Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Different Kind of Order: The ICP Triennial @ICP

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the work of 29 artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung/displayed throughout both floors of the museum. The exhibit was curated by Kristen Lubben, Christopher Phillips, Carol Squiers, and Joanna Lehan. A catalog of the exhibit was recently published by Prestel and the ICP (here and here). (Installation shots at right © International Center of Photography, 2013. Photographs by John Berens.)

The following artists/photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works on view and image details as background:
  • Roy Arden: 1 video, 2007
  • Huma Bhabha: 2 chromogenic prints with applied ink and acrylic, 2010 and 2013
  • Nayland Blake: 1 installation, 2013
  • A.K. Burns: 1 five channel video, 2011
  • Aleksandra Domanović: 3 stacks of inkjet printed paper, 2010
  • Nir Evron: 1 35mm black and white film, 2011
  • Sam Falls: 3 photograms, 2011, 1 enamel on archival pigment print, 2012, and 1 hand dyed linen and metal grommets, 2012
  • Lucas Foglia: 7 chromogenic prints, 2006-2010, 1 zine, 2012
  • Jim Goldberg: 1 wall installation of marked gelatin silver prints, chromogenic prints, inkjet prints and Polaroid prints, 2013
  • Mishka Henner: 3 inkjet prints, 2011
  • Thomas Hirschhorn: 1 video, 2012
  • Elliott Hundley: 1 large scale collage, 2010
  • Oliver Laric: 2 digital videos, 2010 and 2012
  • Andrea Longacre-White: 3 archival inkjet prints, 2013,
  • Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: 1 installation (storefront windows), 2013
  • Gideon Mendel: 6 chromogenic prints, 2007-2012 and 1 video, 2013
  • Luis Molina-Pantin: 17 chromogenic prints, 2004-2005
  • Rabih Mroué: 7 inkjet prints on high gloss paper, 2012, 1 video, 2012
  • Wangechi Mutu: series of 10 collages, 2013
  • Sohei Nishino: 2 lightjet prints, 2006 and 2013
  • Lisa Oppenheim: 4 black and white photographs, 2012
  • Trevor Paglen: 3 chromogenic prints, 2010-2013 and 1 video, 2010
  • Walid Raad: 3 archival color inkjet prints, 2012
  • Nica Ross: 1 performance, 2013
  • Michael Schmelling: 38 chromogenic prints, 2005-2009
  • Hito Steyerl: 2 videos, 2004 and 2012
  • Mikhael Subotzky/Patrick Waterhouse: 3 large scale lightboxes, 2008-2010
  • Shimpei Takeda- 5 autoradiographs, 2012

The exhibit also includes 5 shelves of self published photobooks, displayed in the stairway area. The complete list of the books on view can be found here.

Comments/Context: By its very nature, a biennial or triennial exhibition is an attempt at summing up, a snapshot in time meant to be representative of the larger trends of the moment. For the most part, these kinds of exhibits fail, mostly because the objective is so large and the answer so small (and often diffuse) that the viewer is left dissatisfied with the mismatch; these shows mostly turn into grab bags of disconnected work that are fun to walk through, but leave no lasting impression. But once in a very long while, the curators of a biennial or triennial get it just right, and find their way to a tightly edited selection of works that successfully tell the story of the current times. This ICP Triennial is one of those unexpected outlier exhibits, and certainly one of the best group shows of photography to be seen in New York this year.

The main success of this show lies in its deft articulation (albeit indirectly) of the key sea change that has happened in photography in the past decade or so. Now would be the time most writers would trot out the "digital revolution" and leave the cliché hanging out there for everyone to nod their heads in agreement, as if they understood. But the fact is, we've spent the last ten plus years trying to figure out what that phrase really means, generally without a succinct and coherent answer. What comes through in this exhibit is a permanent and important change in what I'll call the "workflow" of photography. In the previous age (which we might call "analog", but that might be misleading), there was generally only one workflow: start with a point of view or subject, take out your camera, and deliver your artwork as a final print. Right now, in this moment, there are a seemingly endless set of workflows available to photographers, artists, and anyone else who wants to mix together disparate media. Once again, we start with a point of view or subject, but then both the choices for methods and outputs quickly multiply. Images can be captured with a camera, drawn/appropriated from a physical or digital archive, generated with a computer, constructed in a darkroom, or recombined as a mutant hybrid. Artworks can take the final form of traditional prints, moving videos and films, self published books, physical objects of nearly any form, or digital files with only an Internet presence. The photographic reality of this moment is "freedom of workflow" and this exhibit offers countless examples of how this idea is manifesting itself as innovative artwork.

