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If the rise of digitally produced and disseminated images resulted in a chaotic surplus of data, then artists now are searching for ways to make sense of the millions of fragments of information. That’s the general idea fueling A Different Kind of Order: The ICP Triennial, on view at the International Center of Photography through September 8. The exhibition showcases 28 artists from 14 countries who address the language of digital reproduction and its implications on the style and techniques of historical mediums like painting and sculpture. But as the title suggests, this new order eschews conventional logic, underscoring how social and political shifts engendered by the digital revolution can reorder the roles of the artist, curator, and viewer.
The Triennial itself relies on a large team to conduct research on roughly 200 artists and photographers around the globe, including Head Curator Christopher Phillips, who revealed the process to Whitewall. “All four curators had to agree on the inclusion of each artist,” he informs us, noting, “This meant long discussions and sometimes heated arguments among the members of curatorial team, but in the end it provided us with an effective filter and a high level confidence in the value of the works that were selected.”
Artists, too, are exploring new approaches to familiar roles, such as that of the archivist. One prevalent theme is the complexity and deception that often governs the hierarchy of images archived on the internet. Roy Arden’s 96-minute Quicktime video, The World as Will and Representation (2007), flips through over 28,0000 web images to give viewers a panoply of snapshots from popular culture, news, art history and advertisements. The onslaught, which Phillips describes as “a good example of the bizarre range of images that can be harvested from the Web,” appear random at first; however, they are the result of specific if somewhat arbitrary criterion Arden stipulates for the collection.
Other artists focus on political ramifications of censorship and authenticity that arise with increased internet access and their complicity in government-related interests. Lebanese artist and actor Rabih Mroué appropriates YouTube videos uploaded by citizens who, unintentionally acting as journalist, have captured violence between rebel forces and the Syrian government. And Thomas Hirschhorn’s Touching Reality (2012) is an equally macabre video that shows a hand flipping through the results of an image search of destroyed human bodies on an iPad screen. In both cases, the photographs have been omitted or banned by the media, thus leaving the viewer to trust their veracity.
Some aggregators employ anthropological gestures to explore individual identities and singular experiences that emerge from photographic archives. Since 2003 San Francisco-based photographer Jim Goldberg has been amassing hundreds of portraits of migrant workers in Europe. The project, Open See, was published as a book in 2009 and Proof (2011), a sweeping installation of contact prints that catalogue these encounters over the past nine years spans a large wall in the Triennial.
Collage is another dominant strategy of reordering, perhaps most markedly in Pentheus (2010), Elliot Hundley’s contemporary masterpiece of the myth of Dionysus. Atop photographs which he shot and styled himself using family and friends as models, Hundley weaves a sculptural relief of cut-out figures from smaller photographs, objects, text from the original story and found imagery, all of which is tacked into place with delicate and thin pins of varying length. The unfolding vignettes are reminiscent of the intimate Beat-era collages by artists like Jess and Wallace Berman, yet the taxidermic effect pursued by Hundley creates a singular sense of depth and scale.
Similarities to the Pictures Generation artists, who also recycled imagery from popular sources like prints ads and television, abound. “I’m not sure there is a fundamental difference in the artistic mindset,” Phillips observes of the two groups. “The appropriation techniques that go back to Duchamp’s readymades and the early Dada photomontages, and then continue in the work of the Pictures generation artists, are now universally practiced among younger artists around the world. The key difference is that today’s artists live in a world where trillions of images are instantly available online.”
Chinese artists are noticeably absent in show, an odd footnote considering that Phillips is widely recognized for his work in bringing emerging Chinese photographers to the attention of Western audiences. But with no geographic quota stipulations, he asserts, “We reviewed the work of a number of contemporary Chinese artists, but none of them were ultimately selected for the show.” Their efforts, however, did reveal one region that warrants a closer look. “In the end, we had the feeling that because of severe time limitations and other factors, our research into contemporary Latin American photography and video was not nearly as deep as it could have been,” Phillips acknowledges, adding “As a result, we have decided to devote time to preparing a full-scale exhibition of recent Latin American work in the coming years.” Noted. We’ll be keeping an eye out.