A Different Kind of Order, the International Center of Photography’s Triennial, includes artworks by twenty-eight international artists whose photographs, films, sculptures, video, and mixed-media works focus on the intersection of modern image making and our technologically advanced contemporary culture. The artists bring light to the nuances of our “new” world’s challenges, whether they are newfangled or all too familiar. Moving between the application and denial of technology in the face of globalization and the camera’s own digitized, social self, the exhibition explores the aestheticization and hybridization of new photographic mediums.
The exhibition’s entryway presents the work of Mishka Henner, whose Dutch Landscapes series touches on these themes. The work at first seems to be a beautiful yet awkward rendering of abstract, digitized forms haphazardly placed atop aerial views of cityscapes. Upon reading the description, the viewer learns that the images are gleaned from online satellite mapping and that the strange blobs are actually an absurdist government attempt to hide sensitive sites from public view. In this case the Dutch authorities demanded that the views of such sites be blurred online by grossly exaggerating the image’s pixelation. The irony, of course, is that the low resolution of the kaleidoscopic forms brings attention to these supposedly hidden locations, creating a kind of failed, aestheticized censorship.
- Thomas Hirschhorn, Touching Reality, 2012. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; and Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York
Thomas Hirschhorn’s Touching Reality (2012), a work confined to a dark, sectioned-off room whose entrance is papered with warning placards, also plays with notions of censorship. The a gut-twisting, vomit-inducing video is typical of Hirschhorn’s work and closely related to the ideas he discusses in his 2012 text “Why Is It Important–Today–To Show and Look at Images of Destroyed Human Bodies?” Due to the images’ extreme violence, a few nauseating seconds is probably as much as one can endure. The film shows a hand swiping though images on an iPad: dismembered, war-torn bodies, some bullet-riddled, some being decapitated, others half blown away or beaten into unrecognizable bleeding red lumps. The anonymous hand delicately swipes through as though it is casually looking through family photos, browsing celebrity snapshots, or shopping for handbags. Even worse, the hand zooms and enlarges the worst bits of each image—a gesture that elicits associations with pornography. Despite its inherent shock value, the work is poignant; its forcible display of viscera exposes the mechanisms of our self-sterilized online image consumption. Such images of real violence are often censored in journalistic media and, moreover, are self-censored by the physical discomfort most experience when viewing them (as suggested by the many visitors who, upon exiting the room, exclaimed, “Ugh, I don’t want to look at that…”). Here, Hirschhorn argues that such violence should not be swept under the rug.
- Andrea Longacre-White, Pad Scan (International Center of Photography), 2013. Courtesy the artist and Various Small Fires, Los Angeles
The iPad makes another appearance in the complex work of Andrea Longacre-White, who focuses on the intimacy between human and machine rather than on the device as a vehicle for serialized image consumption. The artist commissioned a work specifically for the Triennial; she used the iPad to take pictures of the exhibition space in which the work would eventually be hung. Afterward, the artist Xeroxed the iPad while it displayed these architectural snapshots. A blown-up copy serves as the final black-and-white image on view. This act of photocopying an already flat device further flattens the “real” space, disabling the iPad’s ability to capture architectural three-dimensionality. Xeroxing also confuses the iPad, which senses the light scanner as equivalent to the heat of a human hand; the images change and flicker as the screen is scanned, distorting the final image. The fact that the iPad reacts to the inanimate Xerox beam as though it were a human caress undermines the machine’s supposed ability to interrelate with humans. The process of Xeroxing also highlights clusters of fingerprints on the iPad, smudges that suggest failed attempts to connect, like a handprint desperately pressed upon a dividing windowpane.
Another of my favorites is Nir Evron’s film A Free Moment (2011), a disorienting and hauntingly beautiful panning of the ruinous interior of a Jordanian summer palace built in the 1960s in (then Palestinian-controlled) Jerusalem. Its commanding hilltop locale, concrete pillars seemingly pockmarked by centuries, and the strong lines of colonnades all contribute to the building’s resemblance to the Parthenon and lend the black-and-white film a heavy, ancient sensibility. To shoot the film, Evron installed a robotic camera on a dolly track to record a preprogrammed, single spanning shot. The camera drifts like a Mars rover, as if scanning for data on an equally dusty terrain. The dolly track is exposed, echoing the rows of columns as the shot pulls back. At one point, the camera shot dramatically flips, completely upside down, compounding the scene’s strange beauty, then glides down toward the ground to capture the moving robotics of the camera itself. There is no human present; it is as if the machine is exploring, on its own volition, an alien land where living beings have reached a dramatic self-extinction on hallowed ground.
While the majority of artists in the exhibition engage with technology, hybridization, and globalization in both their processes and subject matter, Lucas Foglia’s work stands out because his subjects reject these pillars of modern life. Foglia sought out and photographed alternative communities in the southeastern United States that embrace a back-to-nature lifestyle; several of these communities recently experienced a population boom due to the financial crisis. His subjects seek self-sufficiency and natural purity in life—without technology. Foglia’s photographs, mostly honest and intimate portraits, are probably the exhibition’s most traditional, beautifully composed in a style consistent with the European conventions of genre painting. Dramatic Davidian light suffuses his images of heroic hunting figures, long-haired Victorian-esque women bathe in the woods, and saintly Renaissance-like figures recall Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Theresa (1647–52). Foglia’s approach to his work also possesses a back-to-basics style, yet his photographs remain original, interesting, and culturally relevant, reminding us there is room for all types of photography, new and old.
A few additional standouts include Rabih Mroue, whose multimedia installation uses the lens of the Arab Spring to reveal the ramifications of digitizing warfare; in one instance discussed, an unknown figure firing a gun is caught on his victim’s camera phone before it crashes to the ground, suggesting the death of the witness – recorded in POV. Gideon Mendel takes on the timeless challenges of the technological have-nots, documenting victims of flooding in various impoverished zones. Also employing an unexpectedly classic type of photography is Shimpei Takeda, who scatters contaminated soil from nuclear disaster sites in Japan to create celestial images on traditional film negatives. The resulting gelatin silver prints are as beautifully inspiring as they are upsetting, recalling Marie Curie’s discovery, decades ago, that certain substances created images on her photo plates—a watershed moment in the history of radiation itself.
A Different Kind of Order, the International Center for Photography Triennial, is on view at the International Center for Photography, New York, through September 22, 2013.