September 2008


In the Flatfiles at Pierogi 2000, which include a portfolio of my photographs, I came across a color image, entitled Bloody Lane, by Lee Etheredge IV.  The image was taken at the National Military Park in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the Civil War battle of Antietam occurred in September of 1862.  Etheredge combines the image with repetitive text in a manner that might signify the quickening thoughts of a soldier marching to battle or, alternatively,  the breakdown of historical narrative and the reliance on one vivid incident to define a complex sequence of events.
Bloody Lane by Lee Etheridge, IV.  C-print 18.5 x 19 (2002) Bloody Lane by Lee Etheredge, IV. C-print 18.5 x 19 (2002)

Description of Lee Etheredge’s Work from Pierogi 2000

Etheredge continues his investigations in breaking down language from a practical perspective and reformulating it through conceptual and visual experimentation using a typewriter.

At times Etheredge develops the work as concrete poetry but more often than not he uses the 26 letters of the alphabet as elements in subtle drawn patterns. In this exhibition, in addition to the typewriter marks, he incorporates photography referencing history and place to create an historic narrative element.

Taking the Roman alphabet as his raw material and the IBM Wheelwriter as his fundamental tool, Etheredge teases out spirals of signification that range from a mathematical or “chilly” fascination with pure order to a “warm” or sensual tang that clings to language as a matrix of human thought. Arrays of letters chosen for their ink-density or curvilinear shape determine certain images. But others are constructed around text fragments drawn from specific sources and connoting quite particular narratives. (Frances Richard, 2002)

______________________________

Historical Note

On the fields surrounding Sharpsburg, the single costliest day of fighting in the Civil War occurred on September 17, 1862.  Bloody Lane was the location of some of the most intense fighting of that day.  By nightfall across the entire battlefield, there were more than 23,000 combined Union and Confederate casualties (dead, wounded and missing).  The battle became known as Antietam, which refers to a creek flowing near the town of Sharpsburg.  Abraham Lincoln used the repulse of the Southern invasion of the North to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Alexander Gardner and his assistants arrived at Sharpsburg shortly after the end of fighting to begin photographing the carnage. He used the wet plate collodion process to make glass negatives from which he later produced albumen prints.  During this period, Gardner was employed by Mathew Brady, who held an exhibition of images from Antietam in his New York gallery in October 1862.  The exhibition, entitled The Dead of Antietam, shocked the American public, which had never before seen war depicted in such a graphic manner.  Reproductions of artists’ renderings had always been the primary visual means by which the public formed impressions of battles.  The immediacy and accuracy of the Gardner’s images would forever change the public discourse on war.

Bryan Hiott

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner (1862)

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner

Confederate Dead in Bloody Lane by Alexander Gardner (1862)

I’ve been catching up on posting about some of the excellent exhibitions in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during the last few months. Kim Holleman’s The Law of the Land, which was up at Black and White Gallery through June 30th, was one one of them.

 

Post-Apocalyptic Parking Lot by Kim Holleman

Post-Apocalyptic Parking Lot by Kim Holleman

 

 

From The Law of the Land Press Release

Black and White Gallery (March 14 – June 30, 2008)

 

Are we living on the cusp of an Age of Extinction or an Age of Restoration?  Are there sophisticated ways of designing aspects of the human enterprise – buildings, vehicles, technologies, cities, parks, etc.  so that they intelligently interact with living systems?  The works of Kim Holleman reveal an interest in the following natures operating instructions to build environmental scenarios that can lead to healing the earth and supporting all beings in asymbiotic harmony, while also investigating where we have gone wrong.  In this site-specific multi-media exhibition occupying both the interior and exterior spaces, such conceptions are put under scrutiny and given visual representation.

Law of the Land is structured in three ‘acts’.  The first act, Trailer Park installed on the street in front of the gallery and open to the public, examines the paradox of inner/outer space by sheltering the completely functional real park from environmental dmage by placing the park inside a mobile Coachman Travel Trailer.  

