Nov 14, 2011

REVIEW | The Anxiety Of Photography | ArtHouse | Austin

Sara VanDerBeek, Presence, Digital c-print, 20" x 16.5", 2010.
          Recently, I recall seeing some old photographs of one of the buildings that occupied 700 Congress in the 1920s, The Queen Theater.  The building has since been the home to multiple businesses, and according to American-Architects, the Arthouse renovations include motifs from the building's past establishments.  Sadly, during all of my time in Austin, I have never visited Arthouse before this. 

           Entering Arthouse for the first time, it was nice to see some of the building's original features were still intact -- yes, I can be nostalgic for something I never experienced -- The very helpful, young woman working the front desk also informed me that much of the original building still exists; the main gallery still retains its original ceiling and trusses, as well as the stucco murals from its theater days.  The building doesn't really mesh well with the rest of the 700 block of Congress, but it is truly an interesting design.

Photo courtesy Arthouse.
          The Anxiety of Photography was originally organized by the Aspen Art Museum -- in Aspen.  The exhibition has been on display at the newly merged, Arthouse at the Jones Center and AMoA, since September 10th.  According to Arthouse: 
"This exhibition addresses questions related to photography that have both historical and contemporary applications. Photography can be thought of as a medium, a tool, an object, a practice, or, more often than not, some combination thereof. The fluidity of photography as a medium can produce fundamental anxieties for both artist and viewer. Through approximately 40 works, some created for the exhibition and others shown for the first time, The Anxiety of Photography examines the artistic output of 18 artists who embrace photography’s flexibility and its ability to exist in multiple contexts."
          I have to admit, I did not experience any "fundamental anxieties" while viewing this exhibit --  I'm not even sure what that means, really --  However, I do have a passion for photography, and I saw some images that I truly enjoyed; so, let's talk about those.

Matt Saunders, Asta (Mirror) #2, Silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper, 58" x 40", 2011.
           I was absolutely enthralled with Matt Saunders' work; his combination of photographic techniques and painting produces fantastic results.  Both over and under-exposed areas, varying focus, and ghost-like imagery gives these prints a definite, eerie feeling.  After the exhibit, I immediately researched his process, and it's brilliant in its simplicity.  First of all -- no camera -- Saunders paints canvas and linen with oil, ink, and spray paint, which are then used to make contact prints on photographic paper.  Saunders then develops and prints multiples of the same image, making subtle changes.  The subtle flaws and layering effects from the process are what make these prints so remarkable.

Erin Shirreff, Signatures, Archival Pigment Prints, Dyptich, 23.5" x 32", Ed. 1/4, 2011.
           Erin Shirreff's diptychs are another works I was drawn to.  I can't seem to find an image of the specific piece, but this is very similar.  The sculptures in the photograph appear to be monolithic, steel structures towering over a stark, white emptiness.  These "monoliths" are made from card stock that is painted and constructed to resemble modern sculpture.  Shirreff then photographs the sculpture in the studio, using dramatic lighting to add to the effect.  In general, my eye has always favored design-oriented photography, which definitely attributes my strong reaction to this work. I found her philosophy behind her work very interesting.  In an interview, Shirreff describes her process as:
"...neither reverence nor irreverence toward and [sic] image, but rather an interest in using [photographs] to think about a more abstract idea, such as how seeing a thing as an image enhances and disrupts our relationship to it."
Miriam Böhm, Areal I, Chromogenic color print, 19.5" x 29.5", 2009.
          I also found myself quite interested in Miriam Böhm's work.  These photographs are actually photographs of photographs... of photographs. To explain it more clearly, "Miriam Böhm arranges, layers, and shoots mounted prints that produce a series of disorienting shifts. Her photographs contain pictures within pictures, upsetting relationships between figure and ground, real and reproduced."  The Escher-esque illusion, created by the shifting of multiple perspectives, really has the potential to mess with your head.  You can really see this effect almost exaggerated in some of Böhm's other pieces as well.

          While I might have missed whole "anxiety" factor behind this collection, it was truly inspiring to see contemporary artists make use of photography, and photographic processes, in ways I would never imagine.  The Anxiety of Photography is on display until December 30th; if you haven't seen it already, I would highly recommend it.  The gallery is beautiful, the exhibit is thought-provoking, and -- it's free!

-- Brenden Freedman


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