Modernism on the Ganges: Raghubir Singh Photographs

I had never heard of Raghubir Singh until only last week, when Joanna mentioned his retrospective at the Met Breuer was what we were going to see for the class. This piqued my curiosity, in that the photographer was prominent enough to have a posthumous retrospective at the Met, yet I didn’t know him or his work at all.

On entering the show I noticed two things immediately: colors and composition. I am not quite sure if colors like those we see in Singh’s photographs exist anymore (in photography). This surely goes for a select group of vintage dye transfer prints; but true even for those chromogenic prints that were reproduced recently. I was particularly taken by so many different tones of red: vivid, saturated, subdued, dark. There was something about the way red was captured and printed that made the photographs on display not only unique, but a subtle feast for the eye.

Singh’s complex composition, which frames multiple actions unfolding simultaneously across the pictorial space, immediately made me think of the work of photographer Alex Webb. Yet, given the time that those photographs were made, I couldn’t quite tell whether this was the result of stylistic influence or more or less contemporaneous development.

South Asia in general is a difficult place to portray, be it in writing or with images. The complex legacy of colonialism means that many – or the most – visual or rhetorical tropes available for us to represent the sub-continent are inevitably entrapped in the semiotic structure of Orientalism (e.g. Said 1978). It is for sure a complicated task to evaluate the ways in which Singh’s oeuvre intersects with this othering structure of representation, given that he is a native of the culture he photographed, but he photographed it for the outlets of Western media institutions such as Time magazine. The very notion of modernism, which is mentioned in the title given to this exhibition, is itself a highly problematic Western construct. It situates a particular formal quality of artistic expression in the narrative of linear, teleological progression. I discuss this not as criticism aimed at Singh, but a general background against which work like his needs to be situated today (but understood in the context of his time).

Overall, however, the work I was most drawn to in the show was not made by Raghubir Singh. It was 15 etchings (1996) by the British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor, whose work, according to the curatorial text, Singh had greatly admired. The etchings do not have clearly demarcated figurative subjects; instead, each etching appeared to deal with subtlety of formal transition, in the shades of muted red and yellow, or permeable shapes of black, grey and white.

Since the text inevitably talked more about Singh and his relationship with Kapoor, it was a little unclear whether Kapoor meant those 15 etchings as a single body of work; or each etching was produced independently. In the sea of vivid photographs, whose content usually have strong and hard-edged shapes, encountering Kapoor’s etchings felt like a moment of formal respite. I feel that the fact I was most attracted to this work in the context of sumptuous photographs speaks volumes about where my practice is currently heading.

Joshua Citarella Exhibition – Higher Pictures Gallery

Having been in New York for less than two months, I feel fortunate to be navigating my way around the city through our Friday afternoon field trips to gallery spaces. Being a complete novice within the art world that New York offers, having a thread to pull me into places I ordinarily wouldn’t have visited has been fascinating and a privilege, and somewhat grounding in the overwhelming experience of a first time visitor in the heaving metropolis.

Kim Bourus, the gallery director at the tiny Higher Pictures gallery I visited a few weeks ago, was the only one in the gallery, which meant I had her undivided attention when I visited the Joshua Citarella exhibition there. Once inside, I saw that the small scale of the space didn’t impact the balance of the exhibit. Instead, it enhanced the immensity of the work.

Three pieces were on show: SWIY (Someone Who Isn’t You), SWIM (Someone Who Isn’t Me) and Vampire Cocktail with Smart Speaker at San Francisco Bay Seascape.

Vampire Cocktail with Smart Speaker at San Francisco Bay Seascape is the first piece one sees through the doors to the gallery. Only 20 x 16 inches, it plays as a teaser to the other two 96 x 144-inch works around the corner. I didn’t spend too long looking at this picture as my attention was immediately distracted by the two larger pieces in the main part of the gallery.

Exciting elements of SWIY and SWIM are the scale (life-sized) and the way they are made up of three panels each. Using a combination of digital layering and collage, Citarella creates two futuristic scenes, one in New York (SWIM) and one in San Francisco (SWIY).

