabbed me like most photographers mention while waxing nostalgic. For me, darkrooms have always been places that served practical solutions for a different set of problems. First and foremost, the darkroom I set up as a teenager in a hidden storage closet in my parent’s house served as a pretense for me and my girlfriend to spend a lot of time in the dark without the chance for sudden interruption. Secondly, during and after four years of art school, darkrooms served as a way for me to make a living without having to work more than two or three days a week. And last in priority, darkrooms allowed me to see what my own photographs looked like.

To many it is sad that these spaces are disappearing due to the advances in digital imaging. For the photographer Michel Campeau, I suspect his new book Darkroom from Nazraeli Press and the JGS Foundation serves as a kind of lament to their extinction.

His photographs show the wild and often desperate improvisations that spring from the minds of photographers when constructing or “improving” a work space. Jury rigged fans, safelights and enlargers of all sorts are exposed to the white light of Campeau’s strobes - their brightness exposing all of the flaws that are normally hidden under the amber safelights. Funny thing about darkrooms is that in the white light there is something so cold and almost nauseating about them that miraculously disappears once the safelights take over. This book may be a funeral dirge for a dying craft but the tone generally would cause most to be thankful to sell the entire kit on eBay.

Campeau’s still-lifes describe how darkrooms are often personal spaces and how they become lived in and cluttered with talismans; a taro card, an old test print, notations penciled right onto the wall. (I remember reading a story about Garry Winogrand moving his darkroom and upon unpacking the enlarger he decorated it with several items including an old bow-tie and a string of rosary beads. When asked if these additions helped he simply replied, They can’t hurt).

The book progresses along until the pipes become so corroded and the walls are so filthy with fixer that we no longer want to enter. Or perhaps this is what the next tenant has to look forward to cleaning up. Campeau ends the book with an unappealingly stained work shirt hanging against a field of the darkness that signals all have gone home to the Macintosh to slide arrows along histograms.

This is the first in a series of ten books that are being selected for publication by the British photographer Martin Parr. For starting with a requiem, I hope he has more life affirming subjects ahead.

I love this book but then again I am a printer, and just the first few images bring back a flood of memories: Printing in Helen Buttfield’s ancient darkroom at 212 East 14th street (right above the old Irving Klaw Studio where Betty Page was often photographed) and using GAF paper that had expired in 1968, the same year I was born. Daydreaming and pouring the fixer into the film tank before the developer and clearing 8 rolls of Gilles Peress’s film (from a New Yorker assignment). Printing and chain smoking through the night at Brian Young’s Phototechnika full of self pity and weeping over a recent break-up with a girlfriend. Finding out my cat had used one of my 16X20 trays as a litter box. Improvising a darkroom in my tenement apartment’s bathroom and dropping a 50mm Schneider lens into the toilet. Printing a long afternoon of 11X14’s only to realize afterwards that the client wanted 16X20’s. Watching my teacher Sid Kaplan light up a cigarette in the darkroom, sending all of us students diving to close our paper boxes. Watching my 90 dollar Kodak Type 1 Process Thermometer fall in slow motion to the floor. Traveling 45 minutes to my darkroom, setting up to print and having the last enlarger bulb blow out right when I turn on the focus light. Having my exhaust fan fall out of my window and wind up shattering my downstairs neighbor’s window.

My Gra-Lab timer counting down: 5, 4, 3, 2.…

Jan Banning

Left:Bureaucracy, Bolivia. Rodolfo Villca Flores, supervisor of market and waste department, Betanzos.
Right: Indian bureaucracy. Patna. Sushma Prasad, assistent-clerk at the Cabinet Secretary of Bihar.

Sushma Prasad is an assistant clerk to the Cabinet Secretary of the State of Bihar, India. Her desk is relatively neat, but behind her is a chaotic pile of irretrievable facts buried in hundreds of tattered paper files. Prasad is one of fifty civil servants Jan Banning photographed in Bolivia, France, Yemen, Russia, Liberia, India, China, and Texas. They engage us as individuals, but Banning has titled his series of color portraits after the system in which his subjects labor: Bureaucratics. Whether sitting behind a card table in Liberia or a marble-topped desk in Russia, this array of mostly appointed officials are, according to essayist Will Tinnemans, each a "small clog in the gigantic machinery of the state." Those whose needs have brought them into these offices will find that the person behind the desk may or may not be able or willing to help them.

Compare Banning's project with Paul Shambroom's series Meetings, panoramic images of small town city councils and school boards shot in a variety of American locales. Shambroon's diverse groups are often amusing, but we accept them as decision-makers, a demonstration of democracy at the grassroots level. On the other hand, we assume that Banning's subjects are largely in the business of saying "No." Banning's subjects can be both harder to take seriously and more intimidating, perhaps because we know so little of their actual situations, but perhaps also because they are so familiar. You are not likely to find yourself before Alham Abdulwaze Nuzeli of the Ministry of Tithing and Alms in Al-Mahwit, Yemen, but her portrait will bring to mind all your own encounters with bureaucracy, beginning with the ladies who ran the elementary school lunch line to that Department of Sanitation Code Enforcement officer who just would not listen to reason.

Do Ho Suh

Fallen Star. 2008-09. 131 x 145 x 120 inches. Mixed Media Installation

Floor. 1997-2000. 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 x 3 1/8 inches. PVC Figures, glass, plates, phenolic sheets, polyurethane resin. 40 parts.

“Seoul Home/L.A. Home”—
Korea & Displacement
ART:21: What was your training in art in Korea like? What did you study?

SUH: It was a traditional painting technique that I learned there.
Basically ink on rice paper. Mostly black and white, with a very flexible brush. For the first through the second year of college you train how to use your brush well and how to grind your ink well. Very ritual kinds of things. And then once you get comfortable with the brush, in other words, once you reach the point where you can have a really good-quality line, then you can actually paint or draw what you want. So it was a rather boring process. And there were many different classes for example, like calligraphy. I’m really bad at that and I’m probably worse than you. But I was able to sort of get around it. It was senior year, I think, when I was able to do something I wanted. More creative stuff. Teachers didn’t allow us to really explore many different things. That’s something that I really regret. We never had a crit, and it was only one direction—from teacher to the students. There was no exchange or dialogue between the teacher and student. If the teacher says something then you just have to follow that.

So it was very awkward and at the same time interesting when I first came to the United States. One thing was my English, but at the same time I wasn’t really trained to express my feelings or thoughts on art. I was not trained to do that at all. So it took me an entire semester to just say, "I like this work" or "I don’t like this work." And then, gradually, I started to learn how to talk about my art. And ironically, I had never talked about my art in Korean before. Even though my English is not good, I think I feel more comfortable actually talking about my work in English than in Korean. That’s something that I find interesting. So when I give a lecture in Korea, for example, I realize myself actually translating my thoughts in English into Korean. So yeah, it’s a funny thing.

ART:21: Is language the only thing that's been a real challenge for you?

SUH: When I go back to Korea, Seoul is a very crowded city and on the street people bump into each other. And somebody could just hit your shoulder and that’s normal. So nobody complains about it. But I realize that’s different here. And when I go back to Korea, when somebody touches my body I get really annoyed. So I think since I've spent eleven years here in the States, my perception of this personal space, this dimension, has changed. So that’s something that I found quite interesting.

