“A Different Kind of Order: The ICP Triennial”

EVRON_A_Free_Moment

Nir Evron, still from A Free Moment, 2011.

The first three ICP triennials were given titles that imparted their organizing themes: “Strangers,” in 2003, considered street photography and images of people unknown to us; “Ecotopia,” in 2007, was about environmental change; and “Dress Codes,” in 2010, examined fashion’s role in our lives. The title of this triennial, “A Different Kind of Order,” which includes 28 international artists (only eight of whom are women), brings to the fore the wholesale shifts that have upended photography during the ten-year span since the 2003 exhibition. What had been subtext is now the central focus, and there are nearly as many moving-image works as still photographs. The primary medium of several artists is not even lens-based.

No single theme emerges, despite the curators’ insistence that the apparent chaos of our moment is the titular “new kind of order.” What patterns the four curators discern feel kaleidoscopic, liable to sudden shifts, rather than stable and self-evident. Keywords defined in the catalogue’s introduction—“Analog,” “Collage,” “Community,” “Self-Publishing”—are hashtags as much as principles, and suitable for our transitional moment.

Viewers could trace their own through lines; I was repeatedly struck by the sense of accumulation translated by the artworks, and by the ways lenses are being used to capture and represent bodies under duress. The acquisitive impulse was manifested simply, as in Roy Arden’s rather dull Quicktime slideshow of thousands of images he has gathered from the Internet, and in the selection of photographs from Michael Schmelling’s project The Plan (2009), which documents the efforts of Disaster Masters, a New York company that counsels hoarders. The emphasis on bodies in particular places at particular times is expressed with haunting clarity in London-based South African photographer Gideon Mendel’s photographs and video from his project Drowning World (2007–). What would have been full-length frontal portraits of flood victims in such places as Nigeria and Thailand are, sadly, converted into three-quarter or half-length portraits by the brackish waters that have risen up to their subjects’ knees, waist, or chest. The seven-minute video of people trying to go about their daily lives in these conditions is particularly poignant.

Jim Goldberg, Proof, 2011 (detail).

Jim Goldberg, Proof, 2011 (detail).

These two themes converge in some of the strongest contributions to the exhibition: Jim Goldberg’s Proof (2011), an affecting wall-length installation of contact prints depicting undocumented immigrants, and Thomas Hirschhorn’s Touching Reality (2012), a wall-size projected video of a woman’s hand swiping an iPad to scroll through images of bodies torn asunder by violence. The intimacy of the hand’s gesture is contradicted by the distancing effect of the screen (and that of the projection). It offers unvarnished proof of just how vulnerable our bodies are, while also reminding viewers that privilege—and our mass media—largely spare us the evidence of bodily harm.

If the exhibition felt like a grab bag, it nonetheless was stuffed with engaging works. Every inclusion that seemed weak or out of place—Huma Bhabha, Mishka Henner, Sohei Nishino, Elliott Hundley—was offset by revelations. The Israeli artist Nir Evron’s film A Free Moment (2011), presented here as a wall-size high-definition video projection, is at once rigorously structured and disorientingly unstable. Evron installed a dolly track inside the unfinished summer palace in Jerusalem begun in the 1960s by King Hussein of Jordan. The film begins with a commanding view over the city; the camera then pulls back along the track into the concrete shell of the building and begins rotating and panning in a 360-degree circle. Ground and sky are confused; detailed views of the concrete ceiling look like the surface of the moon; the film’s apparatus—the track, the camera—at times edge into the frame. Reminiscent of work by the Canadian artist Mark Lewis, A Free Moment is compulsively watchable. In its balance between order and disorder, Evron’s film is an elegant microcosm of the exhibition’s concerns.

Published in Art in America, September 2013. “A Different Kind of Order: The ICP Triennial” was on view from May 17–September 22, 2013.

Recommended Reading, January–June 2013

101 Spring Street. Photo: Josh White.

101 Spring Street. Photo: Josh White.

Near the beginning of the year I began saving articles, essays, and interviews that I liked to a folder in Instapaper. Here is a selection of my favorites, in the order in which I came across them. Bear in mind that this does not include anything I read in print, or many things I read online; the article had to go into Instapaper first before it could be logged in my “favorites” folder. Nevertheless, get your preferred read-it-later bookmarklet or printer ready.

Wells Tower, “The Old Man at Burning Man,” GQ. The magazine’s description: “It’s something we’ve all been meaning to do. The father-son bonding adventure. You know: the big fishing excursion, the road trip down Route 66. Last year, Wells Tower took a completely different approach with his dad: Burning Man, the world’s largest chemically enhanced self-expression festival. They went to witness the Slut Olympics. They went to see the art. They went to discover what draws 60,000 people to one of the least hospitable places on Earth. Then they set up camp and took off their clothes. And things got truly interesting.”

