Jour­ney to the world's most fas­ci­nat­ing sights by road

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Lifestyle -

ALL IN THE NAME OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Yet, while Si­mon’s method – of hunt­ing down un­usual sub­jects in un­usual places – might read like pho­to­jour­nal­ism, the fi­nal prod­uct hews more to what one would find tacked to the walls of a bi­ol­ogy or foren­sics lab.

In 2009, Si­mon spent five sleep­less days at John F. Kennedy Air­port in or­der to pho­to­graph the goods seized from pas­sen­gers and ex­press mail entering the United States. The re­sult was “Con­tra­band” (2010), com­pris­ing 1,095 shots of con­fis­cated items of all stripes, from coun­ter­feit jew­ellery, drugs and DVDS

“WHEN SOME­THING DOESN’T HAVE AN ECO­NOMIC REA­SON TO EX­IST, IT STARTS TO DIS­AP­PEAR. THAT IS JUST THE RE­AL­ITY”

to deer penises and cow urine. Si­mon doesn’t dwell on the bizarreness; iso­lated from their im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings and pared down to their aes­thetic el­e­ments, the pho­tographed ob­jects are bereft of over­ar­ch­ing so­cio-po­lit­i­cal mes­sages.

Si­mon is of­ten de­scribed as a pho­tog­ra­pher, but the term doesn’t do jus­tice to her breadth. The artist has a pro­cliv­ity for sub­ject­ing her­self to drain­ing ven­tures, mak­ing her as much a per­for­mance artist as pho­tog­ra­pher.

In 2008, she em­barked on a four-year jour­ney to track down dif­fer­ent blood­lines around the world. Tak­ing her trusty 4x5 cam­era and sev­eral hun­dred kilo­grams of equip­ment with her, Si­mon shot 922 im­ages of 18 blood­lines, cul­mi­nat­ing in “A Liv­ing Man De­clared Dead and Other Chap­ters I – XVIII”.

The artist is quick to em­pha­sise that it’s blood­lines she is in­ter­ested in map­ping out, not fam­i­lies. Like “Con­tra­band”, the hu­man sub­jects in the im­ages are iso­lated from their sur­round­ings and ar­ranged neatly on the wall, with the clin­i­cal pre­ci­sion of the se­ries be­ly­ing the har­row­ing sto­ries within. Sto­ries of Tan­za­nian al­bi­nos who are un­der con­stant threat of per­se­cu­tion, or of the South

Korean fam­ily who were ab­ducted by North Korea, give the viewer plenty to re­view.

Iron­i­cally, a min­i­mal­ist aes­thetic is also what makes Si­mon’s art so pow­er­ful. Amid the per­fect sym­me­try and tax­o­nomic at­ten­tion to de­tail, the artist ex­plores the idea of how sys­tems came to be – how do things fall into a cer­tain cat­e­gory but not an­other? Who de­cides whether some­thing – or some­one – is le­gal or il­le­gal?

A dead­pan style doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that Si­mon can eas­ily ex­tri­cate her­self from her hu­man sub­jects, par­tic­u­larly for “A Liv­ing Man”, where the artist came face to face with liv­ing, breath­ing hu­man be­ings; some liv­ing on the fringes of so­ci­ety, oth­ers un­der con­stant threat of per­se­cu­tion.

“It’s hard but I al­ways keep a dis­tance. I don’t want to come out and say that this work is about me, or there is an ac­tivist’s mes­sage. I step back, I leave my­self out of it,” she pauses. “I tor­ture my­self about every de­ci­sion that I make, be it about a pro­ject where there is hu­man in­ter­ac­tion, or where I have to deal with flow­ers. I have an ob­ses­sive com­mit­ment to pre­ci­sion. It’s like be­ing on a ham­ster’s wheel, but I don’t stop.”

PO­SI­TION­ING GRIEF

In Si­mon’s art there is a sense that im­age and text are of equal im­por­tance, where one in­forms – or mis­in­forms – the other. In 2012, the artist col­lab­o­rated with the late Aaron Swartz on Imageat­las.org, a search en­gine that com­pares and con­trasts the top six im­ages gen­er­ated by lo­cal search engines when given the same terms as in­put.

“You see in­cred­i­ble dif­fer­ences, but also sim­i­lar­i­ties. Ev­ery­one sees love in the same way, but ev­ery­one sees hate dif­fer­ently,” notes the artist.

Does she feel that in the world of emo­jis, Instagram and Snapchat, im­ages of­ten trump text? “When some­thing doesn’t have an eco­nomic rea­son to ex­ist, it starts to dis­ap­pear. That is just the re­al­ity,” she replies. But per­haps for the artist, lan­guage isn’t so much dis­ap­pear­ing as it is mu­tat­ing.

“I TOR­TURE MY­SELF ABOUT EVERY DE­CI­SION THAT I MAKE, BE IT ABOUT A PRO­JECT WHERE THERE IS HU­MAN IN­TER­AC­TION, OR WHERE I HAVE TO DEAL WITH FLOW­ERS. I HAVE AN OB­SES­SIVE COM­MIT­MENT TO PRE­CI­SION”

In “Oc­cu­pa­tion of Loss” (2016), which de­buted in New York, Si­mon tack­les the lan­guage – or lack thereof – sur­round­ing loss and grief. “I was look­ing at the space that loss gen­er­ated, and how that is per­formed,” she says.

At Park Av­enue Ar­mory’s grand, dim ex­hi­bi­tion hall, pro­fes­sional mourn­ers from around the world, in­clud­ing In­dia, Venezuela and Bhutan, per­formed griev­ing rit­u­als in­side 11 48-foot-tall con­crete pipes, said to be in­spired by the Tow­ers of Si­lence tra­di­tion­ally used in Zoroas­trian fu­ner­als. The US Cit­i­zen­ship & Immigration Ser­vices was an un­wit­ting co-cu­ra­tor, when it re­jected many of the Visa ap­pli­ca­tions that Si­mon filed on be­half of the mourn­ers.

The artist is cur­rently adapt­ing the pro­ject to a yet-to-be-dis­closed lo­ca­tion in Lon­don, open­ing later this year.

The loss of a loved one is some­thing al­ways felt ex­tremely per­son­ally, but we’ve also all seen how grief can be played out in the pub­lic space. Does such pub­lic ex­pres­sion mean that our emo­tions have been lib­er­ated, or is grief ul­ti­mately gov­erned by a hid­den set of so­ci­etal and moral codes? It’s an in­creas­ingly blurry line, es­pe­cially in the age when so many of us are ac­cus­tomed to broad­cast­ing our feel­ings on so­cial me­dia.

As the artist notes, “[the ex­pres­sion of grief ] is not fake, it is not real. It just ex­ists in this nether space.”

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02 Press III, Pa­per­work andthewil­lof Cap­i­tal, 2015, pig­mented con­crete presses, dried plant spec­i­mens, archival inkjet prints, text on herbar­ium pa­per and steel brace, 44 15/16 X 22 X 30 inches. 03 Agree­ment for co­op­er­a­tion on China's Bei­dou Nav­i­ga­tion S

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04 Hand­bags, misc. (coun­ter­feit) (de­tail), 2010, archival inkjet print.

05 Chap­terv, Aliv­ing­man De­clared­dead an­dother Chap­tersi-xviii, 2011, archival inkjet prints com­prised of 3 com­po­nents, 84 X 118 3/4 inches.

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