 

Trailer Park by Kim Holleman

Trailer Park by Kim Holleman

 

Trailer Park (Interior) by Kim Holleman

Trailer Park (Interior) by Kim Holleman

 

In the second act, Playing, God, installed in the indoor space, Holleman simulates natural environments to question humans’ attempts to dominate the earth and play at being gods.  Detailed miniature landscapes that are playable vinyl records spinning and stopping, atop turntables standing in the space, reinforce the playing God theme.  In the pastoral landscape wall-mural entitled The Layers, Holleman rises to the challenge of establishing a human connection to the earth’s most interior and vulnerable layers. This work  draws on the analogies of various soil substrates to the emotions of human psychology, suggesting an allegorical Earth-Body interface to help bridge the human-soil divide.  Creation myths and origin of life theories aside, it is obvius that our own fertility, and indeed survival, is inextricably connected to the fertility of the soils we live upon and how we treat them.  Creating life is a provocative series of glass microscopy slides.  When shown blown up, the look unmistakably like the beautiful micoscopic imagery we have seen of living organisms:  protozoa, bacteria, blood cells, spores, mold, ice crystals, etc,, but are all created out of artificial substances.  Holleman is asking how far we want to go in creating a better life.

 

Playable Landscapes (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman

Playable Landscapes (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman

 

Crash (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman

Crash (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman

 

Playing God (Installation View) by Kim Holleman

Playing God (Installation View) by Kim Holleman

 

In the third act, Future Mountain, Holleman appropriates the monumental format typical of earlier earth works to reclaim the outdoor space.  Sculpting with chicken wire and colorful, yet ubiquitous and un-recyclable plastic bags, the artist constructs a startling 360-degree mountain range foliated as a life-like landscape.  Future Mountain does not offer solutions to difficult environmental dilemmas.   It communicates and connects environmental realities to a social and cultural context.

 

Yellow and Blue Landscape (from Future Mountain) by Kim Holleman

Yellow and Blue Landscape (from Playing God) by Kim Holleman

 

Future Mountain by Kim Holleman

Future Mountain by Kim Holleman

 

Bio:  Kim Holleman was born in Tampa, Florida in 1973 and raised in the suburban area of Palm Beach Gardens.  She attended The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York and The Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, Holland.

polidori03_body

 

Bomb, Issue 99, Spring 2007

 

I met Robert Polidori through a photograph he had taken of the Versailles restoration. It captivated me. Seeing so many layers of history in one image was astonishing. So was being spurred to imagine Versailles as a real dwelling defined by the remnants of its inhabitants, and all the changes in history they and it had undergone.

This was the ’90s, when many photographers making art were constructing their own subjects or creating intellectual images that involved visual sleight of hand. The straightforward voluptuousness of Robert’s photo stood in stark contrast to all this. It was this originality and this lushness that enchanted me.

Later, after I got to know him, I invited Robert to visit North Dakota and photograph a town that had once belonged to my grandfather and is—now that the celebrated territories romanticized through legends of the Wells Fargo are a virtual desert—nearly gone. I wondered what his lens would uncover in that supernatural barrenness. Robert accepted. On the first day, we were so busy talking in the airport we missed the plane. On the second, I discovered that Robert fully expected me and Leaf, my Native American driver, to meet him for breakfast, totally awake and smiling, in the motel restaurant at 5:30 am, and to keep going until we lost the sunset’s last ray. To say that Robert is passionately focused is an understatement. He was so intense in his search for images that the final night, while we were having dinner in the same motel restaurant, a man came over to him and said, “I know who you are. You’re the guy who was taking pictures in my backyard this afternoon. I’m the mayor of this town.” I don’t think Robert had even realized we were trespassing.

The Metropolitan Museum commissioned Robert to take pictures of the New Orleans flood disaster. A friend who had grown up there cried when she saw them. She was not alone. The Fall 2006 show in the Howard Gilman Gallery was the most attended photography show in the history of the Met. Robert’s work has an extraordinarily wide, visceral appeal.

Robert’s focus and intensity made him very easy to interview. The difficulty was in deciding where to edit the generosity of riches in all he had to say. And despite the bleakness of his conclusion, I think that Robert transforms the sorrow of his subject with the compassionate beauty he discovers in its form.