ART:21: And that's related to your evolving work "Seoul Home/L.A. Home..."

SUH: I would say the Korean House project started from this need to fulfill a certain desire when I graduated from RISD. I was in New York for a year before I went to grad school. I was living on 113th Street, near Columbia. And my apartment building was right across the street from the fire station. And it was really, really noisy and I couldn’t sleep well. And I was thinking when it was my last time to have a really good sleep. And that was in a small room back in Korea. And I wanted to bring the house somehow to my New York apartment. So that’s where everything started. So I started to think about the materials and the practicality of that project or the possibility of the project. And the choice of fabric came very naturally. Literally, I was going to install that fabric Korean house in my New York apartment, but apparently my apartment was much smaller so I couldn’t really do it. But it turned out to be a project later. I did do a test because it was a fairly large project for me to tackle at that time. I did the test in my small studio in New York in muslin cloth. And it worked. But I didn’t have time and money to actually do the Korean House project until 1999.

ART:21: What was that experience in your studio about?

SUH: The experience was about transporting space from one place to the other. A way of dealing with cultural displacement. And I don’t really get homesick, but I’ve noticed that I have this longing for this particular space and I want to recreate that space or bring that space wherever I go. So the choice of the material, which was fabric, was for many reasons. I had to make something that’s light and transportable. So something that you can fold and put in a suitcase and bring with you all the time.

That’s actually what happened when I first made that piece, the Korean House project. I brought that piece in my suitcase—two suitcases—to L.A. where I showed that piece for the first time, at the L.A. Korean Culture Center. It was about challenging this notion of site specificity because the piece was made inside the house. Everything was made in that space, so it was a site specific installation. But once you take that piece down from its own site and display and transport it in a different place, this idea of the site specific becomes highly questionable and reputable. And that’s what I was really interested in, because in my mind I think this notion home is something that you can infinitely repeat.

ART:21: What do you mean by that?

SUH: I mean at some point in your life you have to leave your home. And whenever you go back it’s just not the same home anymore. I think home is something that you carry along with your life. That’s what I mean by it’s something that you can repeat over and over again. I just dealt with that issue visually. In a physically minimum way, it’s this light fabric thing that can recreate this ambiance of a space. I didn’t want to sit down and cry for home. I wanted to more actively deal with these issues of longing. I decided not to be sad about it. I just want to go with it. I just want to carry that with me, you know, all the time.

I think the process of making the Korean project has a really important meaning to it because in order to make that piece you have to measure every inch of the space. And you really get to know the space and you often find little marks that you did when you were a kid and that brings all the memories of your childhood. And when you go through that process, this space becomes part of you and you really feel like you know it. It’s in you and you can actually leave home without any kind of attachments. Does that make sense? I mean, I would say it’s one way of dealing with homesickness.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day: "It seems like it’s a lot of sacrifice for you, that you have to deal with the cultural barrier, language, you know, it’s a kind of constant thing. And at the same time, you have this homesickness." She asked me whether I have homesickness or not. I told her that I don’t have that much homesickness, but if there’s something I miss it’s probably my parents’ house in Korea and my mom’s home cooking. So I decided to learn her recipe, everything, and just practice that recipe with her every time I go back to Korea and then make those recipes mine. And then it becomes my recipe so I don’t really have to miss that because I can make that. And then I decided to make this into some kind of project. I want to make my mom’s cookbook. It’s a very simple thing, but in a way it’s kind of the same project as my Korean House project, but in a different kind of form.

ART:21: And where is home now?

SUH: It’s really a tough question, actually. Like I said before, once you leave home then it’s not the same anymore. I mean, you miss certain things, but whenever you go back it doesn’t meet your expectation because you change and things change over there too. Intrinsically this awkwardness and unfamiliarity, being in different cultures, will remain with me for the rest of my life. But I found every time I come back to New York, I feel like certain things are very comfortable because I’m surrounded by more strangers than in Seoul. Somehow that makes me more comfortable so I can relax more here. I’m telling my friends now that "Oh, New York feels like my home now." Just because of that. So you too can have more quiet time here.

ART:21: Do you think of yourself as an international voyager?

SUH: Well at least I have means to travel. At least I can say I’m living in this era that these means to travel are available. So if I want, I can go back to my home, to my parents' place. It’s not that much of a problem I think. But I wouldn’t say that I’m an international voyager or whatever, not yet I don’t think. But I spend a lot of time on the airplane. And I’m not in one place. Just in between, definitely, that’s how I feel.

ART:21: What prompted you to move to the United States?

SUH: Once my fortune teller told me that I have five horses. Five horses in my fortune, in my life. That means that I travel a lot. I’m destined to leave home and live somewhere else and travel to many places...that’s a story. It’s something that I realized fairly recently, but I think I also wanted to leave home because of my father. He was a successful painter, very successful. I think I was doing really well back there too, but I think somehow I felt that his fame overshadowed me and I wanted to do my own things without any kind of attachment to my family background or my father. So I think that was probably the main reason, but I wasn’t really sure. I didn’t really realize that in Korea, but now I think it was probably the main drive to come here. Like whatever I do, people always connect me to my father and you know this is through village kid and so on and so forth. I think more independently here because whatever I do here, if I fail it’s all my fault. I kind of like that idea. And if I make it, then that means I started from scratch all by myself and I think that’s more meaningful than doing something in Korea. So I think that’s it. And I had other reasons to come, but that was more related to my first marriage. My ex-wife was Korean but born in the States and she was studying here, so it was a pretty natural way to come. Right after we married I came here.

ART:21: Can you talk about the process of making the Korean House project?

SUH: The "Seoul Home/L.A. Home" project is actually the first kind of project that I've collaborated on with so many people. And not just numbers of people, but also people from different fields. My mom helped me to find right fabric. She introduced me to many different fabric manufacturers. So for that piece the fabric was custom-made. I couldn't find the right color, so we produced for that specific color. And also , she knows a lot of seam dressers, old ladies, national treasures. It's kind of an awkward term. I'm just translating literally. In Korea we call people who keep traditional techniques and craftmanship alive national treasures. And those old ladies helped me to make small ornaments on the pieces. And they taught me how to sew certain seams. I mean it's hard to see the difference, but there are many different kinds of sewing. And my main assistant, he studied industrial design at college and he worked with me together at the planning stage. So there were a lot of people involved, always. I do something always totally different each time. And for example, those seam dressers, they only make traditional dresses and had never done these things like this. So at the beginning it was kind of difficult to explain the scope of project. But they catch things so fastly, catch up so fast. And they really got into the project. And I see that all the time, because it's something that they don't do normally so I think they found it interesting. I like that when it happens.

ART:21: What is the signifigance of the color of the piece?

SUH: The color of "Seoul Home/L.A. Home" is a kind of light jade color, or celadon color. I just picked the color from the ceiling wallpaper in the traditional Korean house. In the traditional house you hang white papers on the wall. And on the ceiling you have this sky blue or jade colored wallpaper. It symbolizes the sky or universe. That house is for the scholar, so when they study in that room the color allows them to think about the universe or a bigger space, things like that. So I used that color for my piece.

ART:21: The scholar's house was the original model for the piece? What was it like visiting that original house?

SUH: Yes, my parent's house was modeled after this civilian style scholar's house which was built in a palace complex in the early 19th Century. And my house project, "Seoul Home/L.A. Home," is the replica of the interior of my parent's house.

