Vox Populi
Through December 29

By Sabina Tichindeleanu

One more week before a beautiful little show closes. Relics, featuring photography by Stephanie Bursese, Julianna Foster and Kelsey Halliday Johnson, challenges the idea of photography as memory or historical archive and instead allows it to evoke meaning and narrative through varied associations, either controlled or aleatory.

On two of the walls in a back room at Vox Populi, photographs by Bursese and Johnson have been arranged top to bottom, using the wall not just as a support but as a blank canvas where the images work as puzzle pieces, creating compelling connections and building different narratives. On the other two walls, Foster’s photographs are placed quietly and majestically in conversation with Bursese and Johnson, creating a pulsating, tense sense of balance. A careful, artifact-like museum display including old landscape photographs, little souvenir packets of photographs, color filters, handouts of reproduced images from the show, and artist’s books, gives the exhibition conceptual coherence and unifies the interpretation of the photographic act.

The placement of the images allows for different associative possibilities. On one wall, Bursese’s pairing of different images strikes me as a collection of stories, weaving in and out of each other. An image of a dark door viewed at a curious angle is placed next to what appears to be incandescent foil. Next, marks in the sand are flanked by the steps to a dark basement to the left and red brick steps to the right, creating a strong visual effect of descending and ascending. The last image on this wall is a heavily scratched, closed door to what could be a decrepit house, recalling the many abandoned houses in Philadelphia, and leaving us wondering about the connection between this door, the house, and the artist.

The back wall, featuring work by Johnson, displays a “big constellation,” as she calls it, of different images: intimate interior shots; Americana-like landscapes; an image of a German map (or at least a map in German) that describes the different currents and water temperatures of the Atlantic Ocean; people, perhaps friends, captured from the back, walking through different kinds of landscapes, in some cases becoming part of the landscape; a photographer on the beach. In the middle of the wall, a black mirror—perhaps a portrait obliterated by Johnson—toys with the viewer, pointing to the fact that the ‘meaning’ of an individual image is irrelevant; instead, the goal is to overcome or overturn each image’s innate limitations and to expand interpretive possibilities beyond singularity and physical boundaries.

Relics is refreshing in its approach, and by being smartly curated it suggests that a photograph is not necessarily the memory of a moment or a person, but a relic of that memory, displaced and out of context. Historical, chronological memory is traded for a new ‘history’ based on the viewer’s associations and dissociations.

Sabina Tichindeleanu is a Philadelphia-based artist, reviewer and curator. In 2012 she started ArtGrind, where she posts reviews, poetry translation and updates on current projects.