Upon entry into the “PHOTO-BASED” opening at Barbara Archer Gallery, I instantly sensed that the work in the show did not live up to its potential. Despite the press materials’ attempt to preclude a critique of the show’s lack of consistency (“Though every image begins with a photograph, the similarities end there”), I still have my doubts. Consistency aside, I wonder—within the conceptual and procedural possibilities available to contemporary photo-based art—what practices are still thought provoking today? How could we define a minimum baseline for evaluating a “relevant” photo-based object? I truly hoped “PHOTO-BASED” would provide some answers to these questions … but, for me, the show doesn’t really provide any. However, there are highlights worth mentioning, and, on a lighter and equally relevant note, Barbara Archer is still one of the more exceptionally proportioned art spaces in town.
Dayna Thacker’s Selfless is a long assemblage of old photograph cut-outs. Thacker omits subjects which appear or disappear, sequentially, in the context of other old photographs. The aesthetic result? An old family album—Back-to-the-Future-ized. However, there aren’t enough cues for the viewer to write themselves into the story; the piece fails to evoke a comprehensive narrative horizon and, additionally, suffers from the phenomenological fallacy that old photos actually “record” reality. While the lengthy presentation and overlapping forms are aesthetically effective, they also obfuscate Thacker’s conceptual ambitions.
Similarly, Karen Tauches’ artist statement declares, “We live in a world of potential invisibility.” She then continues by stating that “EVERYTHING DISAPPEARS” and that things change too fast in our industrialized, materialistic society. Yes, yes, and yes … your point? Tauches’ art riffs on the conservative* conviction that society should return to the proverbial shire. Her digital prints depict structures such as houses and churches, each painted over to disappear into the surrounding landscapes—leaving only spectral floating fireplaces and fuzzy delineations behind. Disappeared House, Oklahoma, Tornado Alley is the most poignant of the disappearances, not because it makes reference to the corruption of materialism, but for its haunting, surrealistic ambiguity in space and (correspondingly) for its implied phenomenological ambiguity. The memory of the house has faded into its surroundings. The result is poetic insofar as it avoids what the horror genre portrays as the undead: the aesthetic of macabre that renders subjects empty and inhuman. The ephemerality apparent in Disappeared House, Oklahoma introduces the transient mutability of birth and death, and the affective “misremberance” of a personal subjective world.
Berlin-based April Gertler, on the other hand, brings some cohesiveness to “PHOTO-BASED.” Gertler’s unassuming collages resemble greeting cards, succeeding less through sophisticated content than by simply perpetuating a sense of narrative ambiguity. The pictorial collages convey as much their textual narration, conflating word and image onto the same plane, while at the same time establishing two voices within each piece: a narrator and narration. Arranged in a grid format on the wall, each 8.5 x 5.5 inch collage depicts figural elements taken from popular sources with humorous one-line narrations written in pencil at the bottom or top margin. These collages actually began as mere exercises; Gertler would create these to loosen up for “real” work. After some consideration, however, Gertler realized that these exercises deserved official art status. Consequently, the value here results in part from unconscious parameters the artist set for herself during her exercises—the finished works make Gertler a voyeur to her own process.
*Slavoj Zizek sees traditional environmentalism as conservative—not liberal—and instead advocates something he refers to as “dark ecology.”
“PHOTO-BASED” will remain on view at Barbara Archer Gallery through June 27.