I was walking with my mom and that was my first visit since my parents and me and my brother first visited that palace complex in the early seventies. So we're talking about changes. And because it was a very memorable experience for me, we went there to measure the original house in the palace complex with a couple of engineers and architects. We took the entire day to measure it and my mom and I talked about this wild pear tree in the garden. And it was there in seventies and still it was there and so we talked about that. And I told her that the house looked much smaller than I thought. Because I was little, so everything looked probably bigger. And most of the time I was upset because the house wasn't maintained well enough. My mom is involved with renovating that palace complex and she has to face a lot of obstacles. Mostly bureaucratic problems and things like that. And we talked about that. And because my parent's house was just part of that complex, so much smaller, just one section of the house was the master's quarter. So it was interesting to see that segment in the larger context.

Bahc Yiso

We Are Happy. 2004. Billboard. dimensions vary

Your Bright Future. 2002/2009. Electric Lamps, wood, wires, dimensions vary.

Yiso Bahc was born in 1957 in Busan, Korea, and lives and works
in Seoul. He holds a B.F.A. in painting from Hong-ik University in Seoul, and an M.F.A. from Pratt Institute, New York. Previously known as MoBahc, he has exhibited his work throughout Asia and the Americas, including solo shows at the Kumho Museum of Art, Seoul (1995) and the Bronx Museum, New York (1990). His work was included in the 1998 Taipei Biennial, the 1997 Kwang-ju Biennial and the 1994 Havana Biennial. His work was also included in the exhibition Defrost at the Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art in 1998. In 2001 he will participate in the Yokohama Triennial.

Through architectural installation and sculpture, Yiso Bahc is interested in quietly disturbing our perceptions and judgements. With subtle imagery and spatial manipulation, his work questions the complexities of culture and nature, public and private, virtual and real.

Yiso Bahc was selected for ArtPace’s International Artist-in-Residence Program by Sun Jung Kim, Chief Curator of Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea. Bahc is in residence with New York-based Yangah Ham and San Antonio-based Dario Robleto.


about the project

Yiso Bahc’s project at ArtPace continues the artist’s interest in space and dislocation. In the gallery, Bahc removed a large portion of the newly built wall and placed it on the floor, leaving its rough details—wooden beams and drywall—intact. Bahc then projects live video images from cameras installed on ArtPace’s roof onto the floor-bound wall or “screen.” Multiple projectors create an inverted collage of San Antonio’s horizon and the seemingly endless Texas sky. Bahc deftly shifts perspective so viewers seem to look out as they actually peer down and remain inside.

A second piece presents a more imaginary landscape. Updating the icon of a message in a bottle, the artist has launched into the Gulf of Mexico a bottle containing a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device. The GPS, sealed within a modest, plastic bottle, transmits a signal of its precise location as it floats in the sea. Bahc charts a route of an unpredictable, aimless journey by marking the gallery’s wall. The viewer imagines an experience “at sea” and without bearings. The piece is both finite and endless: when the battery in the device dies, the bottle will disappear from our mapping knowledge but not from the earth. With the drifting bottle, Bahc seems to question the limits of our knowledge about existence, future, and fate.

In both pieces, real-time and surveillance are placed in the context of nature, creating a poetic meditation. With the projected sky, the viewer searches, waits for action to appear. Conversely, with the bottle floating in the sea, the sculpture is the action; although it is powerless in its direction, dependent on the current to chart its course. Quiet and open-ended, Bahc’s work reflects on ideas of passage—the flow of time and crossings of boundaries.

Sunday, October 18, 2009




the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.

Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.


Look what is happening in the world - we are being conditioned by society, by the culture we live in, and that culture is the product of man. There is nothing holy, or divine, or eternal about culture. (Jiddu Krishnamurti)

I chose culture as a word to explore because it is what I as an artist am exploring. The bike culture of America, however small or insignificant you may think it is, it exists and is continuing to grow by the day. Culture is such a massive word, with so many people it can encompass, it may be broad, but i feel that it suits what I am trying to convey.

Grzegorz Klaman

Flags of Democracy. 2004-2007. Fabric. Dimensions variable.

Flags of Democracy. 2004-2007. Fabric. Dimensions variable.

I chose Grzegorz Klaman and his Flags of Democracy work because of his social comments on Poland's current politics. Much of his work deals with existing objects, rather than creating news forms. He remakes the Polish flag to create a redefinition of the symbol of his homeland.


Sculptor, born January 7, 1959, in Nowy Targ; lives and works in Gdansk.

In 1980 Klaman graduated from the State High School of Visual Art Techniques (the so-called "Kenar School") in Zakopane. He became a student of the Sculpture Department of the State Higher School of the Visual Arts (today the Academy of Fine Arts) in Gdansk, which he completed in 1985. Klaman created his thesis project under the direction of Professor Franciszek Duszenka. Upon completing his studies, he began to teach at his alma mater. He proceeded through all of the levels of an academic career and is currently a professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Gdansk.

The artist's early attitudes and perceptions were shaped by his close-up view of the rise and, shortly thereafter, the fall of the "Solidarity" movement. He shared in the general enthusiasm that accompanied the movement's birth and in the protests that came with its suppression during Martial Law. He participated in demonstrations, co-edited underground publications and painted protest murals.

At this time, he was a proponent of "land art." Between 1984 and 1986 he worked with Kazimierz Kowalczyk in creating colossal and simultaneously ephemeral works at various sites in the city of Gdansk, an activity that formed a part of the so-called "rotating gallery." Klaman also created installations made of "impoverished," perishable materials. These included UNDERGROUND (1986), NAPROMIENIOWANY / RADIATED (1986), CZLOWIEK / HUMAN (1986) - the latter being joint projects with Kazimierz Kowalczyk. In his sculptures of the 1980s, Klaman favored figurative art that was dramatic in its expression in the spirit of "new expressionism." He sculpted raw, monumental figures that he extracted from tree trunks using strokes of the axe and chisel. These were poly-chromed carelessly and usually combined with elements made of sheet metal, wire mesh, fabrics, plastic, and the like (PATRZACY / GAZING FIGURE, 1986, BIG MAN 1986, GOLEM, 1987, CZERWONY PLASZCZ / RED COAT, 1987, BURZYCIEL / DESTROYER, 1987). In 1987 he began situating his sculptures on plinths or near other monumental structures (POSTAC TRZYMAJACA LOS / FIGURE HOLDING FATE, 1987 and a variation on this work titled NOWY BUDDA / NEW BUDDHA, dating from 1988 and purchased for the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seoul, South Korea). In the years 1989-1991, he created monumental projects of bent, irregular sheets of metal. These took the form of OBELISKI / OBELISKS (exhibition titled NA OBRAZ I PODOBIENSTWO / IN IMAGE AND AFTER LIKENESS, Warszawa 1989), LABIRYNT / LABYRINTH (exhibition titled LABIRYNT - PRZESTRZEN PODZIEMNA / LABYRINTH - AN UNDERGROUND SPACE, Warsaw, 1989), ROTUNDA / ROTUNDA, TUNEL / TUNNEL, RAMPA / RAMP, BRAMA / GATE (exhibition titled RAJ UTRACONY / PARADISE LOST, Warsaw, 1990), and GORA / MOUNTAINS (exhibition titled EPITAFIUM I SIEDEM PRZESTRZENI / EPITAPH AND SEVEN SPACES, Warsaw, 1991).

