[“Five Women, Freud’s Bookcase, London” (2011) by Joy Episalla. Pigment print mounted on plexiglass. “When I Put My Hands on Your Body” (1990) by David Wojnarowicz. Gelatin silver print & silkscreen text on museum board. “Untitled” (2011) by Katherine Hubbard. 24 black & white C-prints mounted on styrene. “Portrait” (1983) by Adrian Piper. Photo text collage.]
Curated by Moyra Davey and Zoe Leonard, “Vision Is Elastic. Thought Is Elastic,” explores intersections between photograph and writing. Up at Murray Guy Gallery through June 18, 2011, this exhibition was presented concurrently with the release of “Blind Spot Magazine,” issue number 43—jointly edited by the show’s two curators. Bringing together works by Josh Brand, Roy Colmer, Pradeep Dalal, Shannon Ebner, Joy Episalla, William Gedney, Roni Horn, Katherine Hubbard, Babette Mangolte, Mark Morrisroe, Adrian Piper, Claire Pentecost, James Welling, and David Wojnarowicz, the title “Vision Is Elastic. Thought Is Elastic” comes from the journals of David Wojnarowicz.
While examining a symbiosis between camera and notebook, this exhibition assembles works embodying the spectrum of relationships between such activities as reading, writing, and note-taking. This is in contrast to the iconoclastic milieu within conceptual art in which text is paired with photographs to fragment or unhinge those images. Thus, in these symbiotic relationships, dissimilar organisms coalesce into those mutually beneficial as opposed to one spotlighting insufficiency or artificiality of the other entities. Many of the works assembled in “Vision Is Elastic. Thought Is Elastic” propose interchangeability, flexibility, and fluency between images and text that not only anticipate (in the case of older works) or respond to (for those more recent) today’s proliferating digital interfaces—but rather acknowledge and withstand this reality. With images increasingly—if not ubiquitously—embedded within text (and texts inscribed within the spaces of an image) we can see a number of currents in this show.
Many of the artists represented in this exhibition write on the image or in their margins, making photographic surfaces virtual notepads. This includes the mighty elegy by the iconic David Wojnarowicz (1954–1992), the compelling frappé of Mark Morrisroe (1959-1989), and the annotated waterscapes of Roni Horn. Wojnarowicz—prominent in the New York City art world of the 1980s—integrated text into his work from the late 1970s, during the time he created his photographic series of Arthur Rimbaud and made Super-8 films such as “Heroin.” The work of David Wojnarowicz not only calls to mind frontline galleries in which his work was exhibited such as Civilian Warfare, Zero, Gracie Mansion, and Hal Bromm: His work is seen through the prism of his collaborators such as Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Luis Frangella, Kiki Smith, Richard Kern, John Fekner, Phil Zwickler, Ben Neil, and James Romberger. David lives on today in the work of countless artists such as Victoria Yee Howe, Matt Wolf, Emily Roysden, Henrick Olesen, Carrie Mae Weems, Mike Estabrook, and Zoe Leonard, a curator of this show. Morrisroe—unofficial “leader” of “The Boston School” (including Nan Goldin, David Armstrong, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Tabboo!, Gail Thacker, and Jack Pierson)—can be seen today through his oeuvre of “autobiographical photography.” Indeed, Morrisroe’s fresh and diaristic body of work will speak across the decades: This includes his technically imperfect Polaroids and photographs (highlighted with scrawled texts along the borders and other signature retouching). Roni Horn’s site-dependent works expand upon Minimalism’s creed of “site specificity.” Having had one-person exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago; Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), Dia Center for the Arts, and Whitney Museum of American Art, Horn creates complex narratives between her work and the viewer. She does this by subverting notions of unique experiences.
