Posts Tagged ‘truth

17
Aug
13

Catalogue essay by Dr Marcus Bunyan / Exhibition: ‘Sudarios (Shrouds)’ by Erika Diettes at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale

Exhibition dates: 17th August – 15th September 2013

Entry free, open daily 10 am – 5pm

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This exhibition is one of the core programs for this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale and I had the privilege of writing the catalogue essay for the Colombian artist Erika Diettes. I met the delightful Erika and her husband today at the opening of BiFB on their first trip to Australia and I must say the art hangs very well in the Mining Exchange building.

This was one of the most difficult but rewarding pieces that I have ever had to write.
In reading, I hope you gather the full import of the text.

Text © Marcus Bunyan. All images © Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

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Intimations of Mor(t)ality: Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes

by Dr Marcus Bunyan

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“There is now a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain [a] kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.”

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Susan Sontag Regarding the Pain of Others 2003 1

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When I was asked to write the catalogue essay on Colombian artist Erika Diettes’ work Sudarios (Shrouds) by editor Esther Gyorki for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale the work gave me pause. What could I say about it that was relevant, insightful and spoke from the heart? I wrote back to Esther saying I needed to do some background research: “This is difficult subject matter and I want to make sure I can do it justice before I commit to writing about it.”2 In a synchronous way that often happens in the world, that is ultimately what this text is about – justice.

The basics are easily told. Artist and anthropologist Erika Diettes travelled to different cities in the department of Antioquia to interview women who had been present at the torture and murder of their loved ones.3 Diettes photographed the women, closely cropped in black and white, at a moment of great vulnerability – all but one with their eyes closed. The resultant twenty photographs were printed on seven feet tall silk panels and form the work Sudarios (shrouds are a burial cloak, a cloth that shrouds the body of the deceased). The artist always intended for these images to be printed on silk and had the installation in mind before she took the photographs: in other words previsualisation was strong. The work is usually displayed in sacred spaces such as churches and convents with a sound track of a barely audible, sighing female voice; here in Ballarat the work is hung in the former Mining Exchange building, a seat of colonial power and wealth which can be read as appropriate for the presentation of this work, for torture is always about the power of one person over another. The viewer can walk through these floating realities and be enfolded in the aggrieved women’s sorrow as if part of a ceremonial procession, perhaps a funeral cortege.

In her creation of an allegorical space for mourning, Diettes work acts as a funeral rite for both living and dead, acts of mourning placed in a context of splendour. The images evoke the representation of the death of Saint Sebastian, the faces recalling “the exquisite suffering of the Catholic saints and martyrs, but also of refugees and victims of contemporary traumas,”4 while the atrocities perpetrated on the body are hidden by the close cropping of the images. As Diettes observes, “You can’t help being a little pierced by their exhalations,”5 an indirect reference by Diettes to the arrows that pierce Saint Sebastian’s body. Diettes opens a space before the camera for the human ‘being’ in context, a terrain (of) or becoming, where the terrors are written on the countenance of the women, their mouths silently singing their song of mourning. Look at their mouths, each one contorted in agony, each one giving voice to the memory of terror.

These are confronting images about trauma and grief, documenting the ongoing effects of atrocity on the mind of the observer for they are portrayals of the effect of intim(id)ation, where intimations of mortality are evidenced by the removal of an identity, the beloved id, which reveals the intimate – expressed in the adoration/adornment of the women with jewellery which signifies the women’s dignity, comfort, and continuing engagement with the world as an extension of personal self/belief.

The signs of erasure of these murders are rearticulated through Diettes work. The bodies are held in suspended animation, in endless agony, through an act of re-terror-itorialization. Through the evacuation of loved ones, their discontinuity and deterritorialization, and the reterritorialization / re-terroring of that space through memory – portrayed on the faces of the women – the images recast and represent issues of power, domination and abuse. Through suspended sorrow, suspended mourning, the disappearance of some bodies and the speaking of others, the images become a representation of a doubled absence, a doubled momenti mori – for the photographs picture the women (making them dead) as they themselves remember the violence perpetrated before them from behind closed eyes (as the dead have their eyes closed), remembering in their mind’s eye the death of the beloved. The image of the victim has become a ghost, a trace etched upon the face of the relative, a trace of that which “persists and gives testimony of a vanished state” in art, for if art is linked to memory and to what survives, it is from the perspective of its own corpse-oreality, its own ghostly and fragile materiality that these images emerge: the hanged man, the hung woman. Remaking but always recording the past through interaction with the present, the shrouds are a palimpsest in which “personal memories are always interwoven with historical consciousness”6 and are constantly being rewritten.