Two factors prompted the change that occurred in his art around 1990. The first was the experience Klaman had gained as an organizer. Beginning in his student years, he had been creating galleries as well as outdoor sites of artistic activity for himself and a group of his peers. These were, in sequence, the "rotating gallery," located at various sites around the city of Gdansk (1984-1986), the "Baraki" / "Barracks" at Chmielna Street (turn of 1986/87), the Galeria Wyspa / Island Gallery on the peninsula known as Granary Island (1987-1994), the Island Gallery at the art school dormitory on Chlebnicka Street (1990-2002), and the Open Atelier in the former Municipal Bathhouse (1992, known as the Laznia / Bathhouse Contemporary Art Center since 1998). All of these forms, which were institutionalized to a greater or lesser degree, chose the public space as the terrain of their activity. The group of young artists who created works therein, which apart from Klaman included Kazimierz Kowalczyk, Jacek Staniszewski, Eugeniusz Szczudlo, Jaroslaw Filicinski and Robert Rumas, posited themselves as partners of the ruling authority (under both political systems that reigned throughout these years) thereby eliciting a usually unfavorable reaction from authorities. The chasm that existed between the two sides became apparent with the failed attempt at defending Granary Island, threatened with commercial development, for the arts. This was the purpose behind the international symposiums titled "Project Island" organized in 1992 and 1994 by Klaman and Agnieszka Wolodzko. Klaman's criticism and sensitivity to manifestations stereotypical thinking, stagnation, or simply the corruption of authorities found expression in art forms that were monumental, dominating, cold, and quasi-architectural (see the series MONUMENTY / MONUMENTS, 1991-1993, KONSTRUKCJE / STRUCTURES, 1991-1993, BUDOWLE / BUILDINGS, 1993, ETER / ETHER, 1993, and the installation PNEUMA at Main Town Hall in Gdansk, 1996). At the same time, the essential message of these works is not contained in their shape or the expression of their smooth, metal surfaces, but in added details like human hair, natural sounds, photographs, slide and video projections, and the like. The ideological current in these works, designed to "retaliate" against authorities, was best expressed in a leaflet campaign titled ANATOMIA POLITYCZNA CIALA / POLITICAL ANATOMY OF THE BODY, 1995, carried out in Berlin and involving the handing out of leaflets bearing messages drawn from the work of Michel Foucault. Klaman referred to the Polish situation strictly in a design for the national flag, in which the white and red fields were supplemented with a band of black, symbolizing the influence of the Catholic Church on the State.

A second factor eliciting change were the artist's theoretical interests in contemporary times and the future, and in particular in the problems of power, technology and medicine on one hand, and the body as a subject of study and manipulation on the other. The artist explored these issues in a manner deprived of all symbolism, reference to tradition or conventional ways of thinking, which often caused them to be rejected by critics and even censored at times. This was especially true of works in the series EMBLEMATY / EMBLEMS, 1993 and KATABASIS / CATHABASIS, 1993, for which he used preserved human organs, including intestines, a brain and a liver, as well as an eye, ear and tongue (communication organs). Transferring the preserved items from the context of the laboratory to a gallery space gave rise to objections that were variously motivated through aesthetic and religious criteria. In the artist's opinion, however, in our age of transplants, cloning and genetic manipulation, these objects are merely indicators of a not too distant everyday reality, in which the type and scope of "life" decisions will be altogether different. This line of thinking was reconfirmed in Klaman's newest series of objects titled BIBLIOTEKI / LIBRARIES, 1999, and ANATROPHY, 2000.

In recent years the artist has shown that he is far from abandoning his public activity. For the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of "Solidarity" in the year 2000, Klaman constructed a monumental form that stood at the entrance to an exhibition titled DROGA DO WOLNOSCI / ROAD TO FREEDOM held within the Gdansk Shipyard. The shipyard - which is perhaps on the way to being changed in the same manner as Granary Island was - is also the subject of his project titled CITY TRANSFORMERS, 2002.

Yto Barrada

Sleepers. 2006. C-Print. 125cm x 125cm

Sleepers. 2006. C-Print. 125cm x 125cm

I chose Moroccan artist Yto Barrada because of her project "Sleepers" where she photographs people sleeping in public parks of her home town of Tangiers, where they wait to go north, through the Straight of Gibraltar. Her work comments on the emigration and the word "Straight" itself revealing a tension that are amid the streets of Tangiers. It refers to the tension between the European and Muslim world as well.


In Andre Téchiné’s film Changing Times (2004) a Frenchman visiting Tangier is with a former girlfriend when her car breaks down in an isolated waterfront area. As they walk along a cliff they are startled to encounter refugees camped in the trees, waiting for an opportunity to cross the Strait of Gibraltar – a shining, deceptively benign-looking ribbon dividing Morocco from the shores of Spain. When the man says, ‘This is the last stop before Paradise’, his remark reflects the magnitude of the strait’s promise of salvation, but he is surely aware of the danger in store for the ‘burnt ones’ who try to traverse it. Téchiné addresses barriers, real and imagined, between North and South with quicksilver camerawork that echoes emotions at stake in his narratives. But in photographer Yto Barrada’s mournfully claustrophobic ‘The Strait Project: A Life Full of Holes’ (1998–2004) it is the absence of such fluid movement that is most acutely felt. Stillness and stagnation pervade the series, which attempts to evoke Tangier as a city consumed and hollowed out by the desire to escape.

Just as the Sonoran Desert has been a deadly lure for countless Mexican ‘illegal’ immigrants looking for greater economic opportunity in North America, so the Strait of Gibraltar, closed since 1991 to passage by Africans without visas, has a larger-than-life presence for those suffering globalization’s fall-out. Noting that in both French and Arabic the word for ‘strait’ connotes constriction or distress, Barrada has written, ‘I try to expose the metonymic character of the strait through a series of images that reveal the tension – which restlessly animates the streets of my home town – between its allegorical nature and immediate, harsh reality’. Barrada herself was born in France, to Moroccan parents, and can travel freely. Like other photographers who navigate both European and non-European cultures, she favours ‘inventories and typologies’ in an effort to avoid the picturesque, but her approach is decidedly dark and emotionally and politically engaged. Although they may seem at first glance intentionally banal, her unspectacular images of subjects such as abandoned construction sites or objects at a flea market are more metaphorical than distanced.

Many of the photographs are square, a format that encourages a sense of stasis even in images that capture motion, as in Ceuta Border – Illegally Crossing the Border into the Spanish Enclave of Ceuta (1999). Movement is more palpable in Le Détroit – Avenue d’Espagne (The Strait – Spanish Avenue, 2000), an overhead shot of pedestrians trying to cross a wide street. The centre of the image is taken up by blank asphalt, while the people – at the top of the frame a group of women, at the bottom a young man holding a large model ship that obscures his face – seem pulled toward the edges by centrifugal force. A figure for the strait’s psychological and metaphysical power, the street, whose very name evokes Europe, is mesmerizing in its emptiness and resembles a rushing river. Several photographs depict walls; one simply shows wallpaper with an alpine scene. Less resonant is a shot of the sky seen from inside a rusty container.

