Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Perras y Putas: Yapci Ramos at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, Lower East Side

{{{click on images to enlarge}}} 

An overabundance of stray dogs is a clear indication that a society is suffering in general terms. That’s why people readily believed, a few years ago, that Detroit had about 50,000 stray dogs when this figure was erroneously reported in a couple ‘reputable’ news sources. Other, more reliable, estimates guessed at 1,000 to 3,000 stray dogs in Detroit. People falsely bought into the claim of 50,000 stray dogs because they believed that life in Detroit is tough: the tougher life is in a city, the more stray dogs you’ll have. Of course we also know that one way Vladimir Putin went about showing the world that Sochi was a wonderful, developed place was to shoot and poison the massive numbers of stray dogs before any Olympic tourists arrived.  Who needs to solve underlying problems of poverty when you can use the state apparatus to just kill the dogs and hope other dogs don’t show up until after the closing ceremonies?

When Spanish photographer Yapci Ramos arrived in Aruba, she noticed a lot of stray dogs. The notes from the show at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery on Manhattan’s Lower East Side quote her: “Aruba is a small island full of stray feral ‘perras’ (bitches) surviving as best they can; languorous bitches, fierce bitches, vulnerable bitches, flea-ridden bitches, quiet bitches, aggressive bitches…bitches.” Ramos presents photos of prostitutes she has met in the Canary Islands and the Republic of Congo in her current show, along with these stray dogs from Aruba. So although the show is called “Perras y Putas” and could, possibly, be translated as Bitches (female dogs) and Bitches (prostitutes/whores), it seems clear to me that the dogs represent or evince a pervading social and governmental apathy in the types of societies where many sex workers are compelled to make their living.

The presence of the dogs indicates that the women in these photos are not a part of the state-regulated prostitution of ‘developed’ European nations, which makes the profession more palatable to its well-heeled, power-wielding inhabitants. This is not the prostitution of feminist empowerment in this show, but prostitution as a survival mechanism with adverse consequences to the sex worker which are hard if not impossible to capture through the medium of photography.

To me Ramos deliberately, perhaps, reveals a significant limitation of photography and, by combining the photos of the dogs and the women, the show seems to acknowledge this limitation and searches for ways to compensate for it. To what extent can the photographer really capture the process of life that these women are going through? By including the dogs as examples of a society’s overall poverty, ignorance and callousness, she ingeniously sheds some light on why these women are doing what they are doing and how they may be affected by being what the show’s notes call private individuals with “public bodies”.

One of the more famous photographers of prostitutes was, of course, E.J. Bellocq, whose work from about 100 years ago in New Orleans was discovered and promoted by Lee Friedlander in the 60s and 70s. Bellocq, who may have been physically deformed and is therefore sometimes compared to Toulouse Lautrec, seemed to enjoy hanging around the various brothels in town and took photos of the prostitutes he apparently idolized, revealing aspects of individual character in settings that revealed relative comfort. The prostitutes seem content and jovial in Bellocq’s work. Ramos seems to present her prostitutes in the type of tradition that can probably be traced back to Bellocq; we do not see them suffering and some even seem content and happy.  In some of the Congo photos, the women seem to revel in their situations.

The photos therefore beg various questions: If these women seem to be OK, why should this be my business? Unlike powerless dogs, these are human beings with the capacity for choice and agency – should I really care about them? Yet, one can ask whether they truly made any significant choices or whether they were subtly and inevitably coerced through the structure and functions of their societies into situations where they had to spread their legs on a daily basis to make a buck or two to survive. Just because they are happy doesn’t mean this is right or that they are being given the best possible choices for their lives in their given societies. We often make the best of rotten situations.

The key to absorbing what these photos offer is that these women are not living in abject poverty, yet, can we say that their lives are meaningful or that they would even keep these lives if other opportunities arose? Just how do we or should we engage these women staring at us from these photos, flanked by hungry, desperate, frightened dogs? To a great extent, these women may be proxies for many of us – living lives of relative comfort while doing something we abhore, wondering whether there might be something so much better for us.

