03
Jul
14

Exhibition: ‘John Divola: As Far As I Could Get’ at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Exhibition dates: 6th October 2013 – 6th July 2014

 

FINALLY…. two postings on consecutive days by conceptual artists who use photography to document their staging, performance, sculpture, body, earth-body, action art, found art, land art – WORK THAT I REALLY LIKE AND CAN REALLY CARE ABOUT.

I care about both artists work not so much because of the quality of the photography but because of their passion, insight, ideas and general human nous, their need to understand humans and the worlds we inhabit: that INTELLIGENCE necessary for understanding what is true or real, using their intuition to root out, to dig down into the human psyche.

In this posting Divola eloquently investigates the mysterious process of creation through imagination (only for the original “model” then to be destroyed); the notion of photographic authenticity and an interrogation of the human impulse to master the natural world; photography at its most deceptively naturalistic revealing hidden, dead animals; and the landscape altered by human presence and staged to serve as a theater for creative activity through the “captured” act of running away.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of 'John Divola: As Far As I Could Get' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation view of 'John Divola: As Far As I Could Get' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

Installation view of 'John Divola: As Far As I Could Get' at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

 

Installation views of John Divola: As Far As I Could Get at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
© John Divola
Photo
© 2013 Museum Associates/LACMA

 

John Divola. 'Man in Vortex, 87CA2' 1987

 

John Divola
Man in Vortex, 87CA2
1987
Black and White Polapan Print (Polaroid)
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

In Divola’s words, the Polaroids feature “The photograph as an object has an relationship to that which it represents, something like the relationship the snake skin has to the snake that sheds it. The relationship of something dead to something living.” The Polapan prints especially lend themselves to this associate with skin. Their plasticity and their alchemical marks bear witness to a mysterious process of creation; their subject matter conjured up, and then discarded. Divola’s “studio constructions,” as he called them, were temporary structures made solely for the purpose of photographic depiction, including funnels, human and animal figures, and expressively painted backdrops. Divola’s photographs are themselves echo chambers: they replicate and reverberate light from objects that have long since vanished.

Divola’s process has important photo-conceptual precedents: Richard Long’s photographic records of lines made by walking, Jan Dibbets’ play with optical illusion through the camera’s lens, or Robert Smithson’s Yucatan Mirror Displacements. Divola’s work, though, is equally in conversation with the work of Jasper Johns. Johns, known for his paintings of numbers, flags, maps, and targets, focused on flat subjects as a means to conjoining the surface of subject matter with a painting’s flat picture plane. Divola has transmuted the achievements and medium-specificity of high modern painting into images that explore photography’s mimetic qualities and its sheer surface. These are images are about a recognizable reality we cannot access, dim echoes of a familiar world, yet one that has vanished.”

“JOHN DIVOLA – Echo Chamber” on the Gallery Luisotti website.

 

John Divola. 'Cone, 87CN09' 1987

 

John Divola
Cone, 87CN09
1987
Black and White Polapan Print (Polaroid)
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Rock and Water #1, 88RW1' 1988

 

John Divola
Rock and Water #1, 88RW1
1988
Black and White Polapan Print (Polaroid)
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Cells, 87CA1' 1987-89

 

John Divola
Cells, 87CA1
1987-89
Internal Dye-diffusion print
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Man on Hill, 89MHA1' 1987-89

 

John Divola
Man on Hill, 89MHA1
1987-89
Internal Dye-diffusion Print
20 x 24 inches
© John Divola

 

 John Divola. 'Moon, 88MOA1' 1988

 

John Divola
Moon, 88MOA1
1988
Internal Dye-diffusion print
20 x 24 inches
Courtesy of the artist
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Rabbit, 87RBA1' 1987

 

John Divola
Rabbit, 87RBA1
1987
Internal Dye-diffusion print
20 x 24 inches
Courtesy of the artist
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

 

John Divola
Artificial Nature (detail, 1 of 36)
2002
Gelatin Silver Print
8 x 10 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Ralph M. Parsons Fund and the Photographic Arts Council, 2013
© John Divola

 

“Across the gallery is a series of found photographs, “Artificial Nature” (2002), made up of continuity stills (the photographs taken on film sets to make ensure uniformity from scene to scene) from mid-century films. The photographs show fabricated landscapes created in studio backlots. The images zero in on the notion of photographic truth – the idea that when you look at a photograph, what you’re seeing is an accurate representation of the world – by presenting a false natural landscape. Without outside knowledge, upon first glance, the photographs look like ordinary landscapes.”

Maxwell Williams. “John Divola’s SoCal Moment,” on the Art in America website

 

“Artificial Nature” (2002) stands out, and as with many of Divola’s series, the bluntness of the title belies the delicacy and actual locus of interest. Composed of thirty-six “continuity stills”, these black and white prints have been repurposed from movie studio archives, framed and hung in a tight grid. Ranging in provenance from the 1930s to the 1960s, each picture documents a movie set dressed as a lush, natural landscape. A clapperboard sign planted in the foreground might identify the scene as “wooded hillside” or “the beach.” At once romantic and businesslike, the series opens a delicious gap between intention and effect. To view these pictures only through the lens of nature vs. artifice would be reductive and superficial at best. Treat them instead as a peek into the cabinetry of early pop mechanics, or evidence of a peculiar temporality where worlds should be fixed with a sign because they so routinely congeal and vanish.”

Kristin Posehn. “John Divola: As Far As I Could Get,” on The Miami Rail website.