Of course the photographs elicit our empathy but more than that they make us feel their terrible vulnerability while drawing us into uncomfortable complicity as subsidiary witnesses to the event.7 Normally when looking at a photograph the viewer is a secondary witness but here the viewer becomes a tertiary witness – the actual event, the memory of that event etched on the face of the women captured by the camera and now observed by the viewer. There is an osmotic effect taking place as one as one image is super imposed on another. Even after an event is over, “there’s an after image or an echo that exists… a spirit or a residue, a trace.”8 These visions are like images of the Holocaust. As soon as we see them we are implicated in a narrative – and we are helpless in this process – which is an essential part of history.

Diettes work reframes the subject because there is no traditional frame of reference for the viewer, only a memory of that reference in the form of a ghost-like shroud. The normal definition of a shroud no longer pertains to these images for the cloth is no longer around a dead body but represents / holds a trace of what was once dead.

As spirit photographs in the Victorian era solidified a fractured, unknown reality, so these apparitions of the departed are brought forth and solidified, just for a moment, in the faces of the suffering women. The viewer of these images does not see the (dead) carrier of messages, but only their shadows carried by the grief of their loved ones, shrouded as they are in remembrances of the past. We feel that the women are not looking at us but that the aura of their invisible seeing is directed toward us from outside of its normative context – from behind their eyes. It is this imprint on the Shrouds; the imprint of their memories that travels great distances towards us, that enfolds us in sorrow and shadow.

“It is the special feeling of the ‘presence’ of a work produced not by its remaining where it is but by its moving across boundaries where it reaches us from a distance, looking at us even when it appears not to. It is where the work seems peculiarly meant for us even in its indifference to or difference from us.”9

If photographs really are “experience captured” then Diettes explores this arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood,10 probing the limitation of the medium, shaping the space within the available conditions. Her images become images of sentience that enable the viewer to live in the world with open eyes (while the victims eyes are closed) – to be made aware of the injustices of this world and not remain silent. Diettes work is not about remembering, it’s about an answerable “not forgetting” for hers… is to remind us of the responsibility to make art in response to mor(t)ality.

As human beings, we must fight for the right to be heard and use art as a visual language to textualise our experience and thereby make it available for interpretation and closure. Powerful, simple questions (and I believe) undeniable questions have to be asked; and in response to those questions (power: it will corrupt you, but if you don’t want it, it will be used against you), intelligence, justice and integrity must be used in the service of art. While human truth may be ephemeral qualities like justice are not; the struggle is to define justice and to live it. And for artists to display it.

You place innocence at the heart of human depravity – and hope it survives.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Melbourne 2013

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Endnotes

1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p.102.

2. Email to Esther Gyorki. Tue, March 26, 2013

3. The capital of the department of Antioquia is Medellin. The city is a 35-minute flight from the Colombian capital Bogota and has one of the highest rates of violence concerning drugs in Colombia. Most of the crimes were committed between 2001 and 2008.

4. Anon. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.” on the Hauser and Wirth website [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.hauserwirth.com/exhibitions/899/berlinde-de-bruyckere-into-one-another-to-p-p-p/view/

5. Diettes, Erika quoted in Tobón, Paola Cardona. “The exhalation of sorrow,” in  El Colombiano, November 4, 2012 [Online] Cited Cited May 5, 2013.
erikadiettes.com/links/prensa/houston/02_ExhalationOfSorrow_ElColombiano_v2.pdf

6. Garb, Tamar. “A Land of Signs,” in Journal of Contemporary African Art 26, Spring 2010, p.11.

7. Op. cit. “Berlinde De Bruyckere Into One-Another To P.P.P.”

8. Rakes, Rachael and Goldsmith, Leo. “Pasolini’s Body: Cathy Lee Crane with Leo Goldsmith and Rachael Rakes,” on The Brooklyn Rail website. January 13, 2013 [Online] Cited May 5, 2013.
www.brooklynrail.org/2013/02/film/pasolinis-body-cathy-lee-crane-with-leo-goldsmith-rachael-rakes

9. Butler, Rex. “”Lines”, Leading Out of Sight?: Is Aboriginal Art Losing its Aura?” in Australian Art Collector No. 13, July-September 2000, p.87.