This powerful and affecting show runs at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery until October 11, 2015. If you are trekking through the Lower East Side galleries any time soon, this gallery, which regularly presents amazing work, would be well worth your time.

Pardon the Interruption, Please : Will Kurtz at Kim Foster Gallery

{{{click on images to enlarge them}}}

The first Thursday after Labor Day, in the USA, is the traditional beginning of the art gallery season in the Chelsea district of Manhattan. One of the highlights of the Chelsea opening night on September 10th was the sculptures of Will Kurtz at the Kim Foster Gallery, which engaged and dazzled the hordes of folks who came out for the night of art-viewing, people-watching and free wine. 

Kurtz makes life-sized figures of humans and animals out of New York City newspapers (often the New York Times) using an internal wood and wire structure. He usually chooses to depict the types of folks we see around us in public spaces as we are moving about the city and in the past he has often focused on marginalized people with their pet dogs. In his online artist statement he states that he wants to reveal both the ‘resilience and vulnerability’ of these folks to create a feeling of empathy in the viewer. He likes using a person’s dog in many of his works because of the ‘innocence’ the animals bring to the situation. The innocence and raw energy of the dogs is often in stark contrast to the beaten-up, obese, enervated, abject person nearby. Indeed, the dogs might even represent symbolic proxy figures for the people depicted, representing a pure, guileless core of the person which we should be able to better recognize in order to make this person more worthy of our concern and feelings of fellowship. 

On each figure we see little glimpses from the newspapers of stories, headlines or images. On the big butt of one woman we see the phrase, for instance, “…half the sky…”. Like the ever-present news, photos from the news, ads, headlines, we cannot escape the effects of these folks who seem to be permanent markers of our journeys through the city each day. Indeed, like the buildings and streets they occupy they seem to also be permanent fixtures that we have seen a zillion times, can anticipate constantly seeing and therefore tend to ignore or disregard. It’s as if we are subjected to an endless and unbreakable cycle of the same emotional responses from the news and these people through each day.

As we experience them, they are mixed into the advertisements and the news we almost unconsciously absorb just as readily as the news and ads are mixed into them in these sculptures and this reflects our relationship to these people. If one of them does catch our attention again long enough, it’s the same compassion, disgust, admiration, the same limited range of emotions engaged in us by the papers. Like lurid headlines, they can engender interest, sympathy and disgust all at once.  These folks are as ubiquitous as the news and run us through the same untiring pace of responses as the news. It’s as if Kurtz wants us to realize that there is so much more to be felt and understood in regard to these people than we have felt before or tend to feel. Likewise, there is so much that we are missing by merely reading the news and not taking steps to more deeply engage our personal worlds on deep and meaningful levels.

Newspapers are, of course, partially in the business of soliciting empathy from us and often we read about suffering around the world that we are helpless to address on an individual basis. Therefore, newspapers might be the perfect medium for the depiction of these folks. Newspapers help to convey an aging process to these pieces as well. The dates of the stories, ads and headlines do not change just as our birthdays do not change; the newspaper grows older in a discernible way just as we and these folks do. The folks in these sculptures represent a type of urban permanence and transience at the same time.

Interestingly, Kurtz also includes a couple New York City police officers among the folks we commonly see on the streets and this is of real, timely significance in New York City. There is constant chatter in the press as to how the homeless in New York are proliferating and destroying the ‘quality of life’ that more conservative mayors had allegedly created in the past. The police are now being used, according to what we can see in the papers, to break up little communities of homeless people so that they do not create such an eyesore to ‘the rest of us’. So we have police in this gallery, watching over the street folks.

Furthermore, the police, in New York City and the USA in general, have come under deep scrutiny. In New York City, about a year ago, a black man was needlessly and cruelly killed by police officers making an arrest – sparking massive protests.  Just a few days ago an African American, Harvard educated, ex-tennis star was attacked by a police officer for absolutely no good reason. People around the world are currently watching the video and wondering why this kind of thing keeps happening here.  So the presence of these officers in the show is just brilliant given the changing perceptions of the police in the USA and especially New York City. The NY police chief, himself, has said that he has not witnessed such an anti-police attitude since the early 1970s. So the police are standing vigil in this gallery – are they our protectors? Are they benign? Are they evil? Each viewer has to deal with his/her own feelings about seeing these cops in a gallery in light of all the recent news. Each person also has to ask him/herself what can be done about the apparent abuses that seem to happen regularly in this city in regard to the police. New York City has more police officers than Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston combined – they are everywhere in this city, including, now, an art gallery. 