 

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

John Divola. 'Artificial Nature' (detail, 1 of 36) 2002

 

John Divola
Artificial Nature (detail, 4 of 36)
2002
Gelatin Silver Print
8 x 10 in.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Ralph M. Parsons Fund and the Photographic Arts Council, 2013
© John Divola

 

 

“With a career compromising four decades, John Divola is as distinctive for his commitment to the photographic community as for his thought-provoking work, Divola’s infuence within the field of photography is widely recognized by curators, critics, scholars and photographers throughout the country; yet, his work has remained largely uncelebrated. Many of his former students have achieved illustrious careers and far more recognition, even as Divola continues to mentor and inspire both undergraduate and graduate students in contemporary practice.

As Far As I Could Get is the first over-arching presentation of Divola’s work and is a collaborative project led by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA), shown simultaneously at SBMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), and the Pomona College Museum of Art (PCMA) in the fall of 2013. Though Divola’s photographic series are diverse in subject matter, this approach as one exhibition among three Southern California venues emphasizes the consistent conceptual and performative threads that run through Divola’s entire body of work.

Divola was born in Los Angeles in 1949. After graduating with a BA from California State University, Northridge, he entered the MFA program at the University of California Los Angeles. There, under the tutelage of Robert Heineken, the artist began to develop his own unique photographic practice, one that merges photography, painting, and conceptual art. In addition to his own studio practice, he teaches contemporary art in the underserved California inland empire and writes on current phhotographic practice for a national audience.

John Divola’s photos of photographs range widely but the intellectual rigor from which they spring is unvarying. Whether testing the visual limits of photography by vandalizing abandoned houses, interrogating the iconography of the divine through paint, flour, and film, or emphasizing the distance between image and reality through the blurred figure of a running dog, Divola’s work is simultaneously fun and philosophical, visually appealing as well as intellectually stimulating.

LACMA On view:  Four series of John Divola’s work in the Ahmanson Building, 2nd Floor

The series 20 x 24 Polaroids is Divola’s earliest work exhibited at LACMA, shot between 1987 and 1989. Hastily fabricated sculptures created out of impermanent materials attempt, on one level, to approximate actual physical objects in the world – branches, a rabbit, the moon, etc. At the same time, the roughly-hewn surfaces and ticky-tacky backdrops insist on the artificiality of what is depicted. These works express Divola’s ambivalence to the idea of photography as a descriptive medium with a one-to-one relationship to the real. Photography, in this case, is not employed in the service of documentary truth, but instead is held up as a crucial interlocutor in a creatiive exercise.

Artificial Nature (2002) offers a clear example of Divola’s interrogation of the human impulse to master the natural world. The work is a collecction of 36 continuity stills from films made between the 1930s and the 1960s. These photographs, taken on film sets to establish consistency across multiple cuts (to ensure that the placement of objects remains constant from take to take), document fabricated landscapes contained within the artificial space of the film studio. Representinng the diversity of natural topographies add weather patterrns, the images also include accessories such as signage and clapperboards, highlighting the distance between ourselves and the natural world – a diistance that is only accentuated by cinematic representation.

Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit (1995) is a series of details from the Keystone Mast ccollection of stereographic negatives housed at the California Museum of Photography, University of Caliifornia Riverside. Stereoscopy, a three-dimensional imaging technology popular from the mid 19th to the early 20th century, exemplifies photography at its most deceptively naturalistic. When Divola began to examine the original glass-plate negatives in the Keystone collection, he found a wealth of detail, such as the birds and rabbit nestled amidst the folliage that gave the series its title.

The series As Far As I Could Get (1996-2010), five works of which are included in the LACMA exhibition, has Divola once again engaging with the natural environment, but this time in a more performative vein. Divola positioned his camera on a tripod, set the timer for ten seconds, and then ran straight into the established frame. At one level, this was a completely dispassionate endeavor. On another level, because the resulting pictures depict a man in a landscape, not in a controlled experimental setting, the viewer cannot suppress a frisson of physical and emotional tension. The works engage the viewer with the natural landscape – a landscape altered by human presence and staged to serve as a theater for creative activity.”

Press release from the LACMA website

 

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' (detail) 1995

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' (detail) 1995

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' (detail) 1995

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' (detail) 1995

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' (detail) 1995

John Divola. 'Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit' (detail) 1995

 

John Divola
Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit (details)
1995
Gelatin Silver Print on Linen
20 x 20 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get (R02F09), 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola
As Far As I Could Get (R02F09), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get (R02F06), 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola
As Far As I Could Get (R02F06), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

“Divola is a photographer who works in distinct conceptual series that span and stretch the reaches of photography as art. For instance, at LACMA, the works include a series called “As Far As I Could Get” (1996-2010), where Divola sets a 10-second timer and sprints as far from the camera as he can. It’s performative, simple, amusing and alienating – a tiny body in full physical exertion, far off in the landscape.”

Maxwell Williams. “John Divola’s SoCal Moment,” on the Art in America website.

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola
As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola
As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola
As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

John Divola. 'As Far As I Could Get, 10 Seconds' 1996-97

 

John Divola
As Far As I Could Get (R02F33), 10 Seconds
1996-97
Pigment Print
60 x 40 inches
© John Divola

 

 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)
5905 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax Avenue)
Los Angeles, CA, 90036
T: 323 857 6000

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Friday: noon – 9 pm
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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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