Some­thing Fierce


Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Some­thing Fierce,

INhis book Lon­don: The Bi­og­ra­phy, writer Peter Ack­royd dis­cusses the city as a liv­ing, breath­ing en­tity — as though, like a per­son, it has a body. If it does, you might think of the River Thames as its aorta, but in con­sid­er­ing the work of pho­tog­ra­pher Roni Horn, the Thames seems more like a hun­gry mouth. Of the 605 foot­notes that run along the bot­tom edge of Horn’s off­set photo-lith­o­graphs of the Thames, 41 are about sui­cide. “The Thames has the high­est rate of sui­cides of any ur­ban river,” reads one foot­note. “Maybe it’s not the high­est but it’s close. It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter be­cause even if it doesn’t, it looks like it does.”

The Thames is of­ten ref­er­enced in Horn’s foot­notes, but in the im­ages, the river is in­dis­tinct from other bod­ies of wa­ter. All the shots in her se­ries called Wa­ter (The River Thames, for Ex­am­ple) are close-ups of the river’s sur­face. The num­bers that cor­re­spond to the foot­notes are spread, seem­ingly at ran­dom, through­out each com­po­si­tion. Al­though the foot­notes ref­er­ence events such as sui­cides and drown­ings that ac­tu­ally oc­curred, the cor­re­spond­ing num­bers in the imagery all rest on the same uni­form body of wa­ter. We see only its sur­face. The rest is mys­tery. The Thames’ many vic­tims, whether sui­cides or not, are swal­lowed whole with a frigid in­dif­fer­ence. “It will be cold,” goes one foot­note. “Even in the sum­mer the wa­ter is cold. It lingers on — the cold of un­abat­ing dark­ness.”

Horn made 15 im­ages for the se­ries, 10 of which are on view in a show of works by eight Still women artists se­lected from the Lan­nan Foun­da­tion’s art col­lec­tion with a few ad­di­tional works on loan. “I came up with the idea for the show on In­au­gu­ra­tion Day,” said cu­ra­tor Christie Davis, di­rec­tor of Lan­nan’s con­tem­po­rary art and pub­lic pro­grams. “I was feel­ing a lit­tle dis­em­pow­ered and wanted to do some­thing that I thought would be a pow­er­ful state­ment, and so I thought about some of the women in the Lan­nan col­lec­tion and how the work that they do is amaz­ing, brave, and fierce.”

Along with Horn’s im­ages, Some­thing Fierce in­cludes works by pho­tog­ra­phers Sharon Core, An-My Lê, Sarah Pick­er­ing, Debi Corn­wall, and Vic­to­ria Sam­bunaris and sculp­tures by Chris­tine Cor­day and Mun­son Hunt. Cor­day’s metal sculp­ture NOVAE is the fo­cal

point of Lan­nan’s small in­te­rior gallery. The piece is a rec­tan­gu­lar slab of metal that has been curved into a U shape. It’s sliced through with two rough-cut chan­nels that start close to one side and ex­tend all the way through the op­po­site edge so that the work ap­pears pronged, like a fork. Cor­day ex­plains the con­trast­ing el­e­ments of the piece, which ap­pears more sub­stan­tial or solid on one side than the other, as ex­press­ing a sense of bal­ance. “Works like these are from a se­ries I call Pro­toist Se­ries,” she told Pasatiempo. “The cuts are sus­pend­ing, for a mo­ment, this ma­te­rial be­tween two states, which are solid and liq­uid.” The curve of the sculp­ture is a re­cur­ring mo­tif that ap­pears in all of her Pro­toist forms. “That comes from a long in­ter­est that I have in sci­ences and art,” she said. “The cur­va­ture comes from the cur­va­ture of space, which is some­thing that’s not quite fully un­der­stand­able the way our senses have evolved so far. So there’s a lot of play here be­tween the senses and ma­te­rial states.”

Cor­day’s Pro­toist sculp­tures are all large scale, but as she pointed out, the scale is rel­a­tive. “These pieces, hope­fully, will evolve and chal­lenge and help fur­ther de­fine what the sense of hu­man scale is,” she said. “Of­ten­times, I think we limit hu­man scale with our senses to that which we can grasp and un­der­stand. But our senses have come from some­thing that’s in­fin­itely old, that’s been in the stars, that’s ex­ploded twice into su­per­novas. What has in­formed the cells of our bod­ies ac­tu­ally has known a far greater scale.” In terms of its phys­i­cal com­po­si­tion — the piece is made from iron, car­bon, sil­i­con, man­ganese, phos­pho­rus, sul­fur, and other el­e­ments — NOVAE also points to the cos­mic con­fla­gra­tions in which such sub­stances were orig­i­nally forged. It also has the po­ten­tial to be in­ter­ac­tive. It is de­signed to rock like a cra­dle and to cap­ture the traces of those who have touched it, climbed on it, and scarred it, so that its in­ter­ac­tion with the world around it be­comes a part of its his­tory, which can be read in the fin­ger­prints and tar­nished sur­face it gains over time.

Hunt’s ex­plo­ration of ma­te­ri­al­ity in­volves ex­ploit­ing the abil­ity of one medium to mimic an­other — or, as in the case of

Charred Ball, to trans­form it. Charred Ball is a round hunk of Dou­glas fir that has been burned, re­sult­ing in pits and cracks. An­other piece, Charred Glass Slab, po­si­tioned in front of a foun­tain in an in­te­rior court­yard, is cast from a large plank of burned wood that re­tains the grain. If you walk be­hind the sculp­ture, to a place by a foun­tain where you can sit, a sub­tle, translu­cent light fil­ters through the work. There is some­thing pow­er­ful and ele­men­tal in the sim­plic­ity of her sculp­tural forms.

