Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mourning Obsolescence: Morgan Fisher’s Film Boxes

[“Kodak Verichrome 127 May 1952” (2011), archival pigment print. Below: 1950s film box archival pigment print series.]

Morgan Fisher’s new works in this show present boxes of still film from the 1950s. Doubly obsolete—once for being drastically past expiration, next for being a nearly discarded medium—these works represent the decade when Fisher became aware of photography and began to take photographs. Beside the oblique autobiographical focus of these works, there is one mournful as well. What is conveyed is the gradual evaporation of film’s use and its place in our consciousness. Obsolescence—as shown by the photographs—can be disturbing indeed. Relics of a market no longer existing, these boxes no longer fulfill their intended purpose: Instead, they are chance survivors of a system of production, distribution, promotion, and consumption. In these works is captured the pathos of unrealized intentions, expectations, and aspirations. While the boxes survive as made, they express waste in their disuse.

These works on archival paper are rubbings made from covers of “Photograms of the Year,” a British photography annual. Such annuals are the last gasp of photography’s salon tradition in which a photographer is represented by only one photograph. Photographs appearing in annuals are unoriginal and “pleasing pictures of pleasing subjects” taken with utmost “competence.” One finds such expected and nearly Kitschy images of moody Venetian scenes, yachts sailing, picturesque streets in poor villages, soulful children, wrinkled faces of the “mysterious” East, and nudes in embellished pose. Absent from the pages of these annuals are works of classical photographic modernism. One finds—instead—the last gasps of pictorialism. Reflected is an unhappy period when photography was unable to advance to and absorb the radical shift that consigned such photography to irrelevance vis-à-vis the gallery. A kind and touching medium expressing devotion, rubbings usually capture text and design found on gravestones.

Morgan Fisher lives and works in Santa Monica, California. A survey of his work—including film, paintings, installations, and works on paper—is currently on view in London’s Raven Row. He has had solo exhibitions at MoCA (Los Angeles), Tate Modern (London), Kunstverein (Hamburg), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York). Morgan has taught at Brown University, California Institute of the Arts, and the University of California Los Angeles.

Morgan Fisher
New Work: Photographs & Works on Paper
Bortolami (Gallery II)
Phone Gallery for End Date: 212.727.2050
520 West 20th Street, NYC 10011

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