Whether sitting, playing, embracing or eating, many of the people depicted seem to sink into the images as if into quicksand, dead weight in Barrada’s careful compositions. A few, on the other hand, seem weightless. Faces are often hidden, suggesting numbness, loss of agency or a will to depart or disappear: a plastic bag blocks the face of a factory worker lunching in a sterile, fluorescent-lit canteen; a girl playing jacks faces a tiled wall, her back to the photographer; two girls form shadowy, gesticulating silhouettes in front of an illuminated advert for a cruise ship. The show included a pair of videos; in the more poignant of the two, The Magician (2003), a man styling himself ‘Sinbad of the Strait’ performs with slapdash flair, half-heartedly hiding the artifice behind his tricks.

Photographs from Barrada’s ‘Bus’ series (2003) depict details of brightly coloured logos on buses that travel between Morocco and Europe. A commentary by two local boys accompanies the images. One vehicle ‘goes directly to Portugal, non-stop. Nazarenes, old and young. Parks in front of the shrimp factory. One guard, but since he’s in charge of the whole area, he can’t see everything all the time. Climb in the middle under the floorboards. Those who have papers go inside the bus.’ In their words the suffering that is never directly represented in the photographs is hard to miss.

Kristin M. Jones

Guillermo Gomez-Pena

New Barbarians. Web Based Photograph.

Piedad Post-Colonial. Web Based Photograph.

Guillermo Gomez-Pena's work revolves around the group which he associates with the "La Poncha Nostra." It addresses many post colonial issues that the in particular, the Latin American cultures deal with. Many of the images show blatant stereotypes in which the these groups have to combat. Much of his work is as much a photograph as it is a performance, they show an act of citizen diplomacy and negotiate their cultural belongings and traits in an open forum.


Guillermo Gómez-Peña's latest project, El Mexterminator (in collaboration with Roberto Sifuentes) is not a single text, event, or performance. In its New York incarnation, it consisted of a month-long series of actions, appearances, performances, and interventions that ranged across the geographical and virtual spaces of the city. Adopting "ethno-cyborg" personas, collaborators Gómez-Peña and Sifuentes participated in a live Internet chat and a radio call-in show. Potential audiences were also invited to visit and contribute to the El Mexterminator "Temple of Confessions," an interactive web site. Together with Sara Shelton Mann, they roved the city's public spaces on several occasions in their roles as "El Mexterminator" (Gómez-Peña), "Cyber-Vato" (Sifuentes) and "La Cultural Transvestite" (Shelton Mann). Finally, anchoring these various events was the installation at El Museo del Barrio titled "Techno-Museo de Etnografía Interactiva," featuring the performers as "live Mexicans on display."

The images, characters, narratives and actions that make up El Mexterminator animate and recirculate myths, cultural beliefs, and stereotypes about Chicano and Latino culture, the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration, and the relation of art to politics. For over two decades, Gómez-Peña has been working both alone and in collaboration with various artists to produce performance pieces that share many elements with the current one. For example, the complex and hybridized personas of El Mexterminator recall the 1989 performance piece Border Brujo, described by Gómez-Peña as "a ritual, linguistic, and performative journey across the United States/México border." In 1992, Gómez-Peña appeared with Coco Fusco at the Whitney Museum and other major museums around the country as "Two Undiscovered Amerindians," "primitives" from the fictional island of Guatinaui. As in El Mexterminator, the audience was positioned as the source of the anthropological gaze: audiences visiting the "Amerindians" were invited to ask for an "authentic dance," a "story in Guatinaui," or a souvenir photo. In recognition of the significance of this body of work, Gómez-Peña has been awarded a MacArthur Fellowship as [End Page 46] well as a National Book Award for The New World Border (City Lights, 1996), a collection of performance texts, essays, and poetry.

In these projects and performances, the Mexico-United States border is the specific and explicit site of criticism and interrogation. At the same time, the conflicts, contradictions, and complexities of the geographical border zone become metaphoric materials through which to explore cultural, political, sexual, artistic, and intellectual borders as well. For Gómez-Peña, who is not only a performer and artist but also a poet and theorist of cultural borderlands and multicultures, the artist must be redefined: "not just an imagemaker or a marginal genius, but a social thinker/ educator/ counterjournalist/ civilian diplomat/ human-rights observer." Gómez-Peña views himself as a "border artist" for whom experimental techniques and performance-derived practices become a means to intervene in, and impact on, the emergence of new cultural formations. The aim, as Gómez-Peña puts it, is "a project of redefinition, which conceives of the border not only as the limits of the two countries, but as a cardinal intersection of many realities. In this sense, the border is not an abyss that will have to save us from threatening otherness, but a place where the so-called otherness yields, becomes us, and therefore becomes comprehensible."

Like all of Gómez-Peña's work, El Mexterminator probes the politicized spaces of difference and desire. In this sense, it might be viewed as another salvo in the ongoing "culture wars." Indeed, what is most immediately evident in El Mexterminator is the way in which its thematic or theoretical concerns--ideas of hybridity and the border zone, of the cultural construction of the "other," of the body of the other as a site of projection for both desires and fears--echo and amplify issues that have been reflected in a range of "multicultural" and "postcolonial" thought and practice over the past decade. But while the theoretical familiarity of El Mexterminator's conceptual framework suggests repetition, the innovative form of El Mexterminator--its multiple incarnations on radio, Internet, museum, and street--introduces an element that has more recently drawn attention in a variety of cultural locations: interactivity...

Melanie Jackson

The Undesirables. 2007. Etchings, animated sequences DV PAL. Dimensions Variable.

The Undesirables. 2007. Etchings, animated sequences DV PAL. Dimensions Variable.

Melanie Jackson's work Undesirable's work is about the shipwreck of the MSC Napoli off the coast of Devon. She uses and accumulates materials that re-present parts of the narrative and shows them in a large scale diorama assembled from many etchings based from media images of the wreck. Her work shows the largely invisible import/export movement of goods through international waters, commenting on the cultural state of our capitalist society.


The installation Some Things You Are Not Allowed to Send Around the World (Matt’s Gallery, London, 11 June - 3 August 2003) was my first encounter with the work of artist Melanie Jackson, and something of a revelation - not just in terms of the implausible yet genuine lists of banned items detailed on the show’s poster (Germany forbids postage of playing cards “except in complete decks properly wrapped”; Croatia, whistles; Peru, shoe cream; Italy, typewriter ribbon; Somalia and Sri Lanka, illustrated postcards- to name just a few items) but because of the absorbing and reflexive quality of Jackson’s project. The result of two years’ work, the piece formed an urgent and intriguing meditation on labour- specifically, on immigrant labour, maybe the most heavily policed of all things that (legally or illegally) get sent around the world.

Following a pattern established in Jackson’s previous projects, Some Things was oriented around a central “myth”: a maybe true, maybe fabricated tale of a Filipina maid working in Hong Kong whose “bedroom” is a kitchen cupboard. At night she removes its contents and climbs inside to sleep; in the morning on rising, she refills it and starts her work. Jackson re-told the woman’s story via a brief, simply-drawn, looped video animation screened on a partition at the installation’s entrance: a hand stacking plates; a person disappearing into a tiny cupboard; a window darkening and growing light again.

