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2018, Jan 19

Later on, at the Museo Rufino Tamayo, which displays Tamayo’s collection of prehispanic objects with minimal text. This time I thought it worked well, because there’s a clear explanation of why that choice was made, i.e. to argue for the significance of this work as capital A art. That project has its own set of complications, but the experience of looking at the collection worked for me in a way that the Iturbide show did not. I imagine a material culture scholar might have been hopping mad, though.

I thought about bodies as vessels.

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2018, Jan 18
Graciela Iturbide, “Retrospectiva” at Centro de las artes San Agustín

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After walking around the building, sitting by the waterfall up the hill behind it, and strolling through the town, I went back in to see the Graciela Iturbide exhibition that was up. Apart from my desire to travel outside of Oaxaca to find quiet places, this show was a major reason to come to San Agustín. Iturbide is a photographer I’ve known about for some time, but without knowing much more than her famous photographs, like Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitán 1, 1979.

The exhibition as a whole did not offer the kind of in-depth exploration of her work that I had hoped it might provide. Or, rather, it displayed a wide range of her work, but without any guidance about how it might be grasped. I didn’t take a photo that really shows the installation, but even from the image above you can maybe see that there were no labels on the walls. This meant that images from all across Iturbide’s career were put together without any indication of what year they were taken, let alone the title of the photograph. I’d be very curious to know how this decision was made. Does Iturbide want visitors to interact with her work as a series of formal images, floating (as it were) in a space without any context? It’s an odd choice, though I could say it did have the merit of forcing certain questions about her work to present themselves very directly.

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For example: what was her relationship to Manuel Álvarez Bravo? I gather that she was his assistant, but I’d be curious to know more about their dialogue. Here, she’s clearly putting one over on him 2.

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But then other questions emerge. Why was she in India, anyway? What city is this? When was this trip taken? And, going further, what is her interest in the body?

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Iturbide photographed an all-male wrestling gym of some sort, and a person going through a transition. She attends carefully to the way that light falls on the body—as if the caress of light on skin were inviting us, too, to a tactile experience.

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And then, two very noteworthy photographs, in which trees (or cacti? I can’t tell exactly) appear as bodies in need of care. Perhaps here, finally, my historian’s desire for date and place fades away.

1
http://www.gracielaiturbide.org/en/category/juchitan/: The first photograph of this series
2
https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/2012.318: Parábola óptica, 1931, one of MAB’s most famous images.

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2018, Jan 16

Emotions are cats. Thoughts are flies.

(I deleted the Twitter app off of my phone, and moved WordPress to the home screen.)

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2018, Jan 15

“The pictorialist juggernaut, while legitimating photography as a ‘fine art,’ was by 1910 all dressed up with no place to go. But in the Soviet Union, in Germany, among the Surrealists, and even a short walk away at the new Museum of Modem Art, photography was unproblematically assimilated as simply another medium in which artists might choose to work. On the walls of 291, the Intimate Gallery, and finally, An American Place, photography was always treated separately; it might have parity with the traditional arts, but remained always ghettoized. The legacy of this separation is with us still; art photography and artists’ use of photography have developed on separate tracks.”

Solomon-Godeau, Abigail. “Back to Basics: The Return of Alfred Stieglitz.” Afterimage 12, no. 1 (Summer 1984): 21–25, 25.

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2018, Jan 13

Exams are “coming up” insofar as they happen about three months from now. Which is to say that I won’t be reading much in an academic sense that’s outside of my field, ie the history of photography.

Still, I’m doing my best to read for actual pleasure. Finishing up the Ferrante series soon, then on to Marie NDiaye, and after that I’m not sure. I’m waiting for Nanni Balestrini to come out in paperback. Always open to suggestions.

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2018, Jan 13

Taro’s article on film in 1968 in Shinjuku (Diary of a Shinjuku ThiefFuneral Parade of Roses) 1 is really good. Just got to it today. Might not get to do too much other reading “for fun” since exams are coming up.


