“When words become unclear; I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” – Ansel Adams
The past couple of years navigating the intricate veins and tributaries of the art world had afforded me countless views of works that promote fantasy. It is not often when you are faced with realism and that can burst the bubble of the fragile confection art has conditioned my eye into accepting. Photographs are the harbingers of truth and the unerring lens captures that supposedly. However in this world of digital manipulation and Photoshop – where is the real?
I’ve often investigated the question when it comes to viewing artistic photography and hoping to catch the next tenets of the craft which made me attend the Parsons; New School MFA Photography Thesis Exhibition last August 20th. Held at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center galleries where #IRL: In Real Life featured the MFA graduate works consisting of photographs, computer-generated imaging, 3D imaging / printing, video, and installation pieces. Let hope springs eternal but get ready to get the real dose of reality.
With the title In Real Life that I configured my brain to think that the works take on the theme of the quotidian imagery of the everyday. But who wants the mundane? Isn’t art about the transformative, evocative and fantastic realm that does not exist? Aren’t we supposed to dream, luxuriate in the created world of the artists and get lost in some parallel world different from what we inhabit? Real life was not the focus here in the majority of the artworks displayed. It seemed to be shades of life and what it can or will be.
There’s no benefit of cornering all the MFA graduates and ask what about their work process if it was rooted “in real life”. Maybe it is more of the manufactured life and that is the reality we’re all living in now. There is heavy manipulation, use of photo editing software, and a grandiose idea of what constitutes realness. The subject and theme does not obviously convey it as the conventions came to be more of one man’s pipe dream is another man’s nightmare realized. Anarchy in graffiti-laden ATM’s, poignant symbolism of tableaux type photo collages, color fields that morph into hazy landscapes, and ad infinitum denote the heavy handed use of technology to produce an arresting image. I would be more impressed if these new dynamic tract of images were created the old fashioned way. But no one dared to develop pictures in a dark room with chemicals and negatives as the practice is relegated to the ag of dinosaurs.
Throwing out the handcrafting and artisanal manner of producing photographs, the MFA graduates perhaps want to bring their concepts to the forefront. With that in mind, it became easier to take in the images and put into context when concepts intersect into real life.
There were three notable ones that captured my eye. All were in the front gallery as it benefited of the white cube setting and adequate lighting. Michelle Claire Gevintpresented the ever classic utopia / dystopia mechanics of her Diorama City with printed 3D images and light projection. The pixilated forms superimposed with the projection and over the terrain of the city structure reminds me of a Metropolis ran by bytes and increments of information. It is not far off from our urban landscape where every bit of what is in the environment can be reduced to nano-bytes of information that is streamed everywhere. It is the digital age idealized and quantified by the absence of human factor. The black and white imagery reminded me of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York where the future was envisioned. Gevint produced images that are forward thinking yet foreboding. It is the Matrix movie universe but monochromatic. If monotone of the future seemed to be the heir apparent future then it got dialed up at the other corner of the gallery were the sherbet ice cream colored world of Craig Callison roosted comfortably. His trio of archival inkjet prints of exercise equipment in the plain pastel background does not seem groundbreaking. Yet the sparse and minimal composition made it refreshing from the overtly conceptualized idioms of the others. The super saturated color and simplicity of the subjects gave it the chutzpah to stand apart but hold its own. Perhaps Callison views life as superlatively beautiful and lonely at times but perhaps the artifice of building beauty (hence the exercise equipment) is the epitome of that condition. Finally, Michael Winfrey with his narrative sequence of street scenes in the city provided the human component. The grid-like arrangement and elements in frame suggest a society less interested about the little things and rather oblivious to the close circuit camera images gathered everyday. How our stories exist in this real life is only but a frame of moments.
One thing remains though in spite of the verbosity of the images produced by the graduates at this show – what is said in silence is the most profound. Good images allow that to happen. But if the noise of haphazard snippets of images may drive you to the brink of overload then close your eyes to luxuriate in the silence that never lies.That is one big master picture I’d like to frame.
#IRL: In Real Life – The 2014 MFA Photography Graduate Thesis Exhibition at the Arnold & Sheila Aronson Galleries at Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
On View: August 15 – September 11, 2014
Gallery Hours: Open daily 12 noon – 6 pm and open late on Thursdays till 8 pm
Parsons: The New School. 66 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street. NYC, NY
Art Review by: Oscar A. Laluyan
Photography by: Max Noy Photo