Assembly: Eight Photographers from Southern California
FotoFest at Williams Tower
Asha Schechter, Picture 06, 2008; C-print ; 43 x 60 inches; courtesy the artist
Augusta Wood, Sesame Street (1980, 2008), 2009; Chromogenic print; 27 x 27 inches; courtesy the artist
There is nothing “too cool” about the work in Assembly: Eight Photographers from Southern California, one of the four marquee exhibitions of the Fotofest 2010 Biennial. Eschewing any expected mediated glamour and ironic urbanity of a SoCal tag, the mostly medium-to-large scale photographs on display instead strive to establish intimate, physical connections both within and outside the frame.
Joey Lehman Morris, for example, pictures two park benches placed too close together on a hillside vista or, in another work, a van parked inside a form-fitting cage/garage. The former work is hung low to the ground, while Morris’ George Mallory’s Cradle (Waxing Gibbous), 2007, a gold-framed black-and-white image of a moon-lit patch of desert soil, is placed directly on the floor. This lateral object, one of the exhibition’s best surprises, is genuinely disarming, reconfiguring Southern California’s horizons as a sandbox.
More interested in Southern California as locale rather than landscape, Assembly’s eight photographers produce portraits of place, and really, portraits of the desire to inhabit place. Nicole Belle’s images show her putting herself in acrobatic contortions, seeming efforts to feel out the spatial relations of her home. Her faceless choreography gets most interesting where gravity genuinely threatens physical, and seemingly, domestic collapse.
Similarly, Augusta Wood’s sentimental photographic declarations—images of quotes etched in snow or drizzled in syrup—tug strongest when they deny easy discernability. In Same Sun, 2007, a transparency held up to the sky reads “ill look out the window at the los angles sky and realize we’re both feeling the same”—the implied final word blocked out by the penetrating glare of the depicted sun. Most touching perhaps is text-free Sesame Street (1980, 2008), which ostensibly presents an image of a diaper-clad toddler engrossed by a TV. Realizing the picture is actually an archival snapshot projected onto the theatre cabinet of an empty house makes palpable the emptiness between image and experience, past and present, memory and reality.
Matt Lipps likewise constructs images to evoke feelings of homeward nostalgia. His pictures of tabletop tableaus feature odd cut outs of iconic Ansel Adams shots propped in front of pictures of domestic spaces. Anthropomorphized Yosemite rock faces and cloud forms suggest eerie familial dramas. Color filters on the background images—a kind of Formica formalism—complete the dreamscape theater of material and manifest destinies.
Matthew Brandt takes a more literal approach to merging public and personal experiences, and making images tangible. Lake Hollywood CA #3, 2008, is a C-print of a Lake Hollywood vista developed with liquid from that very body of water. Potentially gimmicky, Brandt’s doubly indexical process has visual potential as well, producing an assortment of flares, washes, and seeming solarizations. Another series of body-fluid-infused salt paper prints of small, individual portraits render more pathos, but less optical incident.
Asha Schecter’s idea-board-like images explore photography’s material potential, though through the equalizing force of digital technology. Large, soothing pastel surfaces are dotted by images of feelgood, peace-loving communal activities in various printed forms: snapshots, Polaroids, and newspapers cut outs. Each colorield background is an intense zoom-in of one of the images presented in front, creating a potentially recursive continuum of photographic layers. Expansive in depth, but also as surface, Schecter’s works implore the viewer to tease out the relations between their various parts—to assemble meaning from shared photographic constructions.
Kurt Mueller is a Critical Studies Fellow at the Glassel School of Art and the Assistant Editor of Art Lies.