ART— BARBARA KASTEN
Kasten’s photographs capture the fleeting interplay of color, form, and light in the geometric objects she assembles. While preparing for Barbara Kasten: Stages, her survey at the ICA in Philadelphia, she spoke to Leslie Hewitt about the expansion of their shared medium.
I had the chance to finally meet artist Barbara Kasten, after admiring her work from a distance since the late ’90s. We met formally through the exhibition The Material Image, curated by Deb Singer in 2014. The exhibition explored aspects of material specificity and medium definitions, among other core themes relating to contemporary photographic practices, and was a clear celebration of experimentation.
Many questions formed in my mind after encountering Kasten’s intricate practice. Her photographic gestures are bold, clear, and formally striking. They are windows into a world of light and its opposite, into photosensitive color fields and their reduction transformed into endless gray hues that fill the optical plane. Her approach is playful, imaginative, and critically challenging. Her practice’s explicit fragmentation and her staging of optical worlds are perfect visual correlatives to our current understanding of time and space, via our interaction with the virtual world. Kasten’s engagement with the construction of space has a strong undercurrent paralleling its antithesis: deconstructivism, an exciting kind of anti- architecture offering much to learn from.
We conducted our interview over Skype as she was preparing for the survey Barbara Kasten: Stages at the ICA in Philadelphia. As I was in New York and she was in Chicago, I first asked her to describe her studio to me. I had a kind of “memory image” of it even though I have not physically visited it. She spoke of a rather large industrial space, filled with materials she has collected and saved from previous sets or sculptural compositions. I had imagined a simple classification system. Arranging materials according to color, form, and size would seem necessary, I thought. Yet she did not describe this; this desire for some organizing principle might have been my own projection. I imagined the materials in her studio to have idiosyncratic locations, being propped, stacked, and hung.
Rather unexpectedly, her account arrived at a black box—a “stage” and photographic studio simultaneously. It should not have surprised me, as the void is ever present in her work—be it white, gray, or any other color, including black. This black box provides an imaginative space in her studio, a theatrical and cinematic device allowing for transformation. It is there that her material selections become actors and the camera collapses space, magnifying subtle gestures into epic dramas where light meets surface.
Light. Corner. Softened. Fold. Reflection. Line. Glare. Sharp. Scratch. Shadow. Quiet. Edge. Moiré. This simple exercise of word, image, and memory—the description of her studio—helped set the stage for our conversation. It was a kind of warm up.
— Leslie Hewitt
opposite: METAPHASE 5, 1986, Cibachrome, 37 × 29 3 8 inches. Images courtesy of the artist and Bortolami, New York, unless otherwise noted.
right: SCENE III, 2012, archival pigment print, 54 ½ × 43 ½ inches.
Photodocumentation of Barbara Kasten working in her studio, New York, NY, 1983. Photo by Kurt Kilgus. Courtesy of the artist and the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania.
opposite: AMALGAM UNTITLED 79/ 34, 1979, analog enlargement and photogram on silver gelatin, 20 × 16 inches.