Behind the partition lurked a stunning surprise- a sprawling, fantastically labour-intensive cluster of microcosmic environments crafted by the artist from a polyglot assortment of newspaper scraps, and laid out on miniature plateaux formed from thin, ragged plywood sheeting. Amongst the structures teased painstakingly from newsprint were a minuscule circus, a refugee camp, a listening station, a mountain cable-car, a temple, a football stadium, a shipping container port, roadside billboards, telecoms installations, and a fairground bedecked with tiny streams of bunting. Precisely observed, the models were striking not least for their mimetic impact; the newspaper medium had a kind of festive charm but many of the landscapes represented (industrial wastelands, shanty towns- sites of human deprivation and environmental destruction) triggered a creeping anxiety.

At the installation’s centre, monitors screened videos documenting a curious social phenomenon that takes place on Sundays in Hong Kong. The city’s female Filipino servant community assemble in the financial district for a kind of party, chatting, singing, and endeavouring to raise each others’ spirits. (Maybe somewhere amongst the crowd was the very woman of the cupboard legend.) Another monitor, located elsewhere, screened footage documenting the giant agribusinesses of El Ejido, Spain, with their vast plastic-covered acreages of cultivated fruits and vegetables, and their migrant North African workforce, whose labour underpins the industry. On the one hand, installation viewers contemplated the “invisible”, underpaid labour of immigrant workers, and on the other, the supposedly “non-alienated” labour of the Western artist, working in a medium (newspaper) whose acid-laden nature guarantees the objects produced an extremely short life-span. The installation offered no tidy formula to explain the complex relation between these phenomena, but rather left the labour of interpretation to the viewer.

Jackson, who graduated from London’s Royal College of Art in [1992], represents yet another counter (if more were needed) to the caricature of the brash, anti-theoretical, commercially obsessed, publicity-seeking 1990s “YBA” persona. ”I work very, very slowly, with ideas coming before any idea of exhibition venue, and I’m really only interested in projects that allow that slow developmental process” she states. “I like to pursue a line of enquiry in depth and to have time for ideas to mature. And as I’ve got older, I’ve found the early anxieties about visibility subsiding- it feels OK to risk being silent for a while, to wait until something of real importance emerges in one’s work.” Eager to know more about her practice, I met up with the artist at Matt’s Gallery.

Meschac Gaba

Sweetness. 2006. Sugar. 906 x 548 cm

Sweetness. 2006. Sugar. 906 x 548 cm.

I chose Meschac Gaba because much of his work revolves around the economic and cultural exchange of "codes" between Africa and the West. He explores power dynamics of Western countries over their old colonies and the people that inhabit them. In Sweetness, which is adapted when it travels to different cities, is made out of sugar completely and represents a global port city and includes many different landmarks from various "World" cities from many different countries.


Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street
Through March 27

When she came to the Studio Museum in Harlem as curator, Thelma Golden, now its director, promised to put contemporary African art on the exhibition schedule, and she has done so. Yinka Shonibare had a solo; Chris Ofili will have one this spring. And the first solo show in the United States of new work by Meschac Gaba, born in Benin in 1961 and now living in the Netherlands, is on view now, organized by the museum's associate curator, Christine Y. Kim.

Mr. Gaba contributed installations to Documenta XI and to the 2003 Venice Biennale, and has one in the exhibition ''Africa Remix'' in London now. The slippery power of globalism is his theme, this time embodied in a series of modest-size sculptures resembling architectural models. Most depict New York City landmarks of general or local renown, from the World Financial Center in Lower Manhattan and the Guggenheim Museum to the Harlem branch of the Y.M.C.A., along with some buildings in Benin.

From a distance the work looks like soft sculpture, which in a sense it is. Apart from an invisible metal armature, each is made entirely from braided artificial hair extensions of a kind popular in African-American coiffures. Braiding of this kind originated in West Africa -- some of the busiest 125th Street stylists are Senegalese -- and thanks to the near-universal impact of African-American pop stars on fashion, it has renewed cachet in Africa itself. Mr. Gaba commissioned a professional hair braider in Benin, Delphine Bonou, to make the Studio Museum sculptures, working from his photographs.

The results are delightful: not quite architectural portraits, but also not caricatures. The World Financial Center is recognizable for what it is, but also looks absurd as a bastion of economic might. The Guggenheim has gone from all white to all black, a transformation to ponder. By far the most distinctive forms, though, are the ones of official buildings in Benin. At once Modernist and African, they also look futuristic, like a set of spacecraft, no two alike.

So, many strands of ''global'' -- West African, American, African-American -- weave together in this show. And what a good idea to turn monuments to masculine ambition into gravity-defying female 'dos: wigs, actually, which you can put on and take off as suits your mood.


Zineb Sedira

Saphir. 2006. C-Prints. Variable Dimensions

Saphir. 2006. C-Prints. Variable Dimensions

Zineb Sedira's work is strongly influenced by her mixed ancestry of being Algerian and French. This work, "Saphir" is a series of photographs and also an 18 min two-screen video projection as well. The work examines cultural identity, memory, language, and both French and Algerian culture. In French, Saphir means Sapphire, while in Arabic i means Ambassador. While exploring the docks of Algiers, the work seems to make a Portrait of the city in a transitional time. While many people arrive from France to Algiers each day, many Algerian's wish that they could go to France, creating a juxtaposition in the presentation of the work.


I’ve just been to view Currents of Time: a new work by Zineb Sedira consisting of 3 instillations, distinct in style but thematically linked. The first of the 3 instillations I saw was ‘Maritime Nonsense and Other Aquatic Tales, 2009’. 3 large photographs on display in Rivington Place's shop front (see photo) used to draw people in. They do their job well, the rusting structures penetrating the dark oceans waters asking more questions than giving answers.

Once inside the gallery I was drawn to the disjointed noise’s coming from the darkened room immediately to my left. ‘Floating Coffins, 2009’ is a 14 screen video instillation with 10 round speakers suspended at various heights from the ceiling. The flat screen TV’s are mounted on 3 sides of the room surrounding the viewer, cables hanging freely, looping from TV to TV. Each screen showing different views of a rusting metal graveyard in the sea and sands of Mauritania, a country on Northwest African’s coastline. A place the world shipping industry uses as a scrap yard.

The rusting hulls are broken and fragmented physically by the frames of the TV’s, and the clever editing of the video footage. We see the ships, and the primitive methods being used to break them down as well as local wildlife and workers, forcing you to question the environmental and human impact this surreal ship cemetery has in this part of Africa.

To stay static whilst viewing the work is to do the ambient sound track a disservice. Zineb Sedira worked with sound artist Mikhail Karikis on producing this sound track and By walking underneath the many orb like speakers hanging above you, your oral senses are thrown off balance, the sounds of wind on sand, crashing waves and hammer on metal envelop you, at times clamouring for attention from all directions. All of this aids, and compliments the visually immersive elements of the work.

The third instillation is upstairs in the gallery’s project space 2. By contrast ‘Scattered Carcasses, 2008’ is set up in a lit room. Made up of 10 photographs mounted on large light boxes ‘scattered’ around the room. Power cables and extension plugs strew the ground, and hang from the wall mounted light boxes. I was the only person viewing the work at this time and the gentle sound of wind and lite tinny metal against metal caused unintentionally by a lose part in the air conditioning unit provided an atmospheric soundtrack. I couldn’t help but think it would have been a nice touch (although maybe not for the gallery supervisor) if the air con had been turned off and the heating turned up enough to dry your throat while viewing the backlit images of rusting ships being slowly buried by the African sands and sea.