Michelle Kuo and Albert Wu, “Imperfect Strollers, Teju Cole, Ben Lerner, W.G. Sebald, and the Alienated Cosmopolitan,” Los Angeles Review of Books. From the essay: “Two recent debut novels, Teju Cole’s Open City and Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, question such optimism in the transformative potential of the flâneur’s wandering gaze.”

Jhumpa Lahiri, “Notes from a Literary Apprenticeship,” the New Yorker. From the essay: “My love of writing led me to theft at an early age. The diamonds in the museum, what I schemed and broke the rules to obtain, were the blank notebooks in my teacher’s supply cabinet, stacked in neat rows, distributed for us to write out sentences or practice math.”

Ariel Dorfman, “My Lost Library: Books, Exile, and Identity,” Chronicle of Higher Education. From the essay: “The initial, customary words (“Ariel? Tengo malas noticias. I’ve got bad news.”), were followed by a surprise. The victim was not a human being. It was my library.”

Brian Blickenstaff, “The Saga of Tomsan,” Slate. On how an American journeyman revolutionized Japanese soccer—and why it isn’t happening in the U.S.

George Scialabba, “Progress and Prejudice,” Salmagundi. From the essay: “I, at least, am the lucky beneficiary of two or three centuries of progress. And since the carbon footprint of classical music, great novels, independent film, and most of my other chief pleasures is fairly low, it seems like sustainable, universalizable progress. Do I embody moral progress as well? That’s a harder case to make, but not impossible.”

George Packer, “Upgrade or Die,” the New Yorker online. Are perfectionism and inequality linked?

Rob Horning, “Google Alert for the Soul,” The New Inquiry. From the essay: “Earlier notions of authenticity were premised on a unique interior self that consumerism would help us express, but social media have made that untenable. In response, authenticity is shifting, describing not fidelity to an inner truth about the self but fidelity to the self posited by the synthesis of data captured in social media—what I here call the data self.”

Benjamin Kunkel, “Aftermath and Prelude,” n+1 online. From the essay: “I didn’t expatriate myself for political reasons. But a part of my reluctance to come back to live in the US, as I did in December, was political estrangement from this country, something easier for me to deal with when I’m abroad.”

Joshua Rothman, “The Impossible Decision,” the New Yorker online. On whether or not to go to graduate school.

Greg Allen, “101 Spring Street by Donald Judd (and ARO Architects),” Architect. Changing nothing about Donald Judd’s original vision for his cast-iron building home and studio made for an unprecedented restoration project for ARO.

Richard Nash, “What Is the Business of Literature?,” Virginia Quarterly Review. As technology disrupts the business model of traditional publishers, the industry must imagine new ways of capturing the value of a book.

Justin Erik Halldór Smith, “Interpreting Tino Sehgal,” jehsmith.com. From the essay: “What generally happens is a sort of split between two possible approaches among the interpreters. One is to riff, to recount impressions of whatever the quotation might induce one to think (or even to feel). The other is to try, within the constraints imposed by the work, to be as scholarly as possible and to get at what the author might in fact have meant. I belong squarely in the latter camp.”

Adam Kirsch, “Rocket and Lightship,” Poetry. Billed as meditations on life and letters.

Sandra Allen, “In Patagonia in Patagonia,” the Paris Review Daily. From the essay: “By the time I’d finished Shakespeare’s introduction to the Chatwin, I felt convinced I’d never needed a book as badly as I needed In Patagonia in Patagonia.”

Ian Crouch, “The Curse of Reading and Forgetting,” the New Yorker online. From the essay: “Looking at my bookshelves, I am aware of another kind of forgetting—the spines look familiar; the names and titles bring to mind perhaps a character name, a turn of plot, often just a mood or feeling—but for the most part, the assembled books, and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”

Laura Owens, “‘It’s Spelled Motherfuckers.’—An Interview with Rachel Kushner,” the Believer Logger. Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers is one of the best books I’ve read this year. And her publicist deserves a raise for Kushner’s omnipresence in media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic.

Christy Wampole, “The Essayification of Everything,” the New York Times. From the essay: “I would advocate a conscious and more reflective deployment of the essay’s spirit in all aspects of life as a resistance against the zealous closed-endedness of the rigid mind. I’ll call this deployment ‘the essayification of everything.’”

John Jeremiah Sullivan, “Mr. Lytle: An Essay,” the Paris Review. The first line: “When I was twenty years old, I became a kind of apprentice to a man named Andrew Lytle, whom pretty much no one apart from his negligibly less ancient sister, Polly, had addressed except as Mister Lytle in at least a decade.”

Joanna Kakassis, “Austerity Lentils,” Foreign Policy. (Link may require you printing the article or logging in to the website to read it.) Subtitle: “What a country cooks when it’s collapsing.” That country: Greece.

James Fenton, “What Are We Going to Do About the New Philip Larkin?,” the Threepenny Review. From the essay: “In the story of Larkin’s estate we find examples of both radical tidying up and extensive preservation.”

Michael Sanchez, “2011: Art and Transmission,” Artforum. From the essay: “Art is no longer discovered in biennials and fairs and magazines, but on the phone.”