10. Campany, David. “Photography and Photographs,” on the Still Searching blog. April 14, 2013 [Online] Cited May 11, 2013.
blog.fotomuseum.ch/2013/04/1-photography-and-photographs/#more-1282

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of 'Sudarios (Shrouds)' by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat. Photographs by Marcus Bunyan

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Installation photographs of Sudarios (Shrouds) by Erika Diettes at the Mining Exchange, Ballarat
Photographs by Marcus Bunyan
© Marcus Bunyan, Erika Diettes and Ballarat International Foto Biennale

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Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Ballarat International Foto Biennale
Mining Exchange building
8 Lydiard St N
Ballarat VIC 3350
T: (03) 5333 4242

Ballarat International Foto Biennale website

Erika Diettes website

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09
Jun
13

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951’ at The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 16th June 2013

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Conscience of the brave

Bradley Manning.
A slight, bespectacled, intelligent gay man.
A man who has the courage of his convictions.
He revealed truth at the heart of the world’s largest “democracy.”

There is something insidious about the American nation. Not its citizens, not its place, but its government. This government has perpetrated evil in the name of its people. Think of Iraq and Afghanistan, invasions in the name of freedom, the support of puppet governments, the assassinations, the military advisors on the ground, the profits made.

The torture. The deaths.

Bradley Manning revealed all of this because he has a mighty moral compass. He knows right from wrong. He was not afraid to expose the hypocrisy that for many years has beaten, unfettered, in the breast of a nation. The home of the brave and the free is sadly under attack from within. In the name of its people.

And why is this text relevant to this posting?
So often in the history of America, dissension is shut down because of some imagined menace, from within or without. Here another group of people (photographers documenting American social conditions) were persecuted for standing up for social causes, for the freedom to expose injustice where it lives. The paranoia of patriotism.

Marcus

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Many thankx to The Norton Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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“When the persecution of an individual who has exposed an evil is pursued so ruthlessly and yet the evil itself is studiedly ignored, all of us know that there is something very wrong with the way that our society is conducting itself. And if we do not protest in the strongest terms about what is being done in our name, then we become complicit.”

Alan Moore

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“The US has shown remarkable energy in its pursuit of alleged whistleblowers. Has it investigated the deaths of those innocent civilians with the same vigour? With any vigour whatsoever? And which would you consider a crime? To conceal the deaths of innocent civilians, or to reveal them? I know what my answer would be.”

Les Barker

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“To suggest that lives were put in danger by the release of the WikiLeaks documents is the most cynical of statements. Lives were put in danger the night we invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq, an act that had nothing to do with what the Bradley Mannings of this country signed up for: to defend our people from attack. It was a war based on a complete lie and lives were not only put in danger, hundreds of thousands of them were exterminated. For those who organised this massacre to point a finger at Bradley Manning is the ultimate example of Orwellian hypocrisy.” 

Michael Moore

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“Private Manning is the world’s pre-eminent prisoner of conscience, having remained true to the Nuremberg principle that every soldier has the right to ‘a moral choice.’ His suffering mocks the notion of the land of the free.” 

John Pilger

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Alexander Alland (1902-1989, born Sevastopol, Ukraine) 'Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)' 1938

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Alexander Alland (1902-1989, born Sevastopol, Ukraine)
Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York,
Purchase: William and Jane Schloss Family Foundation Fund

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Louis Stettner (born 1922, Brooklyn, New York) 'Coming  to America' c. 1951

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Louis Stettner (born 1922, Brooklyn, New York)
Coming  to America
c. 1951
Gelatin silver print The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

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Erika Stone (born 1924, Frankfurt, Germany) 'Lower Eastside Facade' 1947

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Erika Stone (born 1924, Frankfurt, Germany)
Lower Eastside Facade
1947
Gelatin silver print
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Photo League Collection
Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby Fund,
John S. and Catherine Chapin Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League

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Stone’s adroit cropping of this image emphasizes the coy upward gaze of the woman in the advertisement,
away from the laundry line (emblem of poverty), and suggests the social mobility of the postwar era.

