Fiat Lux, The Print Center through May 24th
By Alison Dell
When we make the cerebral state the beginning of an action, and in no sense the condition of a perception, we place the perceived images of things outside the image of our body, and thus replace perception within the things themselves. But then, our perception being a part of things, things participate in the nature of our perception. Henri Bergeson, Matter and Memory 1908
In the age of the instagram filter, what does it mean to use photography as an anchor for your studio practice? Fiat Lux, currently up at The Print Center, reinterprets photo pedagogy in the context of individual contemporary practice and emerges from a collaborative show-making studio process. All the artists in the show trained as photographers, and engage with the medium either tangentially or wholeheartedly in their current work. Stefan Abrams, Micah Danges, James Johnson, Anna Neighbor, and Brent Wahl, all recently decamped from Vox Populi, have maintained a collective mindset in generating this show. The artists, and Print Center curator John Caperton, regularly visited each other’s studios during creation to plan the exhibit.
The result is a spare installation of surprisingly diverse works. In Ilford Shelf (2011), Danges alters the iconic photo-paper boxes to reference minimalist painting. Brent Wahl’s Lift and Fall (2013) and High Pass (2013) both draw from Wahl’s background in still-life photography as they document his ephemeral sculptures. Anna Neighbor’s contributions to the show reveal her continued, and compelling, use of biological intervention in art-context. Those who saw Plainsight,Plainspoken at Rebekah Templeton earlier this year are unlikely to forget her video piece The Light was just so Beautiful (2012), featuring the artiest shit in the universe. A quieter (and my favorite) work from that show, Chewing the most distant object in the universe (2013), makes a reappearance here. In the center of the gallery, Neighbor continues her current fascination with the biological (saliva, lip imprints) as well as paying homage (I think) to fellow Voxer Leah Bailis’ cinderblock simulacrae with her sculpture Build the Ruin (after Leah) (2011). (Open question: Is the cinderblock Philly’s answer to “Put a bird on it?”) In one of the more surprising aspects of the show, Stefan Abrams has veered away from the energetic portraits that characterize his street photographs. On display here, Black Tape (2013) and Pressed Wood (2013) are interesting steps away from the narrative and towards the abstract. James Johnson is, as usual, killing it with playful criticality as in the reflective Negative (2013) that references the canonical technology of the medium as well as the rest of the show.
Maybe there is a little bit of honeyed nostalgia here – “Where-Are-They-Now, Vox 2008 Reunion Tour,” – but, as a whole, the show stands as a snapshot – a microcosm of an active discussion that’s playing out in the art world, and a brief temporal window into these artists’ co-evolving practice.
Alison Dell, Ph.D is a scientist, artist, and arts writer. As an artist, Alison is deeply interested in the organic forms, patterns and structures inherent in biological systems, as well making work that inquires broadly about the sensory modalities (visual and proprioceptive) she has studied in the lab. A second generation printmaker, Dell’s work takes shape in books, print, installations, and works on paper. Exhibitions include: the Queens Museum of Art Bulova Gallery (NYC), Socrates Sculpture Park (NYC), Cuchifritos Gallery (NYC), G-spot Gallery (Baltimore, MD), Rutgers University (Newark, NJ) and the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA). Her arts writing appears regularly in Philadelphia’s City Paper, as well as the national print blog, Printeresting.