I found this exhibition to be involving and challenging with the work enhanced by the well thought out and inspirational space within which it was displayed. Topping it off nicely is a complimentary exhibition guide providing you with some fairly in-depth background on the artist and her previous works. I highly recommend catching ‘Currents of Time’ in Londons East End before it ends on July 25th.

The exhibition will be running from 21st May - 25th July 09 at:

Nina Katchadourian

Austria. Dissected paper map, 6 x 9 inches, 1997, and c-print, 30 x 40 inches, 2006

World Map. Cut paper map fragments on watercolored paper, presstype, 50 x 40 inches, 1989

Nina's work focuses on mass production of consumer goods, the ready-made, and cultural icons such as maps. In the work, Austria, it is described as the heart of Europe, so creating this readymade heart out of the map of Austria and using its highways (which act as a artery and vein system) is a great use of material and comment on mass culture. In World Map, the world is dissected into differing places and counties, juxtaposing many countries to others creating a tension that like putting Western Europe in West Africa, or just by formal qualities of the map and cutting process.


Close your eyes and imagine the sounds of a perfect late summer’s day in the country, and you may conjure in your mind’s ear the breeze swirling through a meadow of tall grass, the rustling of leaves high on a great oak bough or the drone of crickets in the undergrowth. You are less likely to imagine yourself accosted from the trees by avian cries of ‘Cheeseburger ... cheeseburger … cheeseburger’, ‘Old Sam Pea-body – Pea-body, Pea-body’, ‘Oolong tea, Oolong tea!’ Who would have guessed that nature could be so emphatically, maddeningly chatty? But as any amateur ornithologist or weekend naturalist can tell you, the seminal field guides to the North American songbird are full of such quaint, dated and at times grating linguistic approximations of birdsong. It is these phonetic equivalents, transliterations and occasionally comical mnemonic devices that form the basis of artist Nina Katchadourian’s recent, clever and lyrical multi-part sound work Please, Please, Pleased to Meet’cha (2006), discreetly installed in six different spots in the trees and woodlands of the bucolic Wave Hill gardens, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Overlooking the sloping banks of the Hudson River, Wave Hill is an oddly unnatural natural place, a leftover bit of pastoral 18th-century New York preserved within the city limits of a teeming metropolis. As such, it is also an important layover spot for migrating songbirds and an oasis for year-round locals.

With Please, Please, Pleased to Meet’cha, Katchadourian similarly spotlights the ways in which humans, in their drive to acculturate the animal kingdom, to discern meaning and order in the natural world, concoct one interpretive artifice after another. Drawing on the unique phonetic texts and diagrams of Aretas A. Saunders and his Guide to Bird Songs (1935) and the many mnemonic phrases and ditties devised by scientists from the early 19th century onwards, found in such popular works as the Peterson Guide to North American Birds or the Audubon Society Field Guide, Katchadourian enlisted professional translators and interpreters from the United Nations headquarters downtown (none of whom knew a thing about birds) to record unrehearsed vocalized interpretations of these texts. None of the participants had ever heard the actual songs or sounds of the Black-Capped Chickadees or Common Grackles in question. Instead, the experiment was akin to asking an English-speaker to read a text in Swahili based solely on phonetic field notations or a quasi-scientific system of linguistic diagrams. The resulting recordings, unsurprisingly, sounded little like birdsong. Strolling from tree to tree, one was greeted by a sort of arboreal Dada performance, as though Kurt Schwitters were stuck up in the canopy of an elm doing his best to sound like a Grey Catbird – ‘eetay … taytitee … tata tay … toolotay … eetayoteee … totoo … tileetilee’ – while Raoul Hausmann hid in the brush reading his latest Red-Winged Blackbird poem: ‘konkler-eeeee … kuklakler-eeee … tup …’ Elsewhere, one could compare the repetitive mnemonic pleasantries exchanged by the Chestnut-sided Warbler (who is either eternally ‘very … very … very … very pleased to MEET-CHA!’ or expressing the fervent desire to ‘see, see, see, see Miss Beecher!’ depending on the field guide one is consulting) and the White-Throated Sparrow, who, when not excitedly complaining about how Old Sam Peabody is ‘all day a-whit-tl-in’, all day a-whit-tl-in’’, seems preoccupied with migrating nationalistic odes: ‘Sweet, sweet, sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada!’

What a bird sounds like, indeed what an animal is ‘saying’ (if anything), depends entirely on the ear of the listener. And not all ears are alike, each being subjectively attuned to a different social, economic or cultural milieu and to conflicting or historically determined understandings of the use of language. From these recordings we discover little about birds and a lot about what Katchadourian calls the ‘very human sense of listening’, which is infused ‘with a well-intentioned but clumsy good will’ towards other creatures. The fact that many birdsongs sound suspiciously like sea shanty lyrics, rhyming limericks about rural life or the conversational manners of late 19th-century New Englanders is not an accident. We would prefer, it seems, to discover in their rhythmic whistles and warblings purer, more lyrical versions of ourselves. The almost instinctive impulse to anthropomorphize and find familiar reassurance in the behaviour of other animals may explain the clear sense of empathy saturating every page of F. Schuyler Mathews’ Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music (1904), which Katchadourian cites as another curious influence on her investigations. In his attempt to convey the ‘discouragement’ expressed in the vocalizings of the White-Throated Sparrow, the author opines that there is ‘a sort of “Heigh-ho, fiddle-de-de!” character to the music which makes one think the little bird looks upon life and its cares as a tough problem.’ One wonders where the melancholy of the sparrow ends and that of the empathetic ornithologist begins.

James Trainor

Boris Bally

D.P.W. Platters. Dimensions Variable. Recycled Signs with Rivets. 1995-present

Man in Stereo: Muybridge Platter. 2007. Recycled Signs with Rivets.

Boris Bally's recycled signs that are turned into platters are something that i have found very intriguing. It's comments on environmental, social, and cultural issues through its mockery of American made materials that are symbolic for America's strive for wealth and production. The added element of anarchism (to an extent) as well, with the removal of the signs brings light to the subjects at hand. I also enjoy the reference to Muybridge with the two walking men in stereo. It is the re-assembling and fragmenting both physically and contextually, that make this work thrive.


Sometimes what you see is reminiscent of something that's already a part of the fine-art vocabulary. Jason Rogenes' wall sculpture of cut cardboard boxes and packing foam looks a little like a cross between a Frank Stella and a conceptual model for a new Frank Gehry building. A California pop art sensibility infuses Boris Bally's recycled traffic signs -- the "walk" figure scratched and scrawled and attached to other bright metal spheres.

A few artists are concerned with transformation and aesthetics, and they tend to stand out, if quietly. Regis Mayot splits the difference, with one tower built of carefully cut out plastic bottles - Clorox, 409 and the like - that seems clearly an environmental statement and another, more traditionally sculptural piece, also made of industrial plastic, but cut and shaped and lighted from within, losing any sense of its raw material's previous life.

