The idea of experimenting with the photographic process, from the lens to the print, that ‘The Actual’ group exhibit explores at Eleven Rivington Gallery, has made me think about how contemporary practice reflects a sterile idea of beauty.
Marsha Cotrell’s works, for instance, are made of layers of laser toner ink. She uses an additive process, and creates an appearance of architectural depth in her geometric abstractions. Those layers of time and light have drawn me to Moholy Nagy (1895-1946), with his fascination with Constructivist/Suprematist color theory and his decision to experiment with Light as a new “medium of plastic expression”. This movement of experimentation arose in an avant –garde context out of a desire to rebel against the bourgeois.
The Dadaist movement was born in 1916, right after World War I. In words of the Director of MoMA, Alfred H. Barr Jr. ( 1902-1981) “They rejected everything, including modern art, and accepted anything”*. Surrealism was the direct descendent of Dada’s interest in the antirational. It had a deep understanding of the subconscious, and used the analysis of dreams, visions, automatic writing and psychoanalytic drawings as tools.
Even though I feel deeply attracted to the process and so interested in the use of the medium in a new form, as I am experimenting within my practice, I also feel there is a wall between this kind of practice and the content behind it. It is difficult to discern what is happening at this chaotic moment dominated by technology. Some contemporary artists are pointed our gaze to what is experienced inside. “The Actual” presents an abstract image of artifice and process in such a repetitive way, that it doesn’t allow me to connect with any context or reference apart from the medium itself.
In 1942 MoMA opened the exhibition “How to make a Photogram” by Moholy Nagy in collaboration with students. The exhibition was divided into different areas and explained the process of the photograms: conventional photographs of objects as immediate reality, physical objects susceptible to play with their plasticity and light, demonstrations of the effect of natural light in sensitive paper and different supports, and photograms of Moholy Nagy and Man Ray. The process prompted the viewer to be more aware of their daily vision, to seek dormant skills.
“The Actual” features work of five other artists as Sara Cwynar, Jessica Eaton, John Houk, Jason Kalogiros, and Miranda Lichtenstein. Their work is presented in the two spaces, separating the artists’ series, and all the images are framed and presented in a classical exhibition format. I would have preferred to experience something more physical, some element that would emphasize a point of contact with the viewer.
I didn’t feel like that when I saw Assaf Shaham’s work at Yossi Gallery. “Division of the Vision” is an exhibition of sculpture, video and photo-based work by Israeli artist Assaf Shaham. His other work gave me the context and the political backdrop for his scanograms, how he questions the limitations of representation and uses studies to document his work.
Being in an age where digital technologies are also changing the ways we communicate makes me wonder if the way that “The Actual” turns our focus to spatial perception is not accentuating the virtuality and disembodied zeitgeist of this moment. When I first saw Hilary Berseth in the next room of the gallery, I felt excited and relieved. The movement of the images, the dimensionality, even the expression of the faces didn’t seem to me exaggerated, they were like a breath of fresh air.
*The Museum of Modern Art. Release 113036-38 of the exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism”, 1937.