Overlap: Intersecting Identities at the Baxter St. Camera Club
The Ties That Bind: ICP-Bard MFA 2016 at the Baxter Street Camera Club
July 1 to July 30, 2016
126 Baxter Street (between Hester and Canal streets)
New York, 212 260 9927
Every person is a Venn diagram, sequences of spheres coming into and out of focus. We are composed of our gender, sexuality, nationality, histories both personal and cultural; but we are also something more, a quality of selfhood that is as ineffable as it is irresolute. In “The Ties that Bind,” the ICP-Bard MFA class of 2016 offers us selves sketched out in networks across time and space. This group of 10 artists, hailing from eight different countries, undertakes an investigation of self in the attempt to understand who we are in the context of our relationships and our worlds.
Excerpted from larger series and engaging in explicit storylines, these photographs and videos acknowledge their own fragmentation. Verónica Puche’s two photographs are accompanied by a descriptive page, inscribed with the Roman numeral “I,” a mark that suggests the continuation of her account. The story that plays out across her photographs — the life and death of her great uncle Guillermo — resists the photo as an agent of stasis and receives it instead as the ghost of someone long gone. Guillermo comes to the artist and the viewer like a Marian apparition, traversing time and space to look seriously out at us from this photograph of a photograph. Opening onto fracture and discontinuity, Puche’s Guillermo and Granada (both 2016) announce the photo as a second existence, a proposition that finds correspondence in many of the images now coloring the walls of the Baxter Street Camera Club.
At the far end of the gallery, an unwavering projection casts a still image onto the wall. From a foamy blue room, a young girl looks out from atop the bare shoulders of a man who is turned away. Part of the same projection, English text scrolls below while a pair of headphones offer the original audio in Spanish. Martha Naranjo Sandoval takes up the personal narrative as written in familial memory in How this has to be told (2016), a audio-visual work that catches the artist and her grandmother disagreeing over the story of this childhood photo. Is the young Naranjo Sandoval crying or laughing? Naranjo Sandoval’s grandmother wavers in the face of a granddaughter’s certainty, however, neither can truly remember. In opening interpretation to dispute, Naranjo Sandoval questions the verity that photography implies; is the past is merely what we believe it to be? How this has to be told demonstrates the continued life of history in the mutability of a photograph, which grows ever more exaggerated with the years that pass between the present and its moment of capture. In the ambiguity of memory and interpretation, doubt is the birth of new narratives.
Beginnings too are born in uncertainty. Matthew Papa catches the story at its inception in Self-portrait with Jerome (2015), one in a series of nude self-portraits that capture the artist as he encounters other men for the first time. Looking inscrutably out of the print, the artist casually accepts Jerome’s tender embrace. This portrait is a dance of intimacies; even while Jerome’s body presses despairingly against Papa’s, his fingers on the artist’s shoulder arch away from this unfamiliar body as if afraid to caress. Papa’s head, cocked upward, reciprocates the tender press of Jerome’s forehead, but also conveys a wary consideration of the camera’s gaze. These tentative affections, tempered by cautious trepidation, feel directly pertinent in the weeks following the shooting in Orlando, Florida, speaking to what we can see of the future and how we may continue to hope.
Each of these works constitutes a proposal, an experiment, in identities coming into contact with others; “You are you, and I am I.” However, you and I must also sometimes be together, overlapping. These works, which are diverse in more ways than one, reckon with the trials of alterity and the modes of understanding the collision of incongruous narratives. Together they offer a model of a self constructed through others and a society of accumulated selves.