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Marvin E. Newman (born 1927, Manhattan, New York) 'Halloween, South Side' 1951

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Marvin E. Newman (born 1927, Manhattan, New York)
Halloween, South Side
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

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Marvin Newman

Born in New York; Newman attended Brooklyn College, where he studied sculpture with Burgoyne Diller and photography with Walter Rosenblum. Following Rosenblum’s suggestion, he joined the Photo League in 1948, taking classes with John Ebstel. The Photo League, founded in 1936, blazed a trail for serious photographers for 15 years, providing a forum for ideas, cheap darkroom space, and the vision of using the art of picture taking to change the world. Newman then attended the Institute of Design, Chicago (1949-52), where, after studying with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, he received one of the first MS degrees in photography (1952).

During this time, Newman won national contests, including one sponsored by American Photography (1950) and another by Time, Inc. (1951). His work appeared in the Always a Young Stranger exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and in a one-man show at Roy De Carava’s A Photographer’s Gallery (1956). Well-known as a photojournalist, Newman has been a major contributor to Sports Illustrated since its inception (1953), as well as to Life, Look, Newsweek, and Smithsonian magazines. In addition, he has been the national president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, authored or coauthored eight books on photography, and received the Art Director’s Gold Medal for Editorial Photography.

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Ida Wyman (born 1926, Malden, Massachusetts) 'Spaghetti 25 Cents, New York' 1945

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Ida Wyman (born 1926, Malden, Massachusetts)
Spaghetti 25 Cents, New York
1945
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

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This Italian restaurant was near the offices of Acme Newspictures, where Wyman became the company’s first
female photo printer in 1943. After the war she lost her job at the agency. The “Ladies Invited” sign on the
window is a reminder of a time when unescorted women were not always welcome in public dining establishments.

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Ida Wyman

When I began working in the 1940s, few women were doing magazine photography in a field that was almost exclusively male. As I progressed from box camera to Speed Graphic (my first professional camera), and then to a Rolleiflex, I stopped thinking about the mechanics of film speed, f-stops, shutter speed, and began focusing on subject matter that interested me. What interested me so much were ordinary people and their everyday activities. Early on, I had documented children’s games and unusual architectural details in my Bronx neighborhood. I decided to expand, to go elsewhere, taking the subway to Harlem, Chinatown, and lower Manhattan, exploring those neighborhoods and looking for photos.

I became a member of the Photo League in 1946. I considered myself a documentary photographer and the League’s philosophy of honest photography appealed to me. I also began to understand the power of photos to help improve the social order by showing the conditions under which many people lived and worked. Even after leaving the League the following year, I continued to emphasize visual and social realities in my straightforward photographs.

Beginning with my earliest photos seeing New York City with my feet, and in whatever part of the country I was in, I continued my own walkabout, learning the area, engaging my subject, listening, and respecting their dignity. This continued to be my approach when taking photos. My photographs depicted daily life in America’s modern metropolitan centers, including Chicago and Los Angeles as well as New York.

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Aaron Siskind (1903-1991, born Manhattan, New York) 'The Wishing Tree' 1937

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Aaron Siskind (1903-1991, born Manhattan, New York)
The Wishing Tree
1937, printed later
from Harlem Document, 1936-40
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Lillian Gordon Bequest

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Harlem’s legendary Wishing Tree, bringer of good fortune, was once a tall elm that stood outside a theater at
132nd Street and Seventh Avenue. When it was cut down in 1934 Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the celebrated tap
dancer, moved the stump to a nearby block and planted a new Tree of Hope beside it to assume wishgranting duties.
A piece of the original trunk is preserved in the Apollo Theater on 125th Street, where performers still touch
it for luck before going onstage.

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Sonia Handelman Meyer (born 1920, Lakewood, New Jersey) 'Hebrew Immigration Aid Society' c. 1946

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Sonia Handelman Meyer (born 1920, Lakewood, New Jersey)
Hebrew Immigration Aid Society
c. 1946
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin in memory of Max Alperin

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The efforts of the New York­ based Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) to rescue European Jews during
the war were severely hampered by US immigration laws. After the war it aided in the resettlement of some
150,000 displaced persons, including, presumably, these three, whom Handelman Meyer has chosen to
photograph in close­up. She conveys both their common suffering and their individuality, emphasizing
differences in body language and dress.