Perhaps the most compelling work is by the Icelandic artist Hrafnhildur Arnardottir, whose medium is hair -- human, horse and artificial. She weaves and braids it into wigs, sculptures and wall installations. Her manipulations are up-to-the-moment yet carry forward something ancient and lovely.

By far the exhibit's most provocative work is by Laura Splan, who begins with traditional embroidery patterns and gives them a clinical, sometimes macabre twist. She stitches doilies in the biological patterns of lethal viruses -- an important exploration of pathologies. She also creates a filigreed negligee by applying facial peel to her body and then stripping it off -- "it" being her skin -- to create a fragile fabric. And she uses her own blood to create the brownish color for the pattern on what otherwise seems pretty much like your grandmother's dining room wallpaper. It's hard to know what to make of this, besides pointing out the artist's extreme body fetishism.

If that's your cup of tea, fine. But I'd get a lab test on the liquid before I drank it.

D.K. Row, The Oregonian

David Graham

Camille Terry as Marilyn Monroe, Palisades Park, NJ

Cereal City, Battle Creek, Michigan.

David Graham's work is personal, yet universal in our culture. It reveals a certain amount of intamacy, but still allows a sense of mystery about the subject in question. Many of his portraits are in costume, of either someone the emulated or just in a uniform. The culture that he reveals is an American culture that is rarely seen. Though, i feel that some of the photographs are relatively, lackluster, they still portray the American people. Primarily as some sort of culture that loves celebrity lifestyles, suburbia, country life, and vacation life.


From September 19th through November 8th 2008, Gallery 339 is pleased to present an exhibition by nationally renowned photographer David Graham. The exhibition features a selection of photographs from Graham’s newest book, Almost Paradise.

For over thirty years, David Graham has traveled the United States, creating what amounts to a vast photo album of who we are as Americans. It’s not always pretty, but it’s endlessly interesting. In his vivid color pictures, Graham finds the absurdities that we have created, in our landscape and of ourselves. Yet rather than social criticism, the pictures reveal and revel in those things that make us distinctly American: our independence, our bravado, our desire for the next new thing. With some of the swagger and surrealism of a drive across America, Graham’s pictures capture this dichotomy of American culture, offering moments that are simultaneously ridiculous and inspiring. The images in Almost Paradise continue this pursuit of cultural identity, however, a certain uneasiness has crept into Graham’s photographs as he documents the effects of Hurricane Katrina and other signs of decay in a once robust American landscape. In these new pictures, we see that a seemingly boundless American optimism is both literally and figuratively running out of gas.

Graham’s photographs have been exhibited in galleries and museums across the U.S., including the International Center for Photography in New York, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, the Delaware Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Graham has produced several books, including Alone Together, Declaring Independence, Ay! Cuba, Taking Liberties, American Beauty, and Land of the Free. Additionally, Graham regularly shoots for The New York Times, The New Yorker, TIME, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. His work has been collected by The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and The Art Institute of Chicago. Graham currently resides in Newtown, Pennsylvania, though as evidenced by his work, he remains in constant motion, traveling throughout the country and developing his complex portrait of the American experience.

Larry Sultan

Sharon Wild. 2001. C-print

Backyard, Filmset. 2002. C-Print

Larry Sultan's photographs of behind the scenes actions and happening of America's Adult Film Industry raise many questions of American culture, and how the porn industry is so prolific in our culture. His work reveals an intimate moment of clarity within the porn industry, where nothing of the action is happening, but the in between moments that aren't supposed to be noticed. The fabricated scenes and people who are supposed to be basically an object to view, are seen as human and real.


In a 1998 photograph titled Tasha’s Third Film a young blonde woman, hair in curlers and face made up, perches on a corduroy sofa and looks towards the camera. She is flanked by two men whose mouths hang open as they nap. This must be Tasha, and the shooting of her third porn flick has either just wrapped or is about to begin. In either case the moment depicted by photographer Larry Sultan is outside the frame of the movie camera. In fact, beyond the sliding glass doors behind Tasha another scene is being filmed. In it a pile of naked figures, body parts, really – a thigh here, an indecipherable limb there – engage in some obscure sex act while the cameraman and crew gaze on. But for us, viewers of Sultan’s photograph, attempting to make out this more titillating scene requires that we look over Tasha’s shoulder and, by virtue of the photograph’s composition, be watched by her. Notably, her look is neither that of desperation nor of victimization (as pornography’s critics might claim). Nor is it hopeful and fresh, the face of someone new to the job. Tasha’s gaze is distant, perhaps even bored. It is a perfect foil to the frenzied, full-frontal immediacy that porn was designed to promise – a promise that Sultan’s photographs repeatedly withhold: extreme vacancy in lieu of extreme sex.

Tasha’s Third Film is one of more than 60 large-scale colour photographs in Sultan’s recently completed series ‘The Valley’. Begun in 1998, the series takes its name from Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, a 260-square-mile expanse of middle-class suburban sprawl universally mocked for its big malls, bad hair and ‘like, totally’ overused gum-snapping expressions. In the past ten years the Valley has also become the economic capital of the adult film industry, which rents out local residences for film shoots. In this way the Valley’s peculiar brand of social and class aspiration, as revealed by its domestic décor, finds its way into the cultural landscape of porn. As Sultan notes, details such as ‘dark wood panelling, overbearing stonework, marble counters’ are intended to ‘give the appearance of “the good life”, of wealth and taste’. The Valley is, after all, a wannabe Hollywood, stigmatized as ‘the other’ to the Westside of Los Angeles, where more highly esteemed filmmakers make ‘real’ movies.While Sultan’s photos take the adult film industry as their point of departure, his eye is not that of the pornographer.

Sex and raunch are pushed to the margins, where blowjobs and bare buns must compete with the finer details of these interiors. Sultan’s camera detours through these spaces, picking up on minutiae that would seem to have nothing to do with sexual fantasy at all: a Polystyrene cup, a family portrait, a brass menorah, a tuft of fur left behind by the family pet. Sultan refers to these aspects as the ‘evidence’ of people who remain present although they have temporarily vacated their homes. Many of his photos reveal the complexity of such objects, whose symbolic value shuttles between the deeply personal, the socially performative and the profoundly alienated. Any number of fantasies, erotic or otherwise, erupt from the most banal objects or places. Take, for example, the roll of paper towels captured in Satsuma Studio (2003), an image with no figures at all.

‘Home’ is a familiar trope for Sultan, one that he examined in his acclaimed book Pictures from Home (1992). In The Valley home (both one’s real-life domicile and as a porn setting) is always both fictional and factual, decorated with aspirations for a better life and at the same time bogged down by the realities of day-to-day existence. Consider the photo Reseda (2000), in which a woman, fully clad in red and black latex, sits meditatively, sunken too deeply within her chair. Behind her a print from Charlotte Salomon’s monumental autobiographical artwork Leben? oder Theater? (Life? or Theatre?, 1940–42) makes the point clear: home is always a place of both life and theatre, and drawing a line between the two is an impossible task – perhaps all the more so in the Valley, where Sultan grew up (any one of these homes could have been his own). The Valley is made of the kind of sentimental dreams embodied by the embracing Parisian couple in Robert Doisneau’s mass-produced photo Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville (1950). What, then, could be better than the sweaty stomach of a rising porn star caught between takes in Encino to give the lie to that fantasy? Doisneau’s scene, too, must have been staged.

Eve Meltzer