Arts & Culture
Fotoseptiembre offerings ignite the Instituto Cultural de Mexico
Published: September 5, 2012
"Mixed Metaphors," a suite of seven exhibits curated by Fotoseptiembre's founder and director Michael Mehl, presents elaborately constructed works by photographers from Switzerland, Mexico, the U.S., and Taiwan. Susan Burnstine uses simple handmade cameras to capture dark dreamscapes; Gabriel Figueroa Flores blends images sourced from diverse locales to fabricate towers of fantasy; subverting the mundane are the images of Christian Lichtenberg, whose apparent found scenes contain subtle impossibilities. And though the physical and imaginative geographies on view are wide-ranging, a singular message is delivered: the camera is a brush, another tool in the artist's kit. The desire to present an objective reality is of interest only to the propagandist. Or perhaps not.
Alex Gertschen and Felix Meier, based in Lucerne, Switzerland, have been making images as Alex & Felix for 12 years. With backgrounds in goldsmithing and hairdressing and graphic design, they bring a handwork ethic to their image making, which is reflected in their current series, 13 Queens. Following the tenets of tableau photography, they create intricate sets of improbable scenes, then record them without the use of post-production changes. Though the 13 Queens are fantastical ladies — each bedecked with the hieratic emblems of her rule — the artists' presentation of a "real," un-doctored image might seem to embrace an impulse akin to street photography and the "capture the moment" notion popularized by Cartier-Bresson. But the seeming transparency in the technique of Alex & Felix turns the real on its head. Queen Tin (see this week's cover) sprouts flippers from her head; sardine and caviar tins surmount dangling fish lures and a cameo portrait. Queen Happy, festooned with egg cartons, bags of pills, and a tiara sporting plastic gears, seems sad. While we might guess she comments on the false promises of Big Pharma, the presence of toast epaulets on the bare shoulders of her sister Queen Spoon remain inexplicable. These are, then, unknowable symbols — a personal codex. The photographs may be conventional, but the made world they depict, certainly not.
Lori Nix, born in rural Norton, Kansas, considers herself a "faux landscape photographer." Her series The City is, like the works of Alex & Felix, photographic images of constructed scenes. Similar to the interiors of Thomas Demand, they are records of miniature sets. But unlike Demand's prosaic surrounds, the world Nix envisions is post-apocalyptic: trees sprout within abandoned libraries, a church has become a storeroom for old signage. The classic columns of an art museum hold up walls empty of all but a few paintings. Everyone is missing, minutes or years ago. But in the midst of dystopia, hope seems to stir — for the vegetable world, if not for us. A banana tree erupts in a ruined shopping mall, ferns invade a vacuum showroom. Many of the fixtures in the scenes picture icons of mid-century modernism, a shrewd warning against nostalgia.
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