 

Polidori01.jpg
Marat De David, RDC, Aile Du Midi, Versailles 1985.

 

Michèle Gerber Klein You were a filmmaker before you were a photographer.

Robert Polidori I used to work in avant-garde film, or what was known as structural film. It all started in 1969, when I was a freshman in college in Florida. Annette Michelson came and showed some films, including Wavelength by Michael Snow, and that changed my life. When I came to New York a couple of months later, she was kind enough to let me stay with her for a brief period. Through Annette I met Jonas Mekas and then I worked at Anthology Film Archives, even before they opened their first location at the Public Theater.

MGK So how did you start making still photography?

RP Well, my films were about the temporality between still and motion. But it really came about because I read a book called The Art of Memory by the late Frances Yates. This book was about ancient mnemonic systems, and rooms play a central role in “memory theaters.”

MGK How?

RP Say, for example, in the Pythagorean School—Pythagoras was into math and spirituality. He used to teach math by sounds—by fractioning lengths of strings or ropes. The students there were not allowed to speak for two or three years. They were taught to memorize empty rooms. A room was a locus for memory. They would memorize the color, doorways, windows, and halls.

MGK They would memorize the landscape of the rooms, develop a visual memory?

RP Yes, and they would place imagenes agentes, roughly translated from Latin as activated images, in the loci. These would be theatrical tableaux. The idea is that the mind has the hardest time remembering banal everyday things, but can more easily recall things that stand out of the ordinary. So they would compose these tableaux in order to remember something. I will give you an example. A lawyer had to memorize the facts in a case where a doctor had poisoned an old man to get his inheritance, and there was a witness. So the lawyer creates an image of two men in a blue room: an old man, semi-reclined in bed, and another man standing over him, who in his right hand holds a cup placed to the patient’s lips. The right hand indicates volition—that is, the doctor willed it, it was not an accident. Between the doctor’s fourth and fifth fingers were the testicles of a ram. The fourth finger was known as the medicinal finger, hence the doctor, and in Latin, testicles and witness are practically homonyms. The image is easier to remember than the facts, and by using a consistent deciphering language you could extract all the facts you might forget because of, say, your busy caseload. Memory was just one of the seven parts of classic rhetoric.

This particular example comes from the Ad Herennium. A Latin copy of that text from antiquity is dated 64 AD, and only fragments of it were still in existence just before the Renaissance. The Ad Herennium is an example of memory systems meant for practical usage. Later philosophers developed memory systems as theistic paradigm theories. Giordano Bruno, the last Catholic heretic burned at the stake, is a notable example. All of this is explained in Yates’s book. This is how I got into rooms, rooms as metaphors for states of being. And practically speaking, rooms simply don’t look that good in films; they look better in photography. When there is nothing else moving in the room, the grain effect of cinema makes the walls buzz as if they were composed of a swarm of bees. It doesn’t look right to me.

Metaphorically speaking, photography does to time what a wall in a room does to time. It’s a kind of slice of time that is transfixed and only very slowly degrades its semblance. Curiously akin to the quantum of time it takes to forget something. I would say that the emblematic photographic image is a picture from inside a room looking out. I think this defines photography. It’s the metaphor for the notion of first sight. What one saw first.

MGK Well, the camera is like a room; the shutter is like the window.

RP Yes, and camera in Italian means room. Anyway, when I realized the psychological importance of rooms and my commitment to them, I wandered away from cinema. There were other books too, Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space talks about rooms and beehives and a set of drawers, all these receptacle kinds of images, and their metaphorical and psychological undertones.

 

For full text: go to Bomb, Issue 99, Spring 2007.

Visiting the Glyndor Gallery at Wave Hill the other day reminded me of another exhibition there last fall that I really liked:  Poe and Twain Projects, curated by Jennifer McGregor.  That exhibition featured the work of Simon Leong, Allison Smith and Amy Yoes.  Of the three artists, Allison Smith was the most engaging for me with her installation By the by and by.  She used the installation to reinterpret the forms of 19th and 20th century military encampment, communication and weaponry, investing them with a symbolism of her own that was at once familiar and disorienting.