Others in the show—such as James Welling (with his paired images of Connecticut) and Shannon Ebner (with her array of blank notebook pages)—photograph notebooks themselves across different states. The images of James Welling transcend categories of still life, landscape, architectural, abstract, color study, and photogram. At the same time, they are layered with irony, history, and paradox—drawing as he does from myriad subjects. Having produced more than 35 distinct series, post-conceptualist Welling pursues several at a time over periods of years. His work has appeared in such venues as Documenta IX (Kassel), Maureen Paley (London), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Sharon Ebner’s works often spotlight language’s discrepancies—and underline its undulating qualities. In this exploration of language, Ebner invokes those qualities that both imprison and liberate: The viewer is allowed a vantage point from which to examine its possibilities. Her aim at the “war on terror” was especially refreshing. Drawing upon a photographic tradition spanning from Jean Eugène Atget (1856-1927) to Edward Ruscha, Ebner embraces photography’s fundamental contradictions while—at the same time—unearthing its fictions.
The poignant and sensitive tableaux of William Gedney (1932-1989), the documentation and photography projects of Roy Colmer, and the sculptural and carnal constructions of Pradeep Dalal treat photographs as though they were entries in a journal or the means by which to keep a diary. Primarily documenting the environs of New York, rural Kentucky, and San Francisco in the U.S.—and Benares and Calcutta in India—Bill Gedney photographed from the 1950s until his death in 1989. With his particular forte nighttime photography, Gedney received several fellowships and grants during his lifetime—including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, a New York State Creative Artists Public Service Program grant, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His work has been exhibited in such venues as MoMA, George Eastman House, and Rochester Institute of Technology. Colmer began to experiment with closed-circuit TV in the early 1970s—sometimes incorporating video feedback. Ceasing his painting to work on documentation and photography projects in the mid-1970s, Colmer’s films and photographs have received critical attention—appearing in such venues as: Museum für Neue Kunst & Medienmuseum (Karlsruhe), the Weatherspoon Art Museum (Greensboro), the Blanton Museum of Art (Austin), and the Mitchell Algus Galley (New York). Examining autobiographical and architectural sites in India, Dalal’s photomontage projects explore senses of legacy and geographical awe. Affected by the flow and rhythm of the works of Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock, Colmer sought out and tested opposite values across a range of his projects. A native of Mumbai, Dalal appropriates a 19th century panorama from which he builds tattered yet robust collages challenging personal as well as larger assumptions. His work reigns in an array of moments, genres, time periods, and textures into a single montage: These disparate qualities represent his tangled—and sometimes contradictory—personal experiences. A recipient of a Tierney Fellowship, Dalal’s work has appeared at the New York Public Library, PS 122, TART (San Francisco), Vadhera Gallery (New Delhi), and Aljira Center for Contemporary Art (Newark).
A quick way into one’s psyche is to either investigate their book or music collections. Babette Mangolte and Joy Episalla have done the former—photographing bookshelves and giving external form to such internal activities as reading and writing (the former doing the library of Annette Michelson, the latter that of Sigmund Freud). An experimental filmmaker living in New York, Babette Mangolte has had complete retrospectives of her films and camerawork organized in Munich, Berlin, and New York. Exhibited in such venues as the Film Anthology Archives, Tate Britain (London), Tate Liverpool, and the Whitney Museum, Mangolte is noted also for her photography of dance, theater, and performance. Episalla’s work inhabits interstices between photography, sculpture, and video and focuses on the rich output of information produced by mundane objects and architecture. Art critic Bill Arning has described Joy Episalla’s viewpoint “so close to the subject” and her works’ effect as “especially pronounced.” Like a forensic examiner or palm reader, she combs an array of exposed fissures and entities—rendering and scrutinizing their secrets. A recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, Episalla’s work has been exhibited at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), Debs & Co., Clifford Smith Gallery (Boston), the Contemporary Art Center (New Orleans), The Phoenix Art Museum, ARCO (Madrid), Aeroplastics Contemporary (Brussles), and Studio 1.1 (London).
Josh Brand uses the camera as though it were a writing instrument—evoking photography’s original sense of “writing with light.” He is but one of a number of “recent generation” artists as Liz Deschenes, Wolfgang Tillmans, Eileen Quinlan, and Markus Amm who have—in various ways—explored limitations of non-representational photographic images. Brand has shown his work in such venues as: CRG Gallery (New York), Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Elizabeth Dee Gallery (New York), QED (Los Angeles), Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery (New York), and White Columns (New York), and Shane Campbell Gallery (Chicago).