In many ways, this show is a brocade of ideas, methods, and outputs, recombined in different ways and interwoven to highlight connections. It's easy to tie threads through examples of concerned documentary ideas (Gideon Mendel and climate change/flooding, Shimpei Takeda and the Fukushima disaster, Rabih Mroué and the Arab Spring uprisings), examples of collage methods (Elliott Hundley's massive, stick pin conglomeration,  Sohei Nishino's multi-perspective city maps, Walid Raad's hybrid artifacts, Mikhael Subotzky/Patrick Waterhouse's towering apartment building lightboxes), and examples of image aggregation (Roy Arden's digital archive, Jim Goldberg's full wall installation of prints, Thomas Hirschhorn's iPad of gory violence, Oliver Laric's videos of unexpectedly connected imagery). With the same set of artworks on view, we could just as easily draw commonality through the investigation of the changing nature of communities, the broadening use of "photographic" video, the exploration of physical materials and hand crafted additions, and many other themes and approaches. As the title of the exhibit says, we're not in an age of chaos, just "a different kind of order".

A few pieces deserve closer examination. Thomas Hirschhorn's video of a disembodied hand skipping through a series of images on an iPad is at once revolting and mesmerizing; it is the single most memorable artwork I have seen all year. Fingers dance across the surface of the tablet, flipping images forward and back, stopping to enlarge a bloody injury, an exploded head with brains spilled out, or a pile of rotting corpses from some unnamed riot or revolution. Every image is disturbing, and then after time, there is a sense of becoming numb to the astonishing violence. The work is at once both video and still imagery, with a sense of the curiosity of human touch and the endlessness of the Internet's access to images we'd rather not see.

Rabih Mroué's discussion of a hand held video made by a bystander during the Syrian uprisings is equally complicated and chilling. In the video, a citizen journalist points his cell phone camera at a shooter in the street, only to have the man turn and fire, the camera tumbling to the ground in a cackle of static, presumably signaling the death of the cameraman. The surrounding walls of the video room are covered in large scale prints of pixelated imagery of various gunmen, the whole installation a deconstruction of how videos like these are being made and what they are showing us.

And finally in the stairwell, an enormous metal scaffolding creates a stairway up to a series of five overstuffed bookshelves full of recently produced photobooks and zines, showing off a dizzying array of styles and options for delivering photographs in book form. The inclusion of such a display in this major exhibit is a testament to just how pervasive self publishing has become, and how important it is as a newfound creative outlet. It sounds the trumpet that the revolution has been legitimized and that we need to take these new photobooks seriously as valid art forms.

All in, the ICP curators have found a way to successfully capture the "nowness" of contemporary photography, while still keeping the diverse exhibit manageable. While I would have liked to have seen even more examples of cameraless digital experimentation, for the most part, they have chosen works that touch on the multiplicity of the current age, while still providing lots of connection points between divergent ideas, methods, and final outputs. When we step back and look at the exhibit from afar, it slowly takes the form of a network, a matrix of interconnected points that the viewer can trace and follow like router hops. It represents the new way we need to think about the medium, not as one monolithic entity, but as a series of loosely bound, ever reconfiguring, photographic ideas.
Collector's POV: Since this is a museum show, there are, of course, no posted prices. Given the diversity of artists and mediums on view here, we'll dispense with the usual discussion of secondary market history.
Rating: *** (three stars) EXCELLENT (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: New York Times (here), Wall Street Journal (here), New Yorker PhotoBooth (here), GalleristNY (here)
Through September 22nd
1133 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

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