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2018, Jan 13

“Rather than adopt a binary scheme in which amateurism is defined, oppositionally, against professionalism, I understand these as ever-mobile terms in a broader, flexible matrix that admits a range of individual and collective production by all kinds of self-proclaimed textile makers. This book structurally asserts how, in the case of textiles, fine art and amateur practices are mutually coconstitutive, constantly informing each other and viewed radically differently depending on context.”

Bryan-Wilson, Julia. Fray: Art + Textile Politics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017, 5.

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2018, Jan 13
Centro de las artes de San Agustín
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Thin sheets of water run down the feature behind the stairs

This facility, a former mill, was converted into an art space in 2006. The factory itself was constructed in the late 1800s, and it’s been renovated in subtle ways, largely through the introduction of gravity-powered water features that re-imagine the building in modernist terms. I arrived in the morning, and enjoyed a walk through the facility. My footsteps were not particularly loud, but they were enough to awaken a police officer who was dozing off at the entrance to the grounds.

We talked here

We talked here

Why a police officer, though? In fact, there are no musuem workers as such here, but rather a few police scattered throughout the building, a jarring phenomenon to say the very least. I asked one of them if there was a map of the facility, and we ended up having a long conversation about the art center, his work, the disappearing flora of the hillside behind the center, Oaxacan cooking traditions, and so on. P (not his actual initial) said that he’d been working there for about a year and a half; some of his colleagues have been at the center for ten years. He’d like to stay, he says, because it’s very tranquil, and he gets to interact with a lot of different people. P knew practically nothing about art before he came, and now he feels more comfortable with it.

As I reflected on this experience, I thought back to a moment during a march in Los Angeles after the 2016 election in which I saw people high-fiving the police officers that were lining the road. This gesture struck me as somewhat foolish, since the cops were only here to “restore order”—that is to say beat everyone up—if things got out of hand. The situation at San Agustín strikes me as different, though. Even though the presence of police officers (policia auxiliar, to be fair, I guess) in this space put me on my guard, P was thoughtful, gentle, curious to share knowledge, and open to silence. Make All Cops Work in Museums? Or is that giving far too much credit to art? 

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2018, Jan 10
Jams


Embedded with YouTube’s “privacy mode,” so you’ll only be tracked if you click play. FYI.

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2018, Jan 10
Rodrigo Zúñiga, La extensión fotográfica

Zúñiga, Rodrigo. La extensión fotográfica: ensayo sobre el triunfo de lo fotográfico. Santiago, Chile: Ediciones Metales pesados, 2013.

Found on a recent trip to Mexico City.

The book (a collection of five essays written separately) is an attempt to account for photography’s contemporary situation, that is to say its condition as a digital object. Some of Zúñiga’s ideas are worthwhile. For example, he argues cogently that we should not succumb to the discourse of the end of photography. While the strictly indexical model of photography that Barthes took to be stable ontological ground is now nothing more than “aesthetic region,” this is only a segment of the much broader space that the photographic now takes up. (81) The point here, in short, is that “the end of indexical hegemony does not mean the end of photography.” (80) Well and good. I’m also more or less in line with the idea that seems to drive his project as a whole: “we find ourselves obligated to rethink photographic potentiality [la potencia photográfica] itself, now that it seems to determine—in the age of connections and exchanges of images on a global scale—dynamics and processes of subjectification that we could not have even imagined until a few decades ago.” (8) This is an alluring formulation, but here problems creep in. Zúñiga is a philosopher, and so he does not introduce any concrete examples of photography in order to support his position. The result is that the essay (I’m referring to the titular one) comes across as ahistorical, if not simply presentist. In other words, for all that Zúñiga wants to make clear that the digital has not destroyed the validity of the concept of the photographic, he also has not made it clear exactly what is new about digital technology. But without any reference to, say, the 1930s, it seems a bit strange to suggest that photography has never before produced subjects in the way it does now. I don’t think this is convincing, and it’s a frustrating quality of philosophy that it operates in such an abstract way.

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