Comments/Context: Taryn Simon's approach to photography mixes a deadpan documentary style with an undercurrent of cerebral, conceptual ideas that tests the limits of what a photograph can see and communicate. In previous projects, she has photographed people wrongly convicted of crimes at the scenes of their undoing, and made images of objects that have a hidden or indecipherable purpose. In her newest work, she spent five days in the bowels of JFK airport, taking pictures of all the items that were confiscated from passengers and express mail packages. The result is a taxonomy of contraband, a snapshot catalogue of all of the things that fall outside the approved and acceptable.
But taken together, seen as an extremely long and eclectic list of things that are prohibited, illegal, counterfeit, unlicensed, or undeclared, the objects start to take on a different resonance. They start to create a picture of the edges of our culture, telling stories of the forbidden and illicit, of people who pursue activities that fall outside the norms. They paint a picture of a melting pot of puzzling cultural influences and traditions. They tell us about the global commerce that flows in and out of America like a flood each and every day, meeting our demands, fueled by our desires. They highlight what we find threatening or scary. In short, they provide a surprisingly direct social commentary on what we have decided we are not (and yet we still are).
This is a show where the backstory is everything, where the context provides the spark of ideas. It's a thoughtful conceptual exercise, bounded by a particular slice of time, and it successfully focuses the viewer on a striking inversion. It forces us to look closely at how we have defined our world by seeing what falls outside its boundaries.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
- Artist site (here)
- Feature: NY Times Lens (here)
- Current exhibitions: Gagosian Beverly Hills (here) and Almine Rech Brussels (here)
New York, NY 10022