Comments/Context: The images from Robert and Shana ParkeHarrison's series The Architect's Brother were made more than a decade ago, and I'm guessing that most collectors will recognize them at least tangentially, as they have been displayed in plenty of venues in the years since and because they have such a distinctive style. While I may have flipped through the monograph at a bookstore or seen an image or two reproduced somewhere before, this was the first time I had actually seen the photographs in person shown together as an entire body of work.
If you had asked me before my visit what I could tell you about this work, I likely would have loosely categorized it as surreal and theatrical, perhaps a bit heavy handed and gimmicky in its sepia toned retro staginess. But as I stood in the gallery, I found many of the images more compelling than I had previously given them credit for. There is an undeniable creativity and originality on display here, a kind of dystopian fairy tale aesthetic that alternates between the metaphorical and the fanciful. In every scene, a solitary man struggles against the destruction of the natural world, surrounded by dark smoky skies and scarred, featureless horizons. He tries to clean the clouds, listens to the wind, delusionally repairs tree stumps, and builds a contraption to make rain. There is something inordinately sad about the increasingly odd efforts of this lone man fighting a losing battle fix nature. His endeavors to make sense of it all, using backward hand built props, are both surprisingly poignant and cautionary.
What I think is most interesting about these pictures is that the ParkeHarrisons have taken on the timely issue of the human impact on our environment, but have avoided the more mainstream approach of making large color pictures of polluted rivers, immense mountain top removal mines, smog choked cities, and deforested wilderness. Instead, they have made more intimate performance pieces that focus on the connectedness of man and nature, fairy tales that imagine a science fiction world where we symbolically labor to recover what we have lost.
My favorite image in the exhibit was Tree Stories, 2000; it's the image on the right in the bottom installation shot. I liked the combination of absurd futility and hopefulness embodied by the man listening to the tangle of wires leading to endless piles of sawed off tree trunks.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
- Artist site (here)
Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street
New York, NY 10011