“The Shadow Archive: An Investigation into Vernacular Portrait Photography”
The Greek root of “architecture” means “power” or “mastery.” The word’s etymology conveys trust in a designer’s ability to create a sound and useful space. But in other traditions the built environment is understood as collectively created, shaped by social needs and exchanges. That is the premise of “Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay, ” a seven-artist exhibition whose title lists three words in the Quechua language that refer, respectively, to world, place, and construction. Ecuador-born Ronny Quevedo makes drawings and collages with markings derived from the playing grounds of both Incan and modern American sports, as well as other ancient and modern systems of delineation and measurement. Claudia Peña Salinas creates sculptures whose shapes recall Indigenous structures in Central and South America. In all, the show’s artists—who also include William Cordova, Clarissa Tossin, Livia Corona Benjamín, Jorge González, and Guadalupe Maravilla—do not revive pre-Columbian traditions and concepts so much as reveal their persistent presence in spite of colonialism.
For better or worse, our technology remains hindered by its human origins: it hews primarily to our own needs and understanding of the world. Thus, in the optical realm, it has often served the aim of faithfully rendering the image of three-dimensional space produced by our binocular vision. This exhibition explores the history and creative offshoots of this long-standing ambition. Organized thematically and starting with the invention of the stereoscope in the 1830s, it features scientific devices, pop culture artifacts, and approximately sixty artworks, including Richard Hamilton’s lenticular print Palindrome (1974), Simone Forti’s Hologram Striding (1975–78), and—requiring the familiar blue-and-red glasses—Lucy Raven’s video installation Curtains (2014).
Dorothea Lange’s celebrated photographs of rural life during the Great Depression, commissioned by the Farm Security Administration, are animated by her concern for the impoverished farmers she depicts. Conveying a similar empathy are the rarely seen pictures she took of Japanese-American “evacuees” at the Manzanar internment camp during World War II. Featured in this retrospective, the series serves as a timely reminder of the US government’s history of aiming harsh policies at perceived foreigners. The exhibition—which was organized by the Oakland Museum of California, where it premiered—encompasses over 240 vintage prints and archival materials, such as a letter to Lange from John Steinbeck.
British artist John Russell argues for hybridity’s subversive potential in his new sculptures and mixed-medium paintings. Plastic flamingos perched atop thin metal rods sprout extra heads; paintings executed on translucent vinyl panels and lit from behind function simultaneously as silhouettes, transparencies, and paint-, gem-, and feather-encrusted collages. Meanwhile, a large photograph of a bird’s foot, digitally retouched to look like it’s growing a ghostly magenta paw, hints at a post-species future.
Showroom director Emily Pethick on four shows in London [posted 3/15/2018]
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