Category Archives: photography

“Kiki Seror at CB1 Gallery,” ARTPULSE Magazine. Vol. 4 No. 16. Summer 2013.

Kiki Seror

Hysteris

CB1 Gallery

 

Pornographic tastes are often some of the most telling things about a person. But porn isn’t a media that begs much self-reflection from its audience; the tantalizing pictures are too busy doing their job to worry about you. Thankfully, art and psychoanalysis often does this job for and with us. Using the power of both, the artist Kiki Seror’s recent exhibition Hysteris, takes the digital porn universe as a starting point to turn our gaze and our thoughts inward, while at the same time examining larger social phenomena wrapped up in complex online and real life sexual subjects.

 

Seror’s videos in this exhibition call attention to how we imagine our libidinal selves through the bodies of others. For these works Seror paints parts of her body in a saturated color and then uses real-time digital video software to color-key out parts of her body, replacing these sections with the real-time video feed of her “partner” on Chatroulette, a site that allows people to randomly video chat with others. In the videos, we see Seror using this self-erasure to throw back her Chatroulette friend’s gaze. Streams of men see their bodies where hers should be. Some are into the strange performance; they sit erect, fascinated by Seror’s ability to superimpose her floating eye, mouth, and remaining body parts on theirs. Other guys are un-amused and leave the chat, perhaps aware they are being recorded. With this work Seror deploys a kind of digital camouflage to subvert her partner’s – and the viewer’s – expectations of where a body begins and ends.

 

Seror complements these videos with a series of still photographs of pornographic GIFs, looping short videos made specifically for quick viewing on the Web. Seror takes her photos directly off the computer screen using long shutter speeds to blur movement. The most striking images, like Face of a Virus /gif/ifeelmyself/08, which shows a mass of interlocking flesh-like limbs and faces writhing on a bed, confuse just enough visual information to demand the viewer complete the picture. In this way, Seror’s photographs function like Rorschach tests, making one reflect on the reading of the image itself.

 

It’s difficult to discuss Seror’s work without acknowledging the famous German photographer Thomas Ruff, whose own photos of porn at first glance bear a striking similarity to the photos in Hysteris. Though they have similar subject matter, Ruff and Seror speak to different concerns. Ruff’s big, sofa-size photos capture a pornographic scene as if it were in-between frames, resulting in a double image. His photographs seem to be more about porn as an artifact of visual culture and in the stale white cube of the gallery they create a neutered engagement with the erotic body, the spectacle of objectification with little carnal pay off. Now some of Seror’s works participate in a similar process, duplicating porn’s aesthetic appeal while negating its function. This happens in images where the viewer can easily discern all elements in the scene, like in Face of a Virus /gif/interns/01, where two women fellate an erect penis. But thankfully in many of Seror’s other photographs the indistinct gesticulating body, made possible by an open lens (a stand-in for the voracious human eye) does something Ruff’s photographs don’t: they become other and challenge the Real, creating room for generative contemplation about bodies unmoored from prescriptive language and rigid connotation. They don’t moralize or admonish porn in a conservative sense; instead, they make you self-aware of your erotic imagination. Depending on how you feel about your own sexual appetites this can be a very rewarding process indeed.

 

Tucker Neel is an artist, writer, and curator in Los Angeles. He is also the director of 323 Projects, a voicemail gallery that can be reached anytime by calling (323) 843-4652.

 

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“Che Mondo at The Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, “ARTPULSE Magazine. Vol. 4. No. 15. Spring 2013.

Curated by Carol Ann Klonarides, Che Mondo (What A World) at the LA Municipal Art Gallery asks, “If, in the age of omnipresent digital photography, everyone can be, and in fact is, a photographer, how does one remain a ‘Photographer’”? This exhibition points to answers by presenting artists whose photographs rely on specific material execution to claim a physical presence and inscribe conceptual meaning. The result is a truly inquisitive and captivating exhibition.