Core’s pho­to­graphs are the in­verse of pho­to­re­al­ist or hy­per­re­al­ist paint­ings. In­stead of cap­tur­ing, in in­tri­cate de­tail, a pho­to­graphic im­age in paint, Core repli­cates paint­ings us­ing pho­tog­ra­phy. In par­tic­u­lar, she ap­pro­pri­ates the still-life imagery of Amer­i­can artist Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825). For

Some­thing Fierce, Davis se­lected four still lifes from Core’s se­ries Early Amer­i­can. The chro­mogenic prints dis­play­ing trays of fruits and melon re­pro­duce all as­pects of Peale’s orig­i­nals, in­clud­ing the light­ing and pe­riod-ap­pro­pri­ate table­ware. Core is painstak­ingly com­mit­ted to get­ting the de­tails right, even go­ing so far as to grow her own heir­loom fruits and veg­eta­bles. In 2012, the artist told Pasatiempo what drew her to Peale’s work: “Peale was able to in­fuse rel­a­tively sim­ple ar­range­ments with a psy­chol­ogy of the un­canny. His still sub­ject mat­ter is strangely an­i­mated and present.” Per­haps it is the sense of pres­ence in Peale’s works that makes them a good sub­ject for con­tem­po­rary pho­to­graphic rein­ter­pre­ta­tion. While Core’s pho­tos re­call long-es­tab­lished Amer­i­can and Euro­pean tra­di­tions in still-life paint­ing, they are hardly anachro­nis­tic — they en­able di­a­logue be­tween the past and the present.

Pho­to­graphs from Sam­bunaris’ Shift­ing Base­lines se­ries are in­cluded. Sam­bunaris is a land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher with an in­ter­est in the in­fra­struc­ture that has been es­tab­lished to sup­port global en­ter­prises. The Shift­ing Base­lines im­ages are of con­tainer ships com­ing and go­ing in the Hous­ton Ship Chan­nel. The pho­to­graphs’ power comes partly from the mag­ni­tude of the op­er­a­tions in­volved — re­lated, in this case, to the oil and gas in­dus­try. These ships head out to all cor­ners of the world: Malta, Lon­don, Ger­many, Liberia, Nor­way, In­done­sia, the Mar­shall Is­lands. Some for­mal qual­i­ties, such as the pres­ence of a hori­zon line, are con­sis­tent fea­tures. Also, de­spite the ab­sence of peo­ple in Sam­bunaris’ work, a hu­man pres­ence is in­di­cated in other ways, through man­made struc­tures and ma­chines that in­ter­rupt the land­scapes and seascapes. In an odd way, some pieces cho­sen for Some­thing

Fierce cor­re­spond with one an­other, al­though each se­lec­tion is dis­tinc­tive. Two un­con­nected se­ries of im­ages cap­ture mil­i­tary train­ing ex­er­cises, one by Pick­er­ing and the other by Lê. Three pho­tos from Pick­er­ing’s Ex­plo­sion se­ries are in­cluded. The im­ages cap­ture the mo­ments when ex­plo­sive de­vices such as land mines and ar­tillery shells are det­o­nated. The dy­namic, even ghostly specters of flame and smoke are shot amid pris­tine, bu­colic lo­cales in the English coun­try­side, of­fer­ing a sharp con­trast be­tween the quiet beauty of the pas­toral scenes and the vi­o­lence of the sud­den erup­tions. Lê’s pho­tos were taken at Twen­ty­nine Palms, Cal­i­for­nia, home of the Ma­rine Corps Air Ground Com­bat Cen­ter. Her sub­jects, soldiers who have not yet been de­ployed to hot zones around the world, are re­laxed and, in the case of a por­trait of a man iden­ti­fied as Cor­po­ral Hoep­per, al­most shock­ingly young. Night Op­er­a­tion IV, show­ing a com­bat sim­u­la­tion, is one of a hand­ful of panoramic views of the desert in which mil­i­tary ex­er­cises are in progress, but it could eas­ily be mis­taken for an im­age of an ac­tual air and ground bat­tle.

Corn­wall’s Smoke Break, Camp Amer­ica, is also an im­age of soldiers, from a se­ries called Gitmo at Home,

Gitmo at Play, about the U.S. Navy base in Guan­tá­namo Bay, Cuba. The soldiers stand at ease, with the sea in the back­ground. The im­age it­self is mun­dane but high­lights the dif­fer­ence be­tween cap­tors and cap­tives. An­other im­age from the se­ries, Prayer Rug With Ar­row to Mecca, Camp Echo, de­picts the in­te­rior of a prison cell so iso­lat­ing that its in­hab­i­tant has trou­ble ori­ent­ing him­self to the four di­rec­tions. Corn­wall is a for­mer crim­i­nal-jus­tice lawyer. She of­ten shoots her sub­jects from be­hind, as is the case with Mourad,

French Al­ge­rian, a photo of a Mus­lim youth coun­selor who was held at Gitmo without charge for more than two years be­fore re­turn­ing to France, where he served an­other year and a half in prison. Mourad stands with his back to the cam­era on a col­or­ful painted bike ramp, cy­clists cir­cling his upright frame. There is some com­fort in the idea that he’s shot from be­hind be­cause he is look­ing for­ward, mov­ing on.

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