To many of us the people depicted in this show are of as much value as old, discarded newspaper. Kurtz helps to show that there is something separating all of us from each other on very basic levels in our society – it’s up to each of us to ask why and how and to try to break down any barriers on a personal basis. The show runs until October 10th 2015 at Kim Foster Gallery at 529 W. 20th Street in New York City’s Chelsea district.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Animated paintings by Federico Solmi at Postmasters Gallery, Manhattan

{{{click on images to enlarge them}}}

“…er würde ihr damals nicht wie ein Teufel erschienen sein, wenn er ihr nicht, bei seiner ersten Erscheinung, wie ein Engel vorgekommen wäre.”

The last line of Heinrich von Kleist’s story ‘The Marquise of O’ seems appropriate to the subject matter of Federico Solmi’s dynamic new show at Postmasters Gallery on Franklin Street in Lower Manhattan: “…he wouldn’t have seemed like such a devil now if he had not tried so hard to seem like an angel.” In the ‘Brotherhood’ which Solmi satirically depicts for us, we see a rogue’s gallery of past world leaders who effectively utilized the tools of self-aggrandizement and obtained the willing complicity of the spin-doctors of their times as very potent elements in their ability to obtain and wield power, usually for their own ends (while purporting much higher social goals and purposes).  Yet Solmi also pointed out to me that his exhibit is not about the individuals in the show – Ratzinger, Washington, Napoleon et al. but about “…the way to obtain power, which is always very ruthless…” and the “…human weakness of the ruler.”

The methodology toward power of these past leaders can be readily applied to folks currently wielding power and influence. For example, we have a wonderful new pope, don’t we? Such a nice guy, so humble and sincere. Yet, news sources like the BBC and the New Yorker have reported that when he was in Argentina during the “Dirty War” (1976 – 1983), he supported the military junta responsible for the kidnapping, torture and death of over 30,000 union leaders, students, reporters, priests, nuns and basically anyone the junta wanted to torture and/or kill. If this junta kidnapped a pregnant woman, they wouldn’t torture her too badly – they’d wait for her to give birth, then torture her, kill her and sell her baby to a wealthy family seeking to adopt.

Bergoglio (aka Pope Francis) seemed to know all this but apparently kept silent and went along to get along in his personal quest for further power within the church. There is some evidence that Bergoglio, as head of the Jesuit order in Argentina, handed over two priests to the junta to be tortured and imprisoned for their allegedly pro-socialist activities. In 1981 the Pope everybody remembers fondly – John Paul II – met with the leader of that junta and publicly kissed him in a show of support for the butchery occurring in Argentina. As the bodies were piling up, Bergoglio did not, apparently, jeopardize his standing within the church organization of that time, which clearly felt that the only good socialist was a dead socialist. Unlike Bishop Romero of El Salvador, who spoke out against his state’s abuses and was murdered, Bergoglio did not protest against evil and is now the moral and spiritual leader of 1 billion Catholics.

So Solmi depicts Pope Ratzinger in this show, but to me the image could stand for any of the recent Popes or maybe even the tarnished history of the papacy itself and its frequent willingness to be in complicity with the very worst of its time. We see an especially ghastly and sinister character - the kind of guy who might, like Ratzinger, not have been too concerned about child sexual abuse among priests, or maybe the kind of guy who would rat out a couple priests for torture or kiss a military butcher - riding around in his pope-mobile, fake, skeletal, death-like smile plastered on his face, practically seething with greed, corruption and lust for power and fame.  Solmi’s images of these leaders of the past calls to mind the images of church and state figures George Grosz used between the World Wars but the sarcasm and contempt Solmi feels for these Brotherhood characters seems even deeper and more passionate than what Grosz evinced. Grosz responded to corruption and hypocrisy with severe and denigrating satire, but Solmi seems to demand change. He wants to flush these guys out and reveal these leaders for what they were, thus pointing to the guys/women who currently are doing the same thing. He seems to leave it up to us to make the connections between past and current leaders.

