On view through Saturday at Hagedorn Foundation Gallery are two photographic series by Steve Aishman, who is dean of academic services at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. In one, the Frozen Moments of Domesticity series, Aishman expands the viewing experience through the inclusion of individual videos that animate the images. In theory, it is simply an extension of the intersections of photography and digital media. In practice, it requires viewers to first download the Aurasma app on their phone, create an account, and then begin the experience. I was partway through the process when the gallery assistant offered an iPad that already had the app loaded. Professional responsibility meant that I continued, but it is difficult to gauge whether a general audience will go through the process for an app they might use once.
What complicates the issue further is that Aishman appears in the videos—as a disembodied voice, giving instructions, providing support—but rupturing the frame and the separation between artist and audience. Without the app, and therefore without the presence of the artist, the audience is presented with a series of static images that truly are “frozen moments of domesticity.”
So what of the moments themselves and the images Aishman presents? Aishman brings a wry sense of humor to constructions of the domestic. In Iceberg, a crumpled piece of aluminum foil substitutes for the floating frozen hazard. In Bang, a firecracker burns its fuse before exploding. But what is more fascinating are the decisions Aishman makes about the ways in which he and his subjects engage with the experiences of photography. Stand, for example, shows the imprint of the wearer’s socks as she teeters on a stack of books and a pillow (before toppling over in the video). With the Aurasma videos adding a layer of reality to the experience, we see Aishman manipulating a smear of icing on the blade of a knife with his fingers, or giving instructions to “Heidi,” who’s holding flowers in her mouth. If the Frozen Moments of Domesticity series maps anything, it is a journey through the humorous.
Humor is also one of the frames that bounds the Net Art series, the documentation of a series of notes that Aishman has left his wife over the course of 16 years, although motivation, romance and desire seem to stand on the other edges. Mapping a particularly American love, they reveal our cultural obsessions with everything from diet to success. Or perhaps they do not. This is the creative conundrum, and the creative beauty. At face value, notes like Paleo Breakfast or Procrastination is Opportunity’s Assassin highlight a type of earnestness that is a marker of contemporary culture. At the same time, it is also simply a reflection of the ways in which people navigate everyday life. And, for better or worse, it could simply be one among many of Aishman’s humorous comments on contemporary culture. Viewers are left to decide for themselves.
The Aishmans are filled with twists and turns. The “net” in the Net Art series suggests the sum of an experience to date at the same time that it suggests the tool for its continuous capture or archive—also a net. Frozen Moments in Domesticity differs to the extent that Aishman eschews the almost Jurassic technology of chalk and chalkboard for the demanding interaction of an app. Perhaps that is where the true subtlety of Aishman’s exhibition resides—in his understanding that all too often viewers turn away quickly when challenged to truly engage—to commit to spending an indeterminate amount of time watching a time-based work—but remain for surprising lengths of time when presented with small bites. The Net Art series is precisely that—an aggregation of approachable, understandable pieces, aggregated into a larger whole, with something approachable for almost any viewer. Aishman began with a simple idea of documenting something intimate and personal and created something surprisingly approachable in the process.
Brett Levine is a writer and curator based in Birmingham.