Arts & Culture
Fotoseptiembre offerings ignite the Instituto Cultural de Mexico
Published: September 5, 2012
A sort of nostalgia is seen darkly in Absence of Being, black and white photographs taken in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles by Susan Burnstine of Chicago, now based in L.A. These cityscapes recall early works by Stieglitz and Steichen, and would appear nicely as small photogravures. Printed in the standard four-foot size of the "Mixed Metaphor" shows, they are best seen from a distance. And they are imbued with the far-away — more hazy memories of early photography than attempts to recapture a bygone era, the comparison gives way to a closer truth — recollected dream space, glimpses from the night world touched briefly before they disappear.
From Mexico City, veteran photographer Gabriel Figueroa Flores has travelled the world to capture iconic images of stone and stonework, then blended his finds. The result is the personal vision of Lugares Prometidos. Not attempting to fool the viewer, his composites expose rough edges of Photoshop cuttings, but his improbable constructs present strange symmetries, make concrete the missing edifices of legend. A ziggurat recalls Bruegel the Elder's painting of the Tower of Babel, but made balanced, complete. Mayan walls are backdrop to the ruins of an Asian (perhaps) city. Huge roosters top other towers in a fortress awaiting siege. Like the other shows in the collection, this is story-making stuff, but the viewer is compelled to provide her own words.
Slightly off to the side from the other works is Stage, images by Shen Chao-Liang of Taiwan. Taken in his home country, the photographs of stage trucks present what appears to be a portable carnival. Bizarre walls of garish lights are used as backdrops for a variety of pageantry, from corporate celebratory dinners to political rallies. They are modern progeny of the red-enameled and gilt-carved pagodas and public buildings of classic Chinese architecture, an Asian rococo. But look again, and see the wrapped bottles awaiting the crowd, and off to the side, a lone worker or two preparing the gala. Though the scene seems to present updated, electrified memories of a vanished continent, there is tension in the moment, waiting for the quickly approaching future.
On the top floor galleries two shows by Swiss artists are hung facing each other: Heimatland by young photographers Ursula Sprecher and Julian Salinas, and Commedia Dell' Arte by Christen Lichtenberg. A generation older than the duo, Lichtenberg has traveled through what was Eastern Europe to document memories of two empires: vanished Soviet rule and resurgent Catholicism. Statues of military heroes are wrapped in plastic, as if waiting removal, but in accompanying scenes a crucifix and a human body are seen also covered up. Close horizons and centered compositions recall classic paintings, reinforced by repeated depictions of altars. But parts are out of whack, pieces of the composition fit formally but have been enlarged or shrunken to conform to the plan. What appears at a glance to be celebratory is wryly critical work not bereft of the humor of trying experience.
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