Engaged across collaboration, research, lecturing, teaching, fieldwork, writing, drawing, photography, and installation, the investigative work of Claire Pentecost defies those institutional structures. In fact, Pentecost’s website “The Public Amateur,” advocates for those whose work crosses and disturbs the disciplinary boundaries that traditionally cleave to the authorized specialist. Having addressed boundaries between “natural” and “artificial,” Pentecost has taken her work into arenas that include industrial agriculture and bioengineering. An associate professor in the photography department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Pentecost’s work has been exhibited at the Drawing Center, Whitney Museum of Art, Kunstverein (Munich), Corcoran Museum (Washington, D.C.), Center for Creative Photography (Tucson), and American Fine Art Gallery (New York). In her beyond-thorough explorations of performance’s photographic documentation, Katherine Hubbard has examined and redefined equations and structures in that arena. Meanwhile, Hubbard’s sculptural, fiber, and costume-based works have been exhibited at the Rockland Center for the Arts, Higher Pictures (New York), and San Francisco’s SOMArts Gallery and California College of the Arts.
Without a doubt, much of the work by the other artists in this show rests upon the prescient “first-generation” conceptual artist Adrian Piper. Coming on the scene in 1967, her early work incorporated aspects of yoga and meditation (or what she calls the “indexical present.”) Not only did Piper’s work bridge passive contemplation of objects with more dynamic and self-conscious themes, she also introduced issues of xenophobia, race, and gender into the vocabulary of Conceptual art. Her 1987 retrospective at the Alternative Museum (New York) was a pivotal event and brought the media and strategies of first-generation Conceptual art to the larger art public. Over and over again in the following years, Piper has continued to challenge the complacency of art viewers with strategies that shock, outrage, and amuse. Combining photographs with silkscreen drawings and compressed political texts, Piper shines a bright light on reservoirs of political self-deception and disingenuousness. Piper withdrew her work from a 1995 museum survey of early Conceptual art to protest its funding by Philip Morris—replacing it with “Ashes to Ashes,” a photo-text work that narrated her parents’ smoking related deaths. Piper’s artwork of transcendence is in many august collections such as MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoCA, the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), the Generali Foundation (Vienna), and the Aomori Museum of Art (Japan).
Important are this show’s curators Zoe Leonard and Moyra Davey, who have taken this show on an über-intellectual trajectory. Both have previously used their own artistic practices to focus on physical representations of symbolic systems whose relationships of valuation are in major transition. With black-and-white photography as her principal artistic medium, Zoe Leonard’s prolific work includes sculpture, installation, and film. Reflecting experiences and observations in ways subtle and ambivalent, her work captures conflict and gray areas in gender relationships, nature, culture, and space and time. Leonard’s work—offering a language to the voiceless and bringing visibility to the invisible—has been viewed in such institutions as Documenta (Kassel), Whitney Biennial, Vienna Secession, Kunsthalle (Basel), Centre National de la Photographie (Paris), Fotomuseum Wintherthur (Switzerland), and Pinakothek der Modern (Munich). Editor of “Mother Reader: Essential Writings on Motherhood” (an anthology on maternal ambivalence and the intersection of motherhood and creative life) and author of “The Problem of Reading,” (a book of essays), Moyra Davey is an artist and a photographer whose work has been exhibited at the Kunsthalle (Basel), Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus), Fogg Art Museum (Harvard), Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Madrid), Metropolitan Museum of Art, Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (Ridgefield), James Cohan Gallery(New York), and American Fine Arts Co. (New York). Thoughtfully, Leonard and Davey have included three artists ripped from us during the AIDS epidemic: Mark Morrisroe, William Gedney, and David Wojnarowicz. We can but guess as to where those visceral artists would have taken their work—“If only...”
Vision Is Elastic. Thought Is Elastic.
Group Show Including: Josh Brand, Roy Colmer, Pradeep Dalal, Shannon Ebner, Joy Episalla, William Gedney, Roni Horn, Katherine Hubbard, Babette Mangolte, Mark Morrisroe, Adrian Piper, Claire Pentecost, James Welling, & David Wojnarowicz. Curated by Moyra Davey & Zoe Leonard.
Through June 18, 2011
453 West 17th Street, NYC 10011