It’s amazing, in fact, what great PR corrupt politicians, inept leaders and human monsters can have. As someone who has lived in two hotbeds of American corruption - Chicago and New York City - it’s always amusing when the federal government arrests a local politician who just a few days previously was riding on an amazing reputation generated by all aspects of the local media. Following, perhaps, in the tradition of Gramsci, Solmi finds value in exposing the cultural hegemony that lionizes corrupt, evil or incompetent people (short or long term) like Napoleon, George Washington, Christopher Columbus, Montezuma, Empress Theodora, Idi Amin, Genghis Khan et al. This lionizing process is essential in maintaining corruption and social control.

What’s wrong with George Washington, you might ask? Well, he sucked so badly as a general that he lost most significant battles, including one where half his army was captured and shoveled off to English prison ships where they basically starved to death or died of various types of horrific illnesses. “But he won the Battle of Yorktown!” you might say…no, my friend, the French King orchestrated the Battle of Yorktown using 5,000 French soldiers and his own navy; George went for the ride and took credit afterwards.

So it’s the process of first covering up all the faults and flaws and errors of the person followed by the deliberate elevation of a rather mediocre human being to mythic status that Solmi gloms onto and viciously parodies. To Solmi The Brotherhood is an organization made up of the rich and powerful who have had the goal of maintaining ‘chaos in the world’ while aspiring toward ‘the degeneration of the human race’.  In these ‘animated’ paintings, “created with Maya, 3dMx and sandbox game engines”, you see these figures attempting to move with grace and dignity through public areas to receive unquestioned adulation, but something seems horribly wrong as we get Dorian-Gray-type images where the truth of each exalted and grandiose person suddenly winds up making it to the forefront. Yet, this image still seems invisible to the adoring masses due to the Scylla and Charybdis of a lack of real journalism and the existence of thorough-going public apathy. Solmi attacks fake narratives –  all leaders purport to be driven by integrity, concern and compassion, yet, in reality, each one is driven by an all-consuming desire for power, fame and money. Each of the members of the Brotherhood has mastered the art of demagoguery, rhetoric and public relations.

To me these images of murderous demagogues also work on a personal allegorical level. They are also, possibly, our inner dictators goading us to do the right thing for the wrong reason, to take short cuts in our own moral and humane development, to live in complicity instead of living in a state of moral autonomy. We should be continually challenged to discern these inner motives for what they are, instead of buying into them and justifying them.

Solmi is a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has been exhibited throughout the world. The show runs until October 7, 2015 at Postmasters Gallery at 54 Franklin Street, New York City.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Kysa Johnson at Morgan Lehman - Subatomic decay patterns as a visual alphabet

{{{click on images to enlarge}}}

‘Decay’ might be a somewhat misleading term as it is used in regard to subatomic particles. If we are talking about beta decay, for instance, this simply describes a process in which an atom with an overabundance of neutrons experiences the spontaneous change of a neutron into a proton, creating another element completely while also discharging a fast moving electron (a beta particle).  Atoms experience this type of change due to their ‘instability’ and become more ‘stable’ afterwards.  For instance, C14 has 6 protons and 8 neutrons and this is an unstable state for Carbon.  So, poof, a neutron spontaneously can change to a proton and now you get 7 neutrons and 7 protons, which then gives you a more stable Nitrogen atom (the difference between types of atoms depends on the number of protons in the nucleus – gain a proton and you become something else).

There are five types of subatomic decay that can happen and two-dimensional traces of these processes can be visually captured and are referred to as subatomic decay patterns. Artist Kysa Johnson has been using these patterns consistently in her artwork through the years and at an amazing show called ‘The Long Goodbye’, opening this Thursday at Morgan Lehman Gallery in New York’s Chelsea art district, Johnson uses repetitions and combinations of different subatomic decay patterns as a type of visual alphabet to depict macro-astronomical phenomena like star clusters, the deaths of stars etc.