 

One alluring body of work comes from Julie Schafer whose large pinhole camera photos document landscapes marking the borders of 19th century mining zones. These works reflect one of the most basic ways of making a photograph; light passing through a tiny aperture imprints on chemically treated paper. Printed in the negative (with light areas appearing dark and vice versa), the impressively tall photographs succeed in alienating viewers from familiar bucolic scenes like piney hilltops and desert landscapes. The work is mysterious, but perhaps too much so. Schafer’s project, which interrogates the legacies of mineral extraction and removal of indigenous peoples, could use more wall text to relay the artist’s intention. Without this the work risks coming off solely as a sign of photographic virtuosity, an updated Ansel Adams shtick.

 

Christopher Russell’s work convincingly merges photography and drawing to create one-of-a-kind objects. He uses an Xacto blade to scratch into the surface of a set of identical photographs, each bearing an “oops” image of a thumb on the lens. One image contains a sinking ship, another a stream of disjunctive text, and in another, frenetic lines resemble veins or brain synapses. This mark-making violates the clean surface photographers traditionally hold sacrosanct. Through this process Russell calls attention to the way we interpret photos from subjective points of view while commenting on the frailty and latent violence that comes with fixed meaning. Russell’s installation also includes a massive but conspicuously non-photographic hand-drawn artist book containing his most recent novel. However, I wish it were easier for visitors to page through the fascinating and enormous tome, which is kept safe by a Do Not Touch sign.

 

The most powerful work in the exhibition is Susan Silton’s Color Theory, which consists of a chair facing a projector screen, which presents a never-ending loop of images emanating from an old school projector. Sitting in a single chair, one watches a slow pan of stamps taken from the artist’s grandfather’s collection from the Third Reich, each bearing the image of Adolph Hitler. This philatelist archive invites questions about collecting the past as a way to view the present. Here Hitler’s image speaks to photography’s use in propaganda, while the stamps sign to the record of a country’s official history as well as a the currency of communication. Finally the slide projector, itself all but obsolete, engenders a didactic experience. Yet what we “learn” from this set up remains elusive. The work’s cool detachment allows for self-reflection and perhaps a bit of indictment, a moment of serious rumination on the passage of time from one fascist institution to the next.

 

 

CHARLES FRÉGER at FotoMuseum Antwerp / Antwerp, Belgium Artillery Magazine, September 2013

At first glance Charles Fréger’s “Wilder Mann”—an exhibition filled with photographs of furry giants and frolicking monsters—may seem inconsequential. Yes, the work is fluffy and intentionally entertaining on the surface, but it goes much deeper. After one fully understands Fréger’s overarching project, it becomes apparent that there might be a productive critique lurking behind the photographer’s spectacle.

In 2010 the French photographer began traveling to rural farming villages in over a dozen European countries to document people, pictured mostly alone, out in the wilderness, wearing homemade costumes used in celebratory events marking the solstices, the harvest and coming of winter—calendar dates that, after millennia and the “civilizing” of Pagan populations, eventually mutated into Christmas and Easter. The costumes referencing human/animal hybrids are cobbled-together, yet visually astounding.

Charles Fréger, Cerbul din Corlata, Romania, 2010-2011

In one characteristic photo, Peluche; Evolène, Switzerland (2013), a figure in a snowy landscape wears waterproof pants and mounds of animal pelts piled high like a football player’s shoulder pads. His tiny badger face and gigantic lumbering body creates a funny juxtaposition. Dozens of other creatures in more framed photos create a similarly strange cast of characters. There are awkward straw men, farmers with ballooning marshmallow bodies, demons on parade, and totemic figures covered in hair. Fréger photographs each subject like a fascinated anthropologist, collecting documents of the strange and unusual from distant lands. But these subjects are closer than they seem, some living just beyond the city. It is Fréger’s ability to render the “rural European” into a cultural oddity that creates a startling, perhaps unintentional, critique, dependent on the exhibition’s position within the museum’s larger curatorial framework.

Charles Fréger, Babugeri, Bansko, Bulgaria, 2010-2011,© Charles Fréger, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

One floor down from “Wilder Mann” was the exhibition “Camera Exotica: Selections from the FoMu Museum,” an exhibition filled with an abundance of unsurprising photographs of indigenous peoples from the Congo, India and other “distant lands,” all taken before the 1960s. While this exhibit did pay lip service to the racism of European colonialism, it did so only in short wall texts, re-inscribing colonized populations as exotic “others.” Such a display immediately reminds one of Hal Foster’s observation that the under the Eurocentric anthropological gaze, “Relationships between parts of the world…can be understood as temporal relations…. ‘Over there’ became ‘back then.’” In this schema, the Western explorer sees remote cultures as facilitating a symbolic “return” to the “primitive.”