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Sonia Handelman Meyer

I first heard of the Photo League from Lou Stoumen in Puerto Rico in 1942. I was working for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and Lou was preparing to join Yank Magazine.  When I returned to New York City, I walked up the rickety stairs to League Headquarters and took a beginners class with Johnny Ebstel. I bought a used Rolleicord for a precious $100, and dared to go out on the city streets to photograph the life around me. Soon the guys began to come back from the war and the heady life of Photo League workshops, exhibits, lectures, photo hunts, and committee assignments intensified. I took eye-heart-soul opening workshops with Sid Grossman, worked as the paid (!) secretary for a year or so, and worked on the Lewis Hine Committee under Marynn Ausubel.

I photographed in Spanish Harlem, Greenwich Village, midtown Manhattan, at the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, at an anti-lynching rally in Madison Square Park, at a Jehovah’s Witness convention in Yankee Stadium, and on Coney Island. Mostly, I photographed children and reflections of my city – rough-edged, tender, and very beautiful in its diversity. Some of this work was shown in the major 1949 exhibition, This is the Photo League.

The heartbreaking end of the League coincided with a huge change in my personal life. I got married and my husband began to go to college and we were out of NY for a while. And then the biggest change: our own family arrived and the joys of our son, and later our daughter, absorbed my time. Prints and negatives were stashed away in boxes and I lost track of all the old friends at the League. After so many years of being in the shadows, you can imagine my pleasure, at 90+ years of age, to have my photographs out of their boxes and onto walls where they can be seen, thought about, and enjoyed – and perhaps again take their place in the history of the Photo League.

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York) 'Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn' 1950

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York)
Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn
1950
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Rictavia Schiff Bequest

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Arnold Eagle. 'Chatham Square Platform, New York City' c. 1939

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Arnold Eagle
Chatham Square Platform, New York City
c. 1939
Silver gelatin print

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Joe Schwartz (born 1913, Brooklyn, New York) 'Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York' c. 1936

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Joe Schwartz (born 1913, Brooklyn, New York)
Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Photo League Collection
Museum Purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby Fund, John S. and Catherine Chapin
Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League

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Morris Huberland (1909-2003, born Warsaw, Poland) 'Union Square, New York' c. 1942

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Morris Huberland (1909-2003, born Warsaw, Poland)
Union Square, New York
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund

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“The Norton Museum of Art’s newest special exhibition, The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936 – 1951, is a formidable survey of the League’s history, and its artistic, cultural, social, and political significance. Opening March 14 and on view through June 16, 2013, this striking exhibition includes nearly 150 vintage photographs from Photo League collections at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, and The Jewish Museum in New York City.

The exhibition is organized by Mason Klein, Curator of Fine Arts at The Jewish Museum and Catherine Evans, the William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography of the Columbus Museum of Art. It premiered in at The Jewish Museum in 2011 to rave reviews. The New York Times called The Radical Camera a “stirring show,” and the New York Photo Review hailed it as “nothing short of splendid.” The New Yorker named the exhibition one of the top 10 photography exhibitions of 2011. The Norton is the final venue on the exhibition’s tour.

The exhibition explores the fascinating blend of aesthetics and social activism at the heart of the Photo League. League members were known for capturing sharply revealing, compelling moments from everyday life. The League focused on New York City and its vibrant streets – a shoeshine boy, a brass band on a bustling corner, a crowded beach at Coney Island. Many of the images are beautiful, yet harbor strong social commentary on issues of class, race, and opportunity. The organization’s members included some of the most noted photographers of the mid-20th century – W. Eugene Smith, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott and Aaron Siskind, to name a few.

In 1936, a group of young, idealistic photographers, most of them Jewish, first-generation Americans, formed an organization in Manhattan called the Photo League. Their solidarity centered on a belief in the expressive power of the documentary photograph, and on a progressive alliance in the 1930s of socialist ideas and art. (The Photo League also helped validate photography as a fine art, presenting student work and guest exhibitions by established photographers.) The Radical Camera presents the development of the documentary photograph during a tumultuous period that spanned the New Deal reforms of the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Offering classes, mounting exhibitions, and fostering community, members of the Photo League focused on social reform and the power of the photograph to motivate change. At the height of their influence, their membership included the most important photographers of their day including Berenice Abbot, Aaron Siskind, Barbara Morgan, Sid Grossman, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), and Lisette Model. Featuring more than 175 works by these artists as well as many more Photo League members, The Radical Camera traces the organization’s interests, attitudes toward photography, and impact during its 15-year lifespan.

