Miriam Bohm, Unfinished IV, 2009
I’ve been asked on a few occasions whether I think of my site BANANA LEAVES as a photography blog or an art blog. It’s an understandable question – the site’s content does roughly even out to 50/50, strictly speaking – but also a telling one, in that it betrays the assumption that a person would need to choose between the two.
There has been a prescribed division between photography and the fine arts from the outset. The reasons for it are numerous and have been thoroughly explored elsewhere, but the fact remains that photography and the fine arts have routinely been regarded by institutions, artists, and photographers alike as having little in the way of shared concerns. As such, it’s been my experience that artists are often dismissive of photography, and that a good portion of photographers have little familiarity with – or interest in – what’s happening in contemporary art.
In my mind, it’s a boring and needlessly restrictive way of thinking – especially when, perhaps more than ever, some of the most interesting conversations driving contemporary art are quite similar to those being hashed out in photography circles (chief among them: the implications of digital technology for creating, exhibiting, and disseminating work). There’s a lot of fresh common ground, and as a result, much of the most progressive work being done today actively rejects traditional divisions between media. Increasingly, in looking at this work, we find a mixing of practices and techniques: sculptors and painters incorporating photography into their practice; photographers borrowing fine-art techniques, materials, and aesthetics, creating sculptures and still-lifes to photograph and/or integrating methods of collage and digital manipulation into their images. The contemporary moment, it seems to me, is about doing away with that long-standing illusion of incompatibility so that we might instead uncover new creative forms. So it’s really not a matter of having to choose between being a photographer or an artist (or between being a photo blogger or an art blogger); it’s more about identifying the points that might spark a new conversation between the two pursuits – and it is to this landscape that I feel Banana Leaves reacts, contributes, and ultimately belongs.
I’m hoping to use this column to continue exploring these ideas. Every couple of weeks, I’ll be checking in and expanding on some of the work, articles, and links I’ve featured on Banana Leaves – items whose connection to photography might seem ambiguous and even tenuous, but ones that I hope LPV followers (particularly those who don’t pay much attention to contemporary art) will find interesting. I’ve chosen “MEDIUM” for the column’s title because the word’s three most common uses so closely fit my aims:
- 1. Something that occupies a position or represents a condition midway between extremes. – I want this column
to challenge the presumed disparity between contemporary photographic and fine art discourses by highlighting instances in
which their techniques, trends, and concerns overlap.
- 2. An intervening agent through which something else is transmitted or carried on. – I want this column to serve as a means of exposing noteworthy work to those who might not otherwise be aware of it.
- 3. An agency by which something is accomplished, conveyed, or transferred. – I want this column to feature a range
of styles, techniques, and modes in order to raise questions about how rigidly (or loosely) we might define our artistic media.
Thanks to Bryan for the invitation to contribute, and thanks to you for reading.
1. ART BLOG ART BLOG
installation view of Art Blog Art Blog’s second exhibition, Out Of Practice
For those unfamiliar: from May 13 through October 29, 2011, Abelow used a studio in Chelsea to turn his blog ART BLOG ART BLOG into a temporary physical gallery. Working in collaboration with a series of curators, the space held ten exhibitions during its run, showing work by a list of notable artists including Letha Wilson, Kadar Brock, and Seth Adelsberger. The project took the current “physical vs online galleries” conversation to an interesting place by negotiating a kind of middle ground, purposefully blurring the distinction between real and virtual space.
Of the writing I’ve seen about ABAB, Chicago-based artist/writer Sofia Leiby’s essay “Post-Internet Painting and the Death of Affect” is easily my favorite. Written for the most recent edition of Pool, this smart, insightful essay does a great job of outlining what makes Abelow’s project so timely (and so relevant to those photographers for whom blogging has become a valid and important facet of ones practice):
“I am not entirely convinced of a hierarchical relationship between our affective relationships to real objects and their counterparts, ‘evil’ media representations. We have always had images that we are emotionally connected to. We have meaningful experiences and connections online. Abelow’s Art Blog Art Blog project showcases the liberating and boundary-erasing power that images, used in the right way, can contain.”
2. Sam Falls’ Two-Part L.A. Exhibition
Among those included in the ART BLOG ART BLOG project was Sam Falls, a multi-disciplinary artist whose varied but singular body of work, achieved through a combination of photographic, sculptural, and painterly methods, consistently challenges (and expands) traditional notions of the photographic process and object. A collection of Falls’ latest work is now on view in Los Angeles as a two-part exhibition – Samuel Falls at China Art Objects Gallery and Sam Falls at M+B. The shows encompass several distinct bodies of work, all aimed towards representing the passage of time. Taking on a variety of materials – fabrics, drawing paper, aluminum, photo prints, paint – Falls experiments with exposing objects to light and the elements, the works’ compositions emerging and changing over the course of minutes, hours, and days. (Definitely check out the online artist statements accompanying these exhibitions, as they give detailed descriptions of Falls’ process for each given project.) The results are photographic, technically – as the artist is quick to point out, his processes of exposure are not unlike that of making a photogram – but Falls keeps things interesting by allowing the unique properties of each given material to dictate his decisions.