So she seems to be using patterns of imperceptible particles demonstrating a movement toward stability, strength and permanence in order to create images of grandiose yet moribund astronomical superstuff. Indeed, given the Second Law of Thermodynamics, we can readily say that all of these huge space things and clusters of space things are in the process of dying. Recent research out of Australia seems to indicate we are already approaching old age as a universe.

So my take is that we seem to be dealing with two types of decay in Johnson’s pieces – one toward stability and one toward expiration – the first type of decay involves matter being reduced to a stable form but the macro decay depicted seems to be all about the inevitable loss of energy production when hydrogen and helium burning drops and the star is overtaken by the forces of gravity. In fact, electrons and neutrons actually prevent total ‘black hole’ collapse in low and medium mass stars. So the first type of decay is being used to help visually depict the second type of decay. Actually we get ‘descriptions’ of subatomic decay being used to represent ‘images’ of astronomical superstuff: as if we can never really even see or experience natural phenomena directly anymore due to our overactive cognitive capacities. All experience comes through the mediation of the intellect now.

To me, Johnson’s process also helps to highlight the losing battle a universe functioning under the edict of the 2nd Law is waging and reveals a universe of massive but ultimately absurd and fruitless effort. Energy will ultimately be depleted leaving lots of useless chunks of matter floating around to be gobbled up by black holes or whatnot. It brings home the fact that everything runs down, everything declines, everything degenerates. Newton’s God was a watchmaker but Einstein’s God is a Las Vegas gambler, and a bad gambler at that.  As C.P. Snow wrote, describing the three laws of thermodynamics in gambling terms (to paraphrase): 1) Living in this universe is a game you can’t win since new matter and energy cannot be created; 2) You can’t even break even in this game because disorder and entropy are always increasing (you are always wasting energy which can’t be reclaimed in full); and 3) You can’t even leave the game (for obvious reasons).

But by depicting dying astronomical megaphenomena with these subatomic patterns now revealing stability, Johnson could also be making a more defiant and optimistic statement: “Sure the stage we have been forced to strut and fret on sucks if you really think about it, but some of us made something out of it. We created meaning. We created merciful gods who forgive us, love us unconditionally and challenge us to rise beyond the material world and the cynicism, skepticism and nihilism of many scientists and their depictions of the universe.” By looking at the smallest stuff and the largest stuff and recognizing that ultimately it’s all for naught, you have to ask, “Is it really all for naught? I can eek out 70 or 80 years in this system, should this giant scientific conception of ultimate wastefulness have any impact on me, or why doesn’t this have much of an impact on how folks live their lives?”

This is, nevertheless, a universe in which Buddha, Francis of Assisi, Dostoyevsky, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. hung out in for a while and so I tend to think they found something permanent beyond all this decaying crap and we can too when we say “This is wrong! I won’t do it!” or when we dedicate our lives unselfishly to our families or resolve on a moral quest or try to become something amazing and benevolent that everyone says we can’t become. It’s as if Johnson is challenging us to add an addendum to Stephen Crane’s poem: “A man said to the universe: ‘Sir, I exist!’ ‘However,’ replied the universe, ‘this fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.’” Our addendum: “Well, it should have.” Maybe we need to be cautioned in regard to the nihilism and callowness that pure science can instill in us if we are not careful or if we buy into it too deeply.

The particles and astronomical superstructures could also represent the two extremes of scientific empirical observation and the limits of this – the extremes and limitations of the legacy of von Leeuwenhoek and Galileo. We can now trace subatomic changes and we can see clusters of galaxies, yet, how did something come from nothing or how could something have always existed? Basically we are studying the characteristics of a pretty flawed and messed up place without any hope, apparently, of cracking the toughest nut (the origins of it all). Furthermore, this purely empirical look at the world and a blind devotion to the god of description (as I implied earlier) may not help to answer the most pressing of existential questions and the dogmatic dedication in the modernist tradition to the saving effects of science and technology has, in fact, left us with a partially crippled and war-ridden planet.