 

By the by and by (Wood, paint, textiles and mixed media)

Allison Smith: By the by and by (2007)

  

From the Exhibition Catalogue:  

 

Poe and Twain are seldom mentioned in the same breath, but toward the end of their lives they both lived in what is known today as the Bronx. Samuel Clemons resided in Wave Hill House from 1901 to 1903. Edgar Allan Poe lived in a small farmhouse, from 1846 to 1849, that is now located in Poe Park on East Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse. As part of our series to explore 19th-century American writing through the lens of contemporary art, three artists were invited to develop projects based on contemporary readings of these masters’ work. In each writer’s vast oeuvre, the artists have discovered writings that speak to their own concerns as artists. Collectively, these projects play with ideas of site-specificity and expectations about what might be found in this Georgian Revival house.

 

By the by and by (2007)

Allison Smith: By the by and by (2007)

 

By the by and by (2007)

Allison Smith: By the by and by (2007)

 

From the Exhibition Catalogue:

 

Allison Smith is interested in Twain’s use of time-travel as a way of holding up the past to the present. Her reading and research drew on novels, stories and sketches such as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and “The Tournament in A.D. 1870,” “Prince and the Pauper,” “Joan of Arc,” and “The Private History of a Campaign that Failed.” She has created a group of sculptures based on useful objects and presents them together in the form of a period room. In creating this arrangement she was guided by the care Twain gives to the description of clothing, costumes, props, interiors, and detailed settings. Like Twain, Smith is interested in forms of performance that elucidate deeper concerns, such as walking in the shoes of others in order to understand injustice, or exploring feelings toward war and the role one plays in it. The objects that she has created are drawn from historic forms and employ age-old craft techniques but offer a springboard for time-travel through subtle references. The linen rag rug employs a target pattern, a woven coverlet uses a pattern called “Lee’s Surrender” with a field of proliferating oil barrels, some of the hand sewn hats, hoods and masks are based on gas masks from The Great War; provisional camp furniture and the standing rifles are inspired by those used in the Civil War.

Allison Smith has developed elaborate projects that explore craft traditions, living history and social activism. Her work has been exhibited extensively including recent solo exhibitions at UC Berkeley Art Museum/MATRIX Program; Artpace, San Antonio, TX; Bellwether Gallery, New York, NY; and Studio Voltaire, London, England. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA; Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA; and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, NY. Her interactive Muster project posed the question “What are you fighting for?” Participants responded to her call on Governor’s Island in 2005 that is documented by a book produced by the Public Art Fund. She earned an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from Parsons School of Design and a BA from the New School for Social research. She participated in the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.

 

Paul Miller, also known as DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid, internationally recognized musician, writer, and conceptual artist, recently performed at the Dallas Museum of Art in celebration of the exhibition Societe Anonyme: Modernism for America. Before his performance, he spoke with Museum staff about the influence of artist Marcel Duchamp on his work and career.

 

Additional information on DJ Spooky’s interpretation of “Erratum Musical” can be found in:

On The Record: Notes for the “Errata Erratum” Duchamp Remix Project at LA MOCA

In researching 19th photographic equipment, I found an example of a tintype camera with 16 lenses attributed to Roberts of Boston, a company that began manufacturing multi-lens (multiplying) cameras in 1857.  During the election of 1860, multi-lens cameras were instrumental in making small, identical tintypes that could be used to circulate a candidate’s actual image to the public.  Abraham Lincoln recognized the importance of this new technology and capitalized on it to gain wider recognition, much in the same way that John F. Kennedy recognized the importance of television to political image making 100 years later.   

