On Further Evidence
In his Concept of Non-Photography, François Laruelle imagines photographic meaning through the form of a fractal. Jumping off from the tacit contemporary agreement that photography creates a representation that is neither a copy nor an abstraction , his concept imagines multiple simultaneous positions for meaning existing side by side, and engendering additional meanings in turn. Over my visit with the eleven 2017 MFA candidates in Parson’s Photography (and Related Media) program, it became clear how much these capacities for meaning and specificity have indeed multiplied. As is evident in their culminating thesis exhibition, photography has left the expanded field, operating as object, medium, subject, distant relation, and theoretical jumping-off point. This signals to me an especially critical moment for the practice: perhaps an escape, for who knows how long, from the binary problems of photography’s past, and from hand-wringing concerns about its end after the proliferation of the digital image, after selfies, and after post-modernism (and amid the un-agreed upon post-ism we’ve been bouncing around in it since).
The exhibition title joining these eleven projects, “Post-truth” engages this moment through one of its more frightening contemporary buzz-terms. Still, the title points to how these projects resonate with a productive, Laruelle-like expansion of reality, accepting its intrinsic complications. Through this lens, we apprehend the intense subjectivity of Rowena Rubio’s small locked boxes, which obliquely tell stories of a personal past through the dioramic scenarios inside. These conjure a fragment and a demonstration of a singular truth that also remains open to interpretation. In Michael DiFeo’s short video Sea of Redaction, a work about the lives of facts, the information in declassified documents takes on an animated sculptural form, illuminating the doubled distance of these reports from possible truths. Combining oral and historical research, Sarah Wang’s multi-media project employs a hybrid documentary aesthetic to reenact key moments from a man’s inspiring socio-political life, mixing drama, memory, and forensics. Similarly combining modes of fiction and nonfiction, in Christian Padron’s film, The Veil lightly-orchestrated visual moments weave together through a powerful experimental soundtrack to form an urgent and elegant picture of the continued hardships and expressions of black American life.
Still, many of this years’ eleven graduating artists maintain classic approaches to composition while foregrounding nuances in form and emotion. Sebastian Perinotti’s portraits of lovers and friends caught in intimate moments, set alongside glimpses of a vast environment outside, form a deeply felt mode of living, a mix of protracted close interactions with the exposition of being alone. Similarly, Mengting Zhou’s ongoing preoccupations with vulnerability in public render a fascination with humans as an organizational whole, while JinMing Zhong brilliantly focuses in on the lives of just two people, in an ambitious, paired
down 13-hour epic hybrid video in the style of Before Sunrise. In other candidate’s work, the feeling becomes a sort of basis for data or fact. Annaleena Kelso’s ongoing Polaroid project deciphers trends in the artist’s own moods and the images they generate, marking them along a simple numerical scale. Charles Park’s photographic excavations from old landfills and informal dumping sites perform a geological evaluation of local land, and posit the accumulations of its future.
In a series of large-scale, hyper-visual works by Arash Fewzee, the photographic apparatus is the background for complex visual displays that engage with systems and systemic forms of production. Likewise, in Abhishek Sharma’s enlarged, close-up details of national official envelopes, the photographic device becomes a means by which to parse the differences in bureaucratic design sensibilities around the world, and possibly to posit new comparative ideas from these observations. In all of these projects, a mix of investigation and subjective positionality blend to demonstrate fractals of truth: after a true/false binary, perhaps, but deeply engaged in questions of humanity and producing a future worth its facts.