Wednesday, November 12, 2008

things are strange!

last Thursday, i had the pleasure of attending the opening of Humble Arts Foundation's new group show, "Things Are Strange," at New Century Artists gallery in Chelsea.

as always, Humble puts on a fun party and a thought-provoking show.  sometimes what i enjoy most about the process of group exhibition is reading the curatorial statement and the selected images together as a text.  in this case, curator and gallant man-about-internet Jon Feinstein writes that the eighteen photographers in the show "explore the peculiar, idiosyncratic and often absurd elements of the contemporary world, using them as a metaphor for the current state of social and political affairs."

with this framework, i enjoyed the puzzle presented: to piece together the collected mix of landscapes (found and arranged), portraits (found and arranged) and more conceptual pieces through a lens of metaphor for our allegedly strange days.  the piece that spoke to me the loudest was not one i expected: Ofer Wolberger's "Garbage Circle, Austin Texas, 2001" (below, jpeg doesn't do much justice).  the print was prominently placed and Chelsea-big.  

with its pointed juxtaposition of neo-pagan eco-worship and literal low-culture trash, it not only cast a circle, but i think you could even say that a spectre of new mysticism haunted the show.

the images in the show declare that symptoms of our strange cultural moment manifest when: we entomb ourselves in soulless office buildings, we search earnestly for signs of the paranormal, we feel stranded instead of freed by our American car-traveling culture, we angle for fascination through interventions into mundane urban landscapes, we fantasize about the line between raw nature and the remove of human conceptualism, we question the compulsion (and perhaps typologize the instruments used) to carve away at our bodies.  

Feinstein posits that each artist "alludes to a world that is gradually falling apart at the seams." so what do these cries of Koyaanisqatsi add up to?  are things strange?  sure.  oddly enough, what the show did not do is convince me that there is a particular nowness, a freshness, or a specificity to this strangeness.  (or a politics of strangeness.)  but it did make me hope (perhaps perversely) that we'll keep trying to unravel the seams a bit harder.

to that end, i'll leave you with a photograph from Emiliano Granado's "Ghostbusters" series, which i saw both as a portrait and as a continuation of photography's longtime fascination with capturing the spirit world...and also as one more piece of the puzzle. 

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