 

Button Tintype Camera (Attributed to Roberts of Boston)

Front View: Multi-Lens Tintype Camera (Attributed to Roberts of Boston)

 

Button Tintype Camera (Attributed to Roberts of Boston)

Rear View: Multi-Lens Tintype Camera (Attributed to Roberts of Boston)

 

 

Political Collectibles:  History of Political Campaign Buttons

By Ron Wade (about.com)

 

It wasn’t until the 1860 campaign of Abraham Lincoln, along with other major party nominees for President, that the likeness of a President was available for use on campaign buttons and devices. All because of the advent of the tintype or ferrotype photo process.

Extremely Rare 1864 Political Campaign Pin for President Abraham Lincoln’s re-election campaign during the midst of the Civil War. 1″ x 1 1/4″ with hole at top from which wearer used a ribbon to wear on lapel. Has some lightness – Valued at $650.

For the first time a voter hundreds of miles away from Washington could actually see what a candidate for President looked like. The 1860 ferrotype buttons for Lincoln are easily distinguishable from his 1864 re-election buttons as his famous beard was by then on all official photos of the Civil War President. And calling these “buttons” is stretching it a bit since most of these were made of a metal ring surrounding a round tintype picture with a hole punched in the top, from which a ribbon was used to hang the picture on a supporter’s lapel.

What we now know as a campaign button didn’t come about until 1896 with the patent by the now famous Whitehead and Hoag Company. The device was made of 4 pieces sandwiched together — a piece of metal on which was placed a printed image with a slogan or photo of 1896 candidate for President William McKinley or his Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan. On top of that printed image was a thin piece of see-through celluloid and all of this was placed together by a machine with a small metal pin attached on the reverse. The 1896 discovery of campaign buttons was so popular that now, some 106 years later, buttons from the McKinley-Bryan race are still fairly common and can be bought for as little as $10, although most buttons are much more than that.

 

For full text:  Visit About.Com

Another interesting article on campaign buttons appered in Frieze Magazine on 8.29.08.

I met wet plate photographer N.W. (Nate) Gibbons at John Coffer’s Jamboree last month and watched him at work on some impressive mammoth tintypes.  Today I got to see some more of his work in Surprisingly Natural:  The Nature of the Bronx, a group exhibition at the Glyndor Gallery of Wave Hill in Riverdale, NY.  Gibbons is showing a series of subtly composed 11 x 14 tintypes of very rich tones that explore the intersection of nature and urban environment in the Bronx.

Surprisingly Natural is actually the title of three concurrent, but separately curated exhibitions occurring across the the borough this fall at the following locations:  Bronx River Art Center (Sept. 12th to Oct. 18th), curated by Jose Ruiz; Lehman College Art Gallery (Sept. 9th to December 15th), curated by Susan Hoeltzel; and Wave Hill (Sept. 9th to November 30th), curated by Jennifer McGregor.

Formal Opening Reception at Wave Hill:  Sunday, September 14th (1:00-4:00 p.m.).


Muskrat Cove, Bronx, NY (11 x 14 Tintype) by N.W. Gibbons

Muskrat Cove, Bronx, NY (11 x 14 Tintype) by N.W. Gibbons

Text Below:  From Surprisingly Natural Catalogue

Surprisingly natural grew out of a desire to explore the importance of nature as an essential element in the fabric of the borough, particularly when the urban landscape is rapidly changing through development and ecological restoration efforts.  In planning this exhibition we realized that as venues we all have distinct and ongoing relationships to the nature around us and have been active in the stewardship of our surroundings.

New York City offers many opportunities for iconic and recognizable views and vistas and not surprisingly Brooklyn and Manhattan have a greater pull for contemporary photographers than the Bronx.  Indeed photography of the Bronx has focused on either its blight or vibrant street scene and family life.  Many of the views presented here are known primarily to residents who frequent these places but all deserve to be better known.

About N.W. Gibbons

Over the past  year, N.W. Gibbons has been photographing the Bronx River as part of his River Series that follows the course of a river from its source to its mouth.  Using the antique tintype process, he searches out isolated pockets where there is clearly a push and pull between the urban and the natural.  The technique gives the image a historic quality, but clearly these are images of the contemporary river.

View of Hudson River from Wave Hill.  Photographer Unknown.

View of Hudson River from Wave Hill. Photographer Unknown.

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