About the show
A photograph presents a moment in time. The artists in this exhibition create space in the moments they show us, stretching physical and temporal boundaries, questioning our relationship to photography as a natural document.
Instead, we look at photography's "moment in time" as an interval of transformation. The term "bardo" is a Tibetan Buddhist term meaning an "in between" state. Most well known from its use in the Tibetan Book of the Dead to mean the period between life and death, more basically it means any state change, between bright and dark, hungry and full, work and play. The consequence of the teaching of the bardos is to develop an awareness and presence throughout these times of transition.
Represented in the show are many approaches to image-making, from classic street photography to sculptural still life and collage, to the diaristic, performative, and digitally manipulated. This exhibition presents 19 artists working with photography and video who focus our attention on poignant intensity that can be found all around us. Their work is rooted in personal histories and inflected by technology's reshaping of society. Many offer an unusual take on portraiture that thwarts clear definition, giving us instead mysterious images that unseat stability of identity.
As we are deeply embedded in the visual field, we are always in the bardos, between giving and receiving looks, producing and consuming images—this exhibition offers a reconsideration of look as an exchange of psychic power and potential intimacy.
The iconic eye of Rene Burri provides a historical grounding for the exhibition, with his famous shot of four men on a Sao Paolo rooftop. The legacy of “decisive moment” street photography finds several contemporary parallels in the show, such as with the tender lovers’ embrace captured by Bill Hayes. Teju Cole, like Hayes, primarily known as writer, demonstrates an ability to express detail and enigma through imagery. Cole presents quiet moments from his travels made strange by poetic captions that act not as explanatory but as deeper repositories of mystery.
Perhaps the most intriguing modern parallel to Burri is Matthew Connors, who complicates photography’s historical approach to documentation. Connors aggregates figures and shadows shot in the same place hours or sometimes years apart, effectively extending “the moment” to encompass multitudes. Penelope Umbrico breaks down the idea of an "iconic" shot with her series of images of Grand Central sources through collective imaging practices, all enmeshed in a web of contradictory modes of authorship.
Much more than a lucky glimpse framed through apartment windows, Gail Albert Halaban’s subtle portraits are the result of a series of interactions she sets up between neighbors. In Bill Viola’s video, faces very slowly contort themselves into extremes, playing with the idea of "natural expressions" as highly orchestrated. Some of the artists look at how imagery and furthermore identity is staged using visual tools, from Sharon Smith's shots of exuberant 1980’s New York nightlife, to Shawn Theodore's spliced and reorganized portraits, to Dan Herschlein’s uncanny partial bodies. Farah Al Qasimi’s work also refuses full legibility, with figures that camouflage or turn away from our look.
Thorsten Brinkmann and Azikiwe Mohammed present portraits that verge on still lives. Brinkman’s banal cast-off materials are arranged to invoke iconographies of authority in Western painting, such as regal portraits, images of knights and rulers. Mohammed’s duo of photographs is also built using objects, but composed with emblems of memory and family history. A self-portrait and portrait of his father point to the legacy of Black Power and the enduring moment of casting off a painful past. Ana Mendieta's video works also operate in the zone between personal history and the extension of the artist's body and spirit beyond the constraints of time-space. Like water lapping at the shore, she creates scenarios of cosmic transition that asks us to be witness to a being moving into the beyond.
David Benjamin Sherry also embeds his body into the natural landscape, in a self-portrait made at Death Valley where his tiny body appears gleaming amongst the mountain peaks. With a more architectural intervention, Rosemary Laing works with the idea of constructing order in the wilderness, and the tragic absurdity of such a task. Through layering the positive and negative image of an alcove, Catherine Yass creates a mysterious undefined space, part of her series investigating the architectural structures of sleep. With photographs layering to create video, Deborah Oropallo uses painterly language to layer images into video, pointing out the ways that photography can testify to rapid transformations of our landscape.