The exhibition was curated by Karen Irvine (MoCP).
February 13 – April 19, 2009
Artists in PhotoDimensional: John Coplans, Heather Mekkelson, Katalin Deér, Laurent Millet, Leslie Hewitt, Vik Muniz, Bettina Hoffman, Susana Reisman, Pello Irazu, Lorna Simpson, David Ireland, Florian Slotowa, Melinda McDaniel
Karen Irvine’s curatorial essay: Found in Translation
“It would seem that photography has recorded everything. Space, however, has avoided its cyclopean evil eye.” —Robert Morris, “The Present Tense of Space,” 1978
As Robert Morris, a sculptor, observed, something is inevitably lost when a three-dimensional sculpture is translated into a two-dimensional photograph. The experience of sharing a space with an object (and being able to move around it), and the experience of seeing that object represented and embedded in another object—a flat photographic print—are very different. But do we always experience the photographic image as absolutely flat? Isn’t it the tension between the flatness and the illusion of space in photography—its fidelity to the real—the very thing that makes it compelling, possibly troubling? Photography clearly allows us to imagine space. So is there a strict distinction between phenomenological space and imagined space, and how unambiguous, or understandable for that matter, is the difference between the two experiences?
The relationship between photography and sculpture, and the effects that are found in translation between the two mediums, have been of interest to artists since photography was invented. Some of the first photographs featured sculptural objects: both Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot recorded marble statues and plaster casts in the late 1830s and early 40s. An early attempt to overcome the limitations of photography, specifically its inability to translate three dimensions, was the invention of the stereoscope in 1849. Using a special viewing device that rendered two photographs taken of the same subject from slightly different angles, the viewer experienced one image as having lifelike depth and volume.
In the early twentieth century sculptural forms fascinated photographers such as Edward Weston, who took pictures of vegetables and shells, Edward Steichen who photographed Auguste Rodin and his sculptures, and Man Ray, who studied the female form. One recent example of artists documenting what they considered to be “found” sculptures is Bernd and Hilla Becher’s first book, Anonymous Sculptures: A Typology of Technical Buildings, published in 1970, which presents multiple pictures of lime kilns, cooling towers, and silos as elegant structures without any overt pictorial embellishment or romanticism. In the 1980s Robert Mapplethorpe used dramatic lighting and cropping to make nude photographic studies that refer to photographs of sculptures from art history. His two-dimensional translations of his models arguably increase the feeling of the body’s weight, mass, and permanence beyond what would be experienced by seeing it in the flesh. And of course there are artists who use photography to more practical ends to document their sculptures, especially if their creations are ephemeral or remote, such as Andy Goldsworthy’s interventions in nature and Robert Smithson’s land art. Similar to performance art, photographs allow this type of work to be documented and disseminated. These documents raise the question of the privileging of experience, and circle back to Morris’s concerns about documents always lacking some aspect of the firsthand experience.
PhotoDimensional is an exhibition of works by contemporary artists who investigate the relationship between sculpture and photography, between two and three dimensions, and explore perceptual issues intrinsic to those relationships. Their works resist the notion that the world simply gets folded into the two-dimensional surface of the photograph. As a result, their works are almost always layered, with subjects translated in ways that invite us to imagine passing from the experience of one dimension to another, and sometimes back again. Thus, perceiving their works provokes feelings of unsettledness, a wavering between seeing and knowing in our minds, a tension that becomes an engaging condition of their artwork. [...]
Read the entire essay by Karen Irvine as it originally appeared on the MoCP website.
See more work by Susana Reisman.