I stopped by Gallery 303 over the holiday weekend along with a few other galleries to catch up on the Chelsea scene. I was not disappointed with Lynne Cohen’s show. Her work is complicated, yet her images are formally quite simple. And it was nice to see small, black and white images on the wall. There were a few large prints, but I was not quite sure why the particular images were blown up. It is an interesting question for an artist, what is the right size for an image. It is something I am currently grappling with. Some images do need to be big, while other are better small. Some work is great at any size. I guess it is more about how you want the viewer to experience the image. Thomas Demand’s show is very much about perception, but in another way. The images are large, in order for the viewer to see the detail of the paper recreations of the subjects. If they were printed smaller, it would be more difficult to see that there is something not quite right. The resulting images are unsettling. They do not quite look like photographs, nor do they look like anything else. The subject of the exhibit is the political obfuscation that was used as justification for the Iraq war. This is really a concept that cannot easily be photographed, so Demand re-created ‘scene of the crime.’
Yellowcake consists of a series of 9 photographs about the location where this story, and its ‘smoking gun’ originated. Adding further intrigue to this saga, is the consideration that there has never been any photographic documentation that could illustrate these events and news as they came to light — no one had gained access to Niger’s Embassy in Rome. For Yellowcake, Demand –who has traditionally based his practice on existent imagery – had to access the source site on his own. Demand entered the apartment-cum-embassy and conversed with the embassy staff, and through these visits and interactions built his own memory of the place. Based on these recollections, Demand reconstructed the embassy site in his studio in order to create the images that make up Yellowcake.
The photographs are rather beautiful to look at, and I think it is an important subject. We expect the documentary photograph to portray the ‘truth’ in the same way we expect our President to tell the truth, but by creating these fiction/truths Demand is questioning the both of these cultural assumptions. Perhaps we are so jaded, that we have moved past the idea of actual truth, the only truth can be found where there is no pretense of it. These are very interesting ideas, but Demand creates such a distance between the event and his interpretation of it, that my reaction was 100% intellectual. In the current American political situation, it seems like work that provokes people’s hearts and minds is needed. We are rarely driven to take action from our intellect, which is unfortunate but true. But I do respect him and the intelligence of his work. And I think creating imaginary ‘documents’ is probably a closer representation of the ‘reality’ inside the current administration then any straight photograph could capture.