Bourus led me through each piece and explained that the person in SWIM is, in fact, Citarella, and the person in SWIY is his girlfriend. In each work, there are components of futuristic idealism around what we aspire to in terms of the environmental, social, and economic priorities. In the top right corner of the SWIM composition are a space blanket, a fire extinguisher, and a first aid kit implying preparation for an emergency. This is the second art installation I’ve seen in the last few weeks that employed the space blanket, which is obviously becoming a totem of humanitarian crises (the other was Lucille Bertrand’s Survival Routes/Touristic Routes made on two space blankets). SWIM’s backdrop is made up of high-rise buildings with weak lights emanating from them. An Uber-copter flies overhead as a woman rows a boat through the flooded space between buildings. The man sitting in his chair at the center of the scene has no need to go out; he has created a sustainable environment in his apartment. We see the use of a rainwater system that allows him to shower, brush his teeth, and wash his dishes all with the same flow of water at the same time.

Beyond the central reclining figure (just back from the beach with sand still on her sandals) in SWIY is a floating community that exist outside America, based on a concept by The Seasteading Institute — which I learned is a real thing in the world https://www.seasteading.org/. In the far distance, one can see the city of San Francisco linked to the preserved national park via the Golden Gate Bridge. I found the image of the natural environment of the national park, still looking intact and untouched, a hopeful scene in contrast to SWIM’s refugee boats and drone deliveries. I’m still not quite sure what “transhumanism” means, or maybe I can’t wrap my head around Citarella’s definition of: “the human race evolving beyond its current physical and mental limitations” but it is a word used to describe aspects of his work.

The blue genetically modified rose in the bottom right corner of the composition is powerfully continued throughout the panel — in the blue of the sky, the subject’s shirt, the sea, and the skyscraper. Does it indicate her mood? Or does it make things brighter? She has plasters on her body indicating, as Bourus informed me, a mechanism of monitoring her pregnancy and, as I first surmised, her hormones, while above her a digital clock counts down the rest of her life.

Citarella has worked hard on layering and given meticulous attention to symbolic detail, which I appreciate. The comments on sustainability are fascinating and provoke thought about the choices that we are all making around our immediate living environments and relationships with each other. His technique is exciting and made me want to pull up a chair and gaze at SWIM and SWIY for hours looking for things I had missed. Being with Bourus was like being on a rewarding treasure hunt, and loving it so that I wanted to go on another one. I hope to see more of Citarella’s work in this genre.

Pippa Hetherington

Images courtesy of Higher Pictures Gallery http://higherpictures.com/

 

 

 

Upcoming: Photo Project Development Class at the Bushwick Community Darkroom

class pic

Dear Friends,

I’m happy to announce that Sam Margevicius and I (ICP-Bard MFA 2017) are co-teaching a six week intensive photography course, Critique Strategies and Project Development at the Bushwick Community Darkroom.

Come check it out and pass it along to friends you know who may be interested!

— Sasha Bush

Dates: 

When: Wednesdays, 7-9pm, October 11 – November 15, 2017 (6 classes)
Where: Bushwick Community Darkroom: 110 Troutman St, Brooklyn NY, 11206 / 718-218-4023

Class Description: 

This six-week course is for advanced photographic artists looking to build their portfolio through critical feedback and project development. Each week will challenge the artist to further clarify their vision through applied assignments that consider editing old work, making new work, and articulating ideas present or desired in the work.

For more information check the link below.

Bushwick Community Darkroom Classes

Buried Treasure

Phoenicia_low_res-16I never considered myself a treasure hunter.

My story starts a few months back when I was watching a episode of Unsolved Mysteries (Robert rack version) late at night.

I sat with wide eyes as I watched a fascinating story about a New York gangster by the name of Dutch Schultz. Schultz, who found himself being charged with tax fraud and racketeering, buried 7 million in cash and bonds in the Catskills in the 30’s. He wanted to avoid the government seizing his assets.  This “keepsake” was to keep him a float during his incarceration.

Instead what ended up happening was that he was acquitted of his crimes, and soon after, he was gunned down in a New Jersey bar. Rumor has it, he was killed before he could retrieve his loot.

For decades, the location and possible recovery of the treasure has created an energy that draws people just outside of the Phoenicia, NY.

I was immediately drawn to the story and decided to investigate the town and surrounding area. Pouring through online forums and books I gathered as much information as I could and set out on my hunt.

