Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Return of The Reposessed, "Haunted" at the Guggenheim

 By Tom Mcglynn
Anthony Goicolea, Nail Biter, Still of a video
“Haunted” reanimates our response to what Oliver Wendell Holmes once described as the world “skinned”; to the power of the photographic image to index our imagination when its embodied subject has been long since, or even recently, gutted.

Co- curators Jennifer Blessing and Nat Trotman assemble a wide range of artists from Marina Abramovic (predictably) to Lawrence Weiner (not so), in a shadow play of debased spirituality and back door transcendentalism which might initially seem retardaire, but perhaps serves a purpose in repositioning photography beyond a premature post- modern end.

The exhibit is deftly intertwined with past and present photography, video and performance, in an associative ramble up the Guggenheim’s ramp, effectively mirroring the museum’s architecture in a recursive memory loop that collapses into itself in sometimes surprising ways.

One such instance is the succession of the archival approach of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s “Water Towers, 1980”, with a single simultaneous exposure of multiple prints from another series by these same artists’ in Idris Khan’s “Homage to Bernd Becher, 2007”. Another enactment of photo (in this case filmic) re-possession is Douglas Gordon’s “Bootleg (Empire), 1998” in which he captures Warhol’s fixedly iconic “Empire” from a shaky hand held camera in a Berlin theater. The augmentation of temporal duration in both instances takes on an idiosyncratic symmetry that exudes as its byproduct a highly distilled spirit; one might say that is dead on arrival, if not for the fact that the connections between the image and its origins are never completely severed.

What really haunts this work is the realization that, as Deleuze referred to it in his critique of cinema, the “ image renders visible, and creative, the temporal relations which cannot be reduced to the present.” The inclusion of film and performance documentation offered a flickering foil to the insistent interrogation of the fixed image. Moving pictures play with time, sometimes resuscitating art and sometimes coating it in perpetual amber.

The former is found in Thomas Demand’s extraordinarily understated film from 2002 entitled, “Recorder”. Its subject was appropriated from a banal detail of a promotional film for the unreleased Beach Boys album, “Smile”. Constructed from Demand’s materials of painstakingly cut paper, his typically eerie verisimilitude is animated here into an image of a now archaic reel –to- reel studio recording device that spools on endlessly. A barely audible, unsynched sound loop of Brian Wilson playing a harpsichord accompanies the film. The artist’s reference to the tragic hubris of genius in attempting original creation, and his own obsessive reverse engineering, conjure Frankenstein’s ghost.

Tacita Dean’s filmed homage to the recently deceased in, “Merce Cunningham performs Stillness (in three movements)”, invites one to witness a peculiar kind of artistic embalming or celebratory preservation. Cunningham sits in a quasi-modernist folding chair in a dance studio space making quotidian gestures timed to John Cage’s notorious composition of space and time duration, 4’33”. Shown on multiple panels from differing camera angles, Dean’s work aggressively inhabits real space (taking up a large area of the upper ramp of the museum) and is one of the most phenomenological pieces in the show. Her flat screens in space offer both projection surfaces and barriers to walk between and around. The complex didactic structure of this work, its tactical re -assembly of past/ present moments, is pleasantly under taken by the dancer’s subtle performance.

“Haunted” avoids many possible pitfalls of such a potentially sentimental premise for looking at photography, and creatively reexamines postmodernist strategic assumptions in an attempt to elucidate our more present aesthetic needs. If the reality of those needs can’t quite be grasped yet, the show nevertheless comes as a recognition that they exist. Melancholic reflection and magical thinking won’t bring back already dead authors, but their interior echoes may help loosen the mesmerizing spell of mere surface considerations in our current photo-rhetorical regime.

On leaving the museum I noticed that the central skylight had been covered so that only artificial light infused the space. I’ve never seen the Guggenheim in such graded values and it struck me how sensitive a choice this was to make close the hollow of the museum, which felt not so much like a mausoleum but a neo- platonic cave.

(Note: This is admittedly late for the run of the show but still early for Halloween)

1 comment:

thomas said...

Did not see this show but it also seems informed by Barthes, and the idea of photography's encapsulating of a "break" and traumatic event. One of the possible pitfalls of the exhibit, like you say, is the seduction of the audience to partake in a kind of Victorian psycho ballet with the works. Good thing this didn't happen...

Enjoy reading these reviews, thanks