Yet the images are so beautiful – just on a surface level, I was awed by looking at Johnson’s work. To me she may, therefore, also be addressing how NASA, for instance, has been promoting and publicizing its discoveries. They often offer us colorful, pretty, swirly stuff against a black background and without even knowing what the swirly stuff is we are prone to say, “Wow, isn’t that beautiful! Isn’t the universe beautiful!” Interestingly, in the past the artist has used scientific diagrams of toxic pollutants which have also looked amazing and wonderful and beautiful.  What most people often derive from NASA photos and nature in general is pretty patterns – that’s not good enough.

The Long Goodbye
Kysa Johnson
Morgan Lehman Gallery, Chelsea, New York City
September 10 – October 17, 2010

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Jacob Aue Sobol's photos along the Trans-Siberian Railway

{{{Images from Yossi Milo Gallery and Jacob Aue Sobol}}}
Click on images to enlarge them.

Danish photographer Jacob Aue Sobol is a member of the historically significant Magnum collective of photographers. Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of Magnum, described the collective as, “…a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually.” Sobol expands on this vision in his series of photos, at the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York City’s Chelsea district, titled ‘Arrivals and Departures’ – taken during a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway Mongolian line from Moscow to Beijing. Generally, instead of waiting for things to happen, or just finding interesting things to shoot, Sobol wants to use his camera “…to make contact” and to create “…closeness and intimacy” between himself and those he meets and photographs. Sobol does not want to be “invisible” as a photographer and he attempts to participate in and not just observe the social and interpersonal situations he records.

The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world at 6,000 miles/10,000 km (crossing about 1/3 of the sphere of the Earth) – and presents almost continuous travel for up to 7 days (some breaks lasting five minutes, some a half-an-hour). It was ordered to be built by a Russian Czar to connect Moscow and the Pacific Ocean naval port of Vladivostok (this is actually the longest line of the railway) with extra lines added later. It was Sobol’s initial intention to make human connections on one of the most famous of train trips and to create photographs based on those he met. So, he seems to have wanted to examine the possibilities for interpersonal connections among strangers on one of the longest shared journeys still available but, instead, he found a “ghost” train, almost totally devoid of passengers. He spent most of his time with his camera ‘glued’ to the window for shots of scenery, opting to look for meaningful encounters in cities and villages where the train stopped. Among his favorite experiences was stalking deer with Mongolian hunters, drinking the blood and eating the raw liver of one of the animals they shot (evoking memories of his previous hunting experiences while living for two years in Greenland).

In regard to many of the folks he photographed for ‘Arrivals and Departures’, it seems as if Sobol often goes from a public meeting space where a chance encounter brings him together with a person to a private space (sometimes or maybe always the person’s home) for the photos. Indeed, many of his photos show the participant nude in this private space. The photography experience seems to become one of extraordinary shared trust and we see the lack of invisibility of him as a photographer through the sense of interpersonal engagement that comes through these photos. Yet, it’s interesting to think about the process of both negotiation and trust-building that must go into a situation like this – Sobol is a brief visitor and things have to move relatively fast for him as a professional photographer – why do some folks cooperate with him so readily, let him into their homes and then strip naked for him? Is there some sense of exhibitionism, are they just being nice, are they trying to help him or are they just open-minded people ready for a new experience?

Sobol chooses to work in black and white (he used a digital camera for the first time in this series) because he tries for a more ‘existential’ look and this certainly works in this series. Blemishes, birth-marks, body hair and otherwise barely perceptible shadows become starkly prominent in his photos and add an extra vigor and individual potency or presence which would be missed through the use of color. Sobol seems to prefer nude photography because he wishes to remove the participant from social, cultural and economic contexts.

