Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ulrich Gebert in Today's Village Voice

Martha Schwendener has penned an insightful assessment of the "archiving impulse" in contemporary photography and discusses our current exhibition by Ulrich Gebert in the process. From today's Village Voice:
Photography is the world's filing cabinet. Or database. What other medium claims to effectively catalog plants, indigenous people, criminals, mental illness, emotions, physical movement, remote landscapes, and decaying urban neighborhoods?

Art generally functions the opposite way: The unique image is more important than accumulating evidence. But somewhere in the mid-20th century, the archiving impulse took hold. Bernd and Hilla Becher photographed "families of things"—industrial relics like blast furnaces, gas tanks, and water towers—emphasizing their boring regularity over their heroic power. This was the postmodern project: thinking about systems and codes.

The generation coming up sees things differently. Here are three photography shows that raise a number of questions about the urge to catalog and classify.

At Winkleman, German artist Ulrich Gebert considers the natural world in "This Much Is Certain." Traveling to different botanical gardens in Europe, he photographed coniferous trees and arranged the prints alongside a printed list of "valid" and "invalid" names. The backstory is this: In the 19th century, enterprising botanists started "discovering" trees and naming them after themselves. Conflicts arose, naturally, as different people put their names on the same tree. The confusion led to a re-evaluation of attribution, not unlike what happens in art history (such as shows at the Met like "Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt" or the current one devoted to a "Velázquez Rediscovered").

In addition to trees, Gebert also rephotographed images from books of animals—dogs, pigs, horses—being handled by humans, then arranged the framed fragments in tableaux. Despite its rationalizing, scientific basis, all of this ordering and manipulating, he points out, has an incredibly subjective bent. Once humans start messing around with the natural world, mayhem ensues—and works its way up the food chain, eventually heading into sinister areas like eugenics.
The other photography shows Martha discusses include:

Penelope Umbrico: 'Leonards for Leonard & 5,537,594 Suns From Flickr'
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Street, Brooklyn
Through March 14

Zoe Crosher: 'The Unraveling of Michelle duBois'
DCKT
195 Bowery
Through February 14

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4 Comments:

Blogger bastinptc said...

"Art generally functions the opposite way"

How much should be read int this statement?

1/20/2010 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a great show, has similarities to Mark Dion's work which is currently on view at Tanya Bonakdar. I saw both and felt I was a great deal more clued into the idea that both catalogers bring to art.

1/20/2010 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Ed Ruscha used to do cataloging in the 60s & 70s - like his Tanks, Banks, Ranks, Thanks photos, and books (of photos) like Real Estate Opportunities, A Few Palm Trees and Babycakes.

Long before the Bechers (as I'm sure Schwendener knows) there was August Sander, documenting German social types. A more interesting question is when such catalogues acquire artistic rather than scientific or sociological interest.

1/20/2010 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

I think the answer to your question, Cap, is when curators & art critics start filing them away in the 'art' drawer.

But then I'm speaking from my deep-felt, thus totally irrational prejudice that whilst photography is a powerful medium it's an skin-deep form of artistic expression.

1/21/2010 01:58:00 PM  

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