For those who can’t visit the shows IRL, reviews from the likes of the L.A. Times are available, but those in a position to see the work up close should really consider making the trip.
“Samuel Falls” runs through March 17; “Sam Falls” runs through March 31.
3. Raphael Rubenstein’s Provisional Painting Part 2
Christopher Wool, Untitled, 2009
A number of my favorite art-focused blogs – Portalen Portalen; Israel Lund; The Glaze; Das Kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunst – share a particular aesthetic in the work they post: contemporary paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints whose appearance is rough and unprecious, willfully casual and decidedly imperfect. Often demonstrating a shared penchant for humble materials, physical and visual instability, and deliberate awkwardness, it’s an increasingly common way of working, particularly among younger artists.
Writer Raphael Rubenstein established a useful context for this type of work in his article “Provisional Painting”. Published in the May 2009 issue of Art in America, the piece identified this aesthetic as a means of shrugging off the weighty traditions of of art history:
“I take such work to be, in part, a struggle with a medium that can seem too invested in permanence and virtuosity, in carefully planned-out compositions and layered meanings, in artistic authority and creative strength – in all the qualities that make the fine arts ‘fine’… [These artists’] work may at times come off as uncertain, incomplete, casual, self-cancelling, or unfinished, but each of them is fully committed to the project of painting. If they seek to break existing, perhaps unspoken, contracts with painting, it is only in order to draw up other protocols that will renew the medium.”
Installation view of David Hammons’ 2011 exhibition at L&M Arts (NYC)
Earlier this month, Rubenstein followed up that essay with “Provisional Painting Part 2: To Rest Lightly on Earth.” The sequel finds Rubinstein continuing his research while experimenting with his article’s structure, composing an impressionistic narrative which, in its efforts to establish provisionalism’s long-standing presence in art, drifts between a wide range of subjects: from Alberto Giacometti’s post-war portraits to Philip Guston’s thoughts on Abstract Expressionism, from Samuel Beckett all the way back to Tang dynasty historian Chang Yen-Yuan, whose writings from the year 847 prove surprisingly pertinent to this contemporary conversation:
“In painting, one should avoid worrying about accomplishing a work that is too diligent and too finished in the depiction of forms and the notation of colors or one that makes too great a display of one’s technique, thus depriving it of mystery and aura. That is why one should not fear the incomplete, but quite to the contrary, one should deplore that which is too complete. From the moment one knows that a thing is complete, what need is there to complete it? For the incomplete does not necessarily mean the unfulfilled.”
Truth be told, this second installment is neither as timely nor as effective as the first. Still, these two essays (along with Sharon Butler’s June 2011 article “The New Casualists”) constitute some of the most noteworthy writing available on this distinctly of-the-moment facet of contemporary painting, and as such, warrant the attention of anyone keeping score.
4. New work from Aaron Graham
Like Sam Falls, NYC-based artist Aaron Graham uses photography as the basis for a varied and highly involved creative process which borrows techniques from any number of media. He recently posted a series of new work on his site: a collection of messy, colorful, and agreeably strange images, ambiguous in both content and materials. Containing elements of painting (both physical and digital), photography, drawing, collage, and obvious digital manipulation, the works consistently blur the line between tangible and virtual, between representation and abstraction.
I asked Graham about his new work via Facebook, and he offered some great insight into his working process:
“A lot of the time what I’m making will pass in and out of the computer a couple of times. For instance, I might take a photo, manipulate it in Photoshop, print out a portion of it, draw on it, scan it, Photoshop it again, and print it out again. I have maintained what might be called a normal studio practice (drawing, a bit of painting, and sculpture), but I make all those things with a photograph in mind. Being able to take a photo of what I’m making with my hands at every step has really freed me up – there is no hesitation in burning, ripping or submerging a drawing in water if you already have a photo of it.”
Screengrab of “Deep Slide,” 2011
In addition to these new images, also be sure to check out “Deep Slide”, his 2011 contribution to PWRSHARE.INFO, as well as his work as Allison Tanner for the brilliant, hilarious, and dearly missed blog Tanner America.
Christopher Schreck is an artist/writer based in New York City.