ART— BAR­BARA KAS­TEN

BOMB Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Les­lie He­witt

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.

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