Exhibition Review: The Body As Image
By Ilana Jael
While technology has made the physical craft of photography more accessible than ever, using the medium to create “art” rather than just “pictures” requires as much expertise as always. Luckily, it’s an expertise that’s easy to see in the work of the three young artists whose photographic projects are brought together in the Hatch Projects exhibition Body As Image, on view until this May 17 at the Chicago Artists Coalition. Though their creations could not visually be more distinct, the three share an unconventional, experimental approach to image-making, one that utilizes “alternative photographic processes” rather than the digital manipulation that has become photography’s new normal.
For example, instead of reaching for Adobe Photoshop to create the “mesmerizing golden-brown hues” that distinguish the intimate closeups of Darryl DeAngelo Terrell’s
#Project20s”, he physically stained his photographs with coffee and tea. Intended to highlight “the invisibility of Black and Latinx people past the age of 20” and the systemic violence that threatens their community, the resulting cyanotypes have an aged, decayed look so authentic that they could easily be mistaken for portraits from another century. The juxtaposition of this aesthetic with the modern day dress and hairstyles of his somber-faced subjects may invite a poignant reflection on just how little has changed for the represented groups despite centuries of injustice and oppression.
But while Terrell’s works’ connection to the exhibition’s title is obvious, at first glance, Colleen Keihm’s creations do not look to have much to do with the body at all. Yet it’s the “body” of Richard Serra’s sculptures that she aims to dissect, having “cut and reconfigured” them in the making of unique photograms and vortographs like “Weight and Measure” and “Partial View”. These cameraless photographic techniques allow her to create non-realistic architectural forms, forms “not necessarily made for the body to move through”. The surreal, angular images that result expands viewer’s definitions of what a picture can do, along with threatening our instinctual assumptions of patriarchal dominance by “symbolically” removing, reworking, and dismantling “constructions of male-dominated Art Historical discourse”.
Finally, Kioto Aoki’s abundant images of a woman in various stages of a tumble through space possess an equally challenging, exploratory power. Though today taking a video is just as easy as pressing a button, Aoki instead chooses to explore bodily movement with a series of monochromatic celluloid shots taken with a handheld camera. This strategy allows viewers to see the beauty of contractions and contortions that would race by if the same act had been filmed, and to revel in an “angelic layering of sunlight and shadows.” Inspired by the work of Japanese artist Uematsu Keiji’s conceptual pieces, Aoki’s work is also installed unconventionally, with an “accordion-bound book” of her works vertically criss-crossing the room as it hangs from the ceiling.
That one can look through the gaps of this “book” and catch glimpses of the work of Aoki’s peers emphasizes the three’s shared sensibility, a sensibility that includes a willingness to do things the old-fashioned way. Like hand-churned butter in an era of centrifuges or a stamp-and-envelope letter in the email age – there’s something meaningful to be said for the human effort it takes to enact such painstaking techniques in pursuit of one’s vision when advents in digitalization is making them more and more obsolete. Along with showcasing the work of three of the most engaging emerging artists of our time, Body and Image introduces an exciting notion; that some of the greatest discoveries to be made in the future of photography may found hiding in “throw-backs” to it’s past.