The innovative contributions of the Photo League during its 15-year existence (1936-1951) were significant. As it grew, the League mirrored monumental shifts in the world starting with the Depression, through World War II, and ending with the Red Scare. Born of the worker’s movement, the Photo League was an organization of young, idealistic, first-generation American photographers, most of them Jewish, who believed in documentary photography as an expressive medium and powerful tool for exposing social problems. It was also a school with teachers such as Sid Grossman, who encouraged students to take their cameras to the streets and discover the meaning of their work as well as their relationship to it. The League had a darkroom for printing, published an acclaimed newsletter called Photo Notes, offered exhibition space, and was a place to socialize.

The Photo League helped validate photography as a fine art, presenting student work and guest exhibitions by established photographers such as Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Edward Weston, among others. These affecting black and white photographs show life as it was lived mostly on the streets, sidewalks and subways of New York. Joy and playfulness as well as poverty and hardship are in evidence. In addition to their urban focus, “Leaguers” photographed rural America, and during World War II, took their cameras to Latin America and Europe. The exhibition also addresses the active participation of women who found rare access and recognition at the League. The Radical Camera presents the League within a critical, historical context. Developments in photojournalism were catalyzing a new information era in which photo essays were appearing for the first time in magazines such as Life and Look. As time went on, its social documentary roots evolved toward a more experimental approach, laying the foundation for the next generation of street photographers.

In 1947, the League came under the pall of McCarthyism and was blacklisted for its alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Ironically, the Photo League had just begun a national campaign to broaden its base as a “Center for American Photography.” Despite the support of Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Paul Strand, and many other national figures, this vision of a national photography center could not overcome the Red Scare. As paranoia and fear spread, the Photo League was forced to disband in 1951. The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 has been organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. Major support was provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Limited Brands Foundation.”

Press release from The Norton Museum of Art website

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Sy Kattelson (born 1923, Manhattan, New York) 'Untitled (Subway Car)' 1949

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Sy Kattelson (born 1923, Manhattan, New York)
Untitled (Subway Car)
1949
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

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Jerome Liebling (United States, 1924-2011) 'Butterfly Boy, New York' 1949

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Jerome Liebling (United States, 1924-2011)
Butterfly Boy, New York
1949
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund
© Estate of Jerome Liebling

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Lee Sievan (1907-1990, born Manhattan, New York) 'Salvation Army Lassie in Front of a Woolworth Store' c. 1940

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Lee Sievan (1907-1990, born Manhattan, New York)
Salvation Army Lassie in Front of a Woolworth Store
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

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This is a classic photograph. Look at the triangle that forms the central part of the image, from the girl at left looking with disdain at the matriarch singing then down to the look on the organ players face. Notice the girl at right covering her ears so she cannot hear the racket. Imagine the legs of the organ player going up and down, pumping air into the organ; and finally observe the shadow of a man’s face captured by reflection in the shop window as he walks past the scene. Magic.

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Rosalie Gwathmey (1908-2001, born Charlotte, North Carolina) 'Shout Freedom, Charlotte, North Carolina' c. 1948

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Rosalie Gwathmey (1908-2001, born Charlotte, North Carolina)
Shout Freedom, Charlotte, North Carolina
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Gay Block and Malka Drucker Fund of the Houston Jewish Community Foundation

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Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968, born Zloczów, Galicia, now Ukraine) 'Max Is Rushing in the Bagels to a Restaurant on Second Avenue for the Morning Trade' c. 1940

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Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968, born Zloczów, Galicia, now Ukraine)
Max Is Rushing in the Bagels to a Restaurant on Second Avenue for the Morning Trade
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Joan B. and Richard L. Barovick Family Foundation and Bunny and Jim Weinberg Gifts

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Bernard Cole (1911-1992, born London, England) 'Shoemaker’s Lunch' 1944