Charles Fréger, Ursul (Bear), Palanca, Romania, 2010-2011, © Charles Fréger, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Fréger’s photos in proximity to their 20th century “exotic” counterparts create an extenuation of Foster’s analysis, a complication of European identity in relation to an imagined exotic other. If we see Fréger’s work as collapsing the physical space between the civilized and uncivilized, then does this also disrupt the temporal space of “now” and “then”? In Fréger’s photos the European is made “primitive” through costuming like his colonized counterpart. While this contrast is perhaps superficial, in no way speaking to the destructive legacies of exploitation and racism that colonization left in its wake, perhaps a show like Fréger’s can, if only momentarily, deconstruct the European mythology of cultural supremacy, which is itself a truly terrifying monster.

Charles Fréger, “Certi,” Czech Republic, 2010-2011. All Images © Charles Fréger, Courtesy of the Gallery at Hermès.

Charles Fréger, Caretos, Lazarim, Portugal, 2010-2011, © Charles Fréger, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Scratching The Surface: Christopher Russell

“Scratching The Surface: Christopher Russell,” Artillery Magazine, June/July. Vol. 6 Issue 5.

by Tucker Neel

 

I’VE FOLLOWED CHRISTOPHER RUSSELL’S work for some time now. Like his polymorphous art practice, which pushes the boundaries of photography, drawing, text, performance, sound and installation, Russell is filled with many pleasing contradictions. As a person, he’s disarmingly polite, has a piercing wit and an unabashedly dirty mind. One of the first works of his I remember seeing was “Landscape,” a 1996 series of black-and-white images captured using a hidden camera, of men having anonymous sex in brambly cruising spots. The photos are spectral and voyeuristic, addressing bodies engaged in intimate contact on the periphery between public and private. Another project, Russell’s Bedwetter zine from the early 2000s—filled with libidinous text that had to be destroyed and ripped apart in order to be read—heightened the feeling that one must always accept lost purity in exchange for desired experience. While his newer work has avoided the intensity of earlier abjection and sexual explicitness, to an extent these devices always linger close to the subject at hand.

Many of Russell’s images grow out of his written texts, which engage themes ranging from psychosexual experiences, the romantic, politics, violence, to sites of deterioration and innocence in revolt. Alongside these narratives, which often take the form of books (but have also manifested as wallpaper and audio tracks), Russell creates photographs that speak to the story’s setting, the characters involved and mental and physical states at play. In many pieces he uses a knife to scar the printed surface, or etches-in intricate images that contradict their surroundings: a grand sailboat over a deteriorating abandoned living-room wall; a flowery pattern veiling a yellowed photo of a young man. The work is at the same time both devastating and seductive, referencing imaginative decadent aesthetics and escape in the midst of impending ruin.

When I recently asked Russell what he’s interested in now he responded by discussing a new text he’s writing, informed by how insane the current political landscape has become.

“The text works through a number of political ideas such as free will and opportunity, forces operating upon one’s identity that are beyond one’s own control. But I get there in circuitous ways, using the 19th-century mystic Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, while thinking about Alan Sekula’s photo theory, end of an era paranoia courtesy of the McMartin preschool. [trial] The book ends with a satanic prayer to ward off the Tea Party.

I’m drawing, by scratching into photos, pictures of the Brooklyn Bridge in varying degrees of ruin, coupled with crumbling bits of deco architectural design. I just want to see the exuberant promise of industry, the role of the corporation in the promise of America, reduced to rubble; overcome by forces outside its control. It’s less politics and more like revenge.”

Considering the poignant intimacy and haunting depths of his previous works, Russell seems aptly suited to poetically reframe dominant narratives of American exceptionalism. He will no doubt do this by unraveling truths we hold dear, revealing the contradictions that lurk on the fringes, outside and beyond the conventional frame.