Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Private Act of Protest

Patrick Ireland is dead! Long live Brian O'Doherty!

Pic courtesy of the NYTimes.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Promises, Promises

May 15, 1948: the state of Israel is established, a home for the displaced. May 15, 2008 makes 60 years of Nakba, catastrophe: the displacement of Palestinians to accommodate homeless Jews of Europe. The Chosen People were chosen to occupy the land making refugees of thousands.

How appropriate then a show of photographs of the tormented ground called Broken Promised Land at Robert Koch Gallery, SF. Shai Kremer is an Israeli photographer who has for seven years been documenting, what he calls the "infected landscape." Infected by violence, opposition, notions of control and righteousness.

Kramer's large eerie photographs reflect the still, vast expanse of desert land, but like the images of nuclear test wasteland in Richard Misrach's Desert Cantos series, the living landscape is made to feel vacant by the presence of military detritus, the leftovers of violent scenes. Everything is riddled with bullet holes—how many rounds? How much practice? 60 years worth.

Reading into the images presented you get the layered picture. A burned olive orchard is the result of the recent conflict with Lebanon. The Skyhawk bomber is an object for target practice on the Big Rivers Nature Preserve. The mock village used for urban warfare training is an Arab style village. The huge storage buildings of ammunition and equipment are US built.

In this land, the seeds of conflict are continually planted. The promise of return, for Arab refugee and Jewish refugee alike; the promise of dominion; the promise of peace—all these shared expectations, yet nowhere is the impulse to share. This is the crux of the matter and on this point all fails, save conflict. When will the professed love of the land allow it to exist as a sanctuary, a true nature preserve for all god's creatures?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cake n Beans

Sometimes it seems like Mike Brodie takes all his photos at the golden hour when everything is enhanced by the reddish light of the setting sun. How else could the most mundane, the most gritty, be so luscious, so attractive? Why else would I too want to be there, on the edge of the—what is it?—boxcar?—perched on the iron ledge just a few feet from the gravel and rails. It's that, the golden rays of the sun, or else his gaze which does it. His photos are so intimate, close in, right in there, one with the scene played out. The communal sharing—one can of beans (it must be beans, right?) between them all—is at the heart of his work. The camera does not get between him and the others, so the frankness of his picture-taking is not on the sly, nor "objective," but friendly-like, welcomed. Look at this girl, her poise. And he's going to get right down there with her, you know it.

And then there's the detail of the grime, the naked feet, her feet, the other foot, the torn mattress on a pile of rebar in the bed of a metal box car, the softness of her flesh, the golden skin—this feral child, wild and beautiful.

When he was younger (you know, like a baby) he started taking photos with a Polaroid camera. (The recent work is 35 mm.) Polaroids are just beautiful in and of themselves: the size, the coloration, the filminess. It was a perfect immediate, tactile, almost ephemeral medium for his milieu—on the road, ridin' rails, living in the woods. Hawk and Sumac were shot in a shantytown in Maine. They are part of a wonderful small photo book put out by These Birds Walk art books in Oakland CA.

Brodie is in love with his golden world, his train-hoppin' hobo friends, and that's what works. In every flock of wild child-s there's at least one who makes good, who, come Fall, let alone Winter, won't be caught seeking shelter under a bridge. Golden and free, and movin' on.

Mike Brodie won the 2008 Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers. Selected out of a running of 50 young photographers, Brodie shows some of his photos from Boys and Girls of Modern Days Railways at SF Camerawork in his award exhibition. The award says it: this boy's good. He takes the cake. Yeah.

Pics courtesy of SF Camerawork and one of my all-time favorite galleries in LA which introduced me to Brodie's work in 2005—right on—M+B Gallery.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Shadow City

More on cities. Once I'd written about Hickok and Wang and their cityscapes, it came to my attention that there was another city installation worthy of note.

Save Manhatten 03 by Mounir Fatmi was presented at the Venice Biennial 2007. It is the third in a series. Save Manhatten 01 was a cityscape constructed of books, all of which were written on the events of 9/11, except two copies of the Koran. Stacked on a table in such a way that when bright light was shown on them, a shadow portrait of the city was projected on the far wall. The two books of the Koran created the shadow image of the Twin Towers.

Save Manhatten 02, created in 2005, consisted of VHS tapes stacked to mimic the pre-9/11 Manhatten skyline. This installation did not include light and shadow—the white and black domino of the tape boxes carried this motif in addition to standing for the oft-repeated images of the tragedy on TVs all across the world, video being the medium of witness and testimony.

The third installment of this series is subtitled Sound Architecture. The cityscape is created with speakers of various sizes which emit a wall of sounds—traffic sounds taped in the street and subway, as well as fictional sounds lifted from blockbuster movies, crashes, explosions, the sounds of catastrophe. This speaker-city is lit in such a way that both its shadow as well as the shadows of viewers are projected on the wall.

I like this series. The building blocks of each cityscape conveys a perspective through which we understand this image: Manhatten, the pre-9/11 city, now an emblem of a global antagonism. All that has been read about it, written about it, spoken and presented about it; all the mythical, fictional, factual things congesting into an unintelligible cacophony of information and image—but the image is a shadow, a phantom. The blood and guts are the people killed, the people oppressed, the people in uniforms and in hiding.

I like that this artist is from Tunesia, lives in Paris, gives us a perspective from outside, yet inside, for the image cast from 9/11 is long as it is complicated.

Pic courtesy of Universes in Universe, visual arts from Africa, Asia, the Americas in the international art context.