These are my findings.

 

Phoenicia_low_res-2Phoenicia, NY. 122 miles north of New York City. The city was a local haunt for the likes of Babe Ruth and Dutch Schultz. The city was calm, almost desolate. With a population of only 309, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

catskills_phoenicia3My first pieces of research led me just off the main road. “Old Route 28” next to Esopus Creek. But I did not find the pine grove I was told to look for. Instead I found houses and lovely views along with the smell of local fudge in the air.

 

Phoenicia_low_res-8This was turning out to be harder than I expected. I was lost and felt I was in the wrong area. I returned to my cabin and turned to the treasure Hunter’s forum I found form 2005. Looking for anything, I found the email of a man named Gary. Gary seemed to know a lot and encouraged contact, but this thread from a decade ago.. So I emailed him and hoped for a response.

Later that night I got a email:

Re: Schultz Treasure 

Jacob,
 
    I don’t know what you read that led you to contact me. The complete story is broken up into a couple of threads on the Treasurenet web site. Basically I posted the results of my hunt where I ultimately located the cache site and posted a pic of the tree carving “1934” probably made by Shultz’ own hand while his bodyguard dug the hole. 1934 was the year Schultz buried the cache and turned himself in to authorities. A map of the treasure location was known to exist, though the bonds in the box had never been cached. So two schools of thought existed; first, it must have been found because there was a map; second, it was never found because the bonds were never cashed. I am from W. Mass and pursued this treasure because, unlike most, it is located here in the northeast. The legend of the treasure contributes to the local economy. No one want to hear what I have to say. During my search I started to create a map to mark off my search of the location of interest. When I found the site I turned my map into a rough location map. Attached is my map in two parts as well as a pic of the carving. This location matches all known info on the map and I’m on to other things.
– Gary

 

Dutch Map2

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I now had a new map and continued by journey.

 

Phoenicia_low_res-35Old Boiceville Inn. This was the first structure I needed to find on Garys Map to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I decided to go on back way via the rail road tracks not to being attention to myself.

 

Phoenicia_low_res-32Entrance to the path which will take me to the railroad. I thought once I got on the rail road and cross the Esopus creek, i should be at the pine grove and the site of the treasure..

 

Phoenicia_low_res-33But no one warned me I would run into this. I was literally stopped in my tracks. I was a fool and did not look at the satellite view on google maps! The side access point was down; swept away by very creek that I looked at and depended on for the last few days.

I was close, but not close enough. I felt excitement and disappointment in the same instance. The rain set in and I had to make a choice. I was forced to return to my car. It was time to go back to the city; my rental car was due back in within a few hours.

Although I did not find the hidden treasure, its allure grew bigger. For all I know I was just a few feet away.

Stay tuned.

 

Additional Photographs from Phoenicia and surrounding areas:

 

There Is No Cow Level -Hyungjo Moon

Press Release

Hyungjo Moon

There Is No Cow Level

April 27 – 29, 2017

Opening Reception: Thursday, April 27th, 6–9pm

Hyungjo Moon’s solo exhibition entitled There Is No Cow Level, is an installation of photographs and video challenging the form and function of banal stock images in order to construct the artist’s own representation of reality. By composing objects against solid color fields in the language of commercial photography, Moon thwarts everyday objects through intentionally presenting bad compositions and unpalatable colors. Other of his photographs takes on quotidian subject matter, usually redeemed through photographic form, but here displaced as unfortunate design elements.

The exhibition juxtaposes various works Moon has made of objects and landscapes.  The authority of their subjecthood comes into question through non-presence. Here actual landscape is redirected into a video game terrain and the object is packaging materials designed to hold an potential thing.

Hyungjo Moon (b. 1989, South Korea) is a current student at ICP-Bard MFA program. He received his BFA from Chung-Ang University in South Korea in photography. His work has been exhibited at Gallery Illum, Seoul, South Korea; TAMK, Tampare, Finland; Ghangzhou Acadamy of Fine Arts, Ghangzhou, China; Osaka University of Arts, Osaka, Japan; Gyeonggi Art Center, Suwon, South Korea; AT CMU ART CENTER, Chiang Mai, Thailand; International Center of Photography, NY