The most interesting aspect of the show to me involved his use of couples. Ostensibly, with his couples, Sobol wants to show what “…connects us, makes us dependent on each other.” Yet, it’s also interesting to think about the process involved in first proposing that a newly encountered couple pose nude in a loving embrace with each other and then what exactly the emotional states of the couples might actually be during the actual process in which they are being photographed. We have couples who have formed an emotional relationship who are suddenly, perhaps, merely acting the part of a couple which has formed an emotional relationship for the sake of a shot. So the fact that they are lovers and are intensely intimate allows them to pose as a couple acting as if they are engaged in an intimate embrace.  Are they, basically, doing the artist a favor and realistically mimicking what would otherwise be real for them? What then is the difference between a ‘real’ couple doing this and a couple of professional models doing this?

We, as viewers, are already removed from any emotion that might be present in a photo of lovers embracing, but here we seem further divorced because the lovers may merely be mimicking moments of love for the camera. So there might not be any emotion contained within the image for us to even try to connect to in the first place. But, this is great – through this process Sobol might be making a statement about one of the most significant limitations of art: the inherent experiential divorce, in virtually every work of art, between the illusion of some type of experience in a piece and the extent to which it can be felt or recognized - the impossibility of truly feeling what is allegedly contained within any image. Art is premised on the impossibility of directly feeling what is being felt in the images we see – this forces us to settle for an ‘interpretive’ instead of ‘experiential’ process from which art derives its meaning for us.

Sobol, however, seems to be sincere in his process and believes that his photos reveal a state of ‘being’ instead of ‘showing’ – it is not a question of Sobol ‘looking’ at his participants, there is, instead, a type of exchange taking place so that he is not telling a story about ‘them’ but of ‘us’ (as he explains on his website).  His sincerity in regard to removing the pretense of objectivity becomes clear in his photos and adds a deeper sense of fellow-feeling, compassion and humanity which is directly felt while one looks at the photos.

This show ran from July 16, 2015 to August 28, 2015. Photos may still be viewed through appointment at Yossi Milo.

I am also writing for Wall Street International these days:

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Should we boycott art events in countries of severe human rights violations? (Like India, where 3,000 children a day die of starvation)

Here is an image I found online of a severely malnourished child from India.

On a Facebook page dealing with art, I read about an art event in India and wondered how anyone in good conscience could patronize any arts event in a country where 3,000 children die each day due to starvation.

Here's a link showing that this is an accurate number - 3,000 per day, about 1 million children a year.

So on that Facebook page, underneath the article about the art event, I wrote:

Are you aware that 3,000 children die of starvation in India each day and that 500 million people do not even have indoor toilets?

These Facebook page folks wrote back saying: Please refrain from making derogatory remarks or you will be removed. Talk about art related issues.

Pointing out that 3,000 children die each day of starvation is a derogatory remark?

Furthermore, you can't separate art from its society any more - not after a bunch of nazis stated they bore no responsibility for the Holocaust because they could easily separate art from their society.

I wrote back: After I read a piece about art in India, I felt compelled to point out that 3,000 Indian children die of starvation each day and that 500 million people do not even have indoor toilets (some women get raped while using outdoor facilities). I was told these comments were 'derogatory' and this FB page will remove me if I say anything like this again. Wow - censorship is alive and well on this FB page - we need to ignore and forget about social issues in a country and just focus on its art - a la Leni Riefenstahl - really disgraceful. 

They wrote back and said: Hi Daniel. This is not the forum to make comments on social,political issues There are other communities designed for that purpose and we encourage you to use them.

I believe this is really a horrific and corrosive attitude and I am shocked that people with an interest in art have learned nothing about the dangers of removing a sense of social responsibility from art and are still separating art from the society in which it is created.

As an art reviewer for a relatively large art blog (elsewhere) I was once sent an invitation to review a gallery show of art from Singaporean and Thai artists. The show was sponsored by the tourism bureaus of those countries. According to my estimation, Singapore is a little homophobic dictatorship whose recently deceased dictator expressed anti-Asian prejudices stating, basically, that Asian people were too obsequious for democracy. Thailand  recently had a military takeover and illegally removed its PM from office and seems to be persecuting her now through a kangaroo court.

I refused to step foot in the gallery that hosted that show. 

I am firmly convinced now that folks in the art world need to be more vocal about abuses around the world. There's no such thing and never was such a thing as art divorced from its society. That there is a non-social art is the most fascistic aesthetic concept yet developed.