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Bernard Cole (1911-1992, born London, England)
Shoemaker’s Lunch
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York,
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

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Rebecca Lepkoff (American, born 1916) 'Broken Window on South Street, New York' 1948

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Rebecca Lepkoff (American, born 1916)
Broken Window on South Street, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Esther Leah Ritz Bequest

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York) 'Ideal Laundry' 1946

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York)
Ideal Laundry
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Esther Leah Ritz Bequest

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Consuelo Kanaga (1894-1978, born Astoria, Oregon) 'Untitled (Tenements, New York)' c. 1937

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Consuelo Kanaga (1894-1978, born Astoria, Oregon)
Untitled (Tenements, New York)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

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Leftist political activism was a strong element in Kanaga’s work, beginning with her photographs of a labor
strike in San Francisco in 1934. She provided photographs for progressive publications such as New Masses,
Labor Defender,
 and Sunday Worker. Underlying this formal study of tenement laundry lines (a common
motif in League imagery) is Kanaga’s empathy for the living conditions of the working class.

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Ruth Orkin (1921-1985, born Boston, Massachusetts) 'Boy Jumping into Hudson River' 1948

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Ruth Orkin (1921-1985, born Boston, Massachusetts)
Boy Jumping into Hudson River
1948
Gelatin silver print The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

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Sol Prom (Solomon Fabricant) (1906-1989, born Brooklyn, New York) 'Untitled (Dancing School)' 1938

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Sol Prom (Solomon Fabricant) (1906-1989, born Brooklyn, New York)
Untitled (Dancing School)
1938
from Harlem Document, 1936-40
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

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Mary Bruce opened a dancing school in Harlem in 1937. For fifty years she taught ballet and tap, giving free lessons to those who could not afford them. Her illustrious pupils included Katherine Dunham, Nat King Cole, Ruby Dee, and Marlon Brando.

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The Norton Museum of Art
1451 S. Olive Avenue
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
T: (561) 832-5196

Opening hours:

Tuesday           10 am – 5 pm
Wednesday     10 am – 5 pm
Thursday         10 am – 9 pm
Friday              10 am – 5 pm
Saturday          10 am – 5 pm
Sunday             11 am – 5 pm

Closed Mondays

The Norton Museum of Art website

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22
Sep
12

Review: ‘Jenny Reddin: The Art of Catastrophe’ at Anita Traverso Gallery, Richmond

Exhibition dates: 5th September – 29th September 2012

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“Each epoch dreams the one to follow, creates it in dreaming”

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Jules Michelet

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“Each epoch dreams of itself as annihilated by catastrophes”

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Theodor Adorno

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A star is born

The origin of the word catastrophe is Greek (kata + strophein) and its literal meaning was “overturn”. According to its definition, it is an event that causes trauma due to its capacity to destroy most of a community. Catastrophes are extreme events that affect a large number of victims in the affected community, and are easily identified as events that cause physical suffering.1 The use of words such as disaster (origin in the Italian word disastro (dis + astro, “bad star”)) and catastrophe create the idea of a “disaster taxonomy,” one which is based on the principle that there are variable emotional responses that depend on the type of disaster, the degree of personal impact, the size of the group affected, and the geographical and temporal range of the event.2 These pure words define the event itself and the havoc they wreak without incorporating the perceptions of the victims; in other words they are an objective reflection on the subjective performativity of the act itself.

Catastrophes fascinate humans as they clearly show them the limits of their own existence. The dystopian catastrophe challenges the temporal linearity of a utopian dreaming in which the darkness of the lived moment is illuminated by the anticipatory daydreams of the “not-yet-conscious” future. What catastrophe codes is a dialectical relation to Utopianism, a rejection of the holistic vision of an anticipatory consciousness of a utopian future. As Matthew Charles observes,

“The catastrophic signifies the dialectical intrusion of the whole of history (including the present in which it is represented) into the construction epoch, and by extension the whole of the epoch into the life of the artist, and the whole life of the artist into a particular work. Benjamin’s messianic account of the experience of truth imposes the theological concepts of the infinite, fulfilled and perfected state of the world into the immanence of finite, particular, existing phenomenon. In this way, the intrusion of the historical Absolute contributes to the catastrophic ruination of the work.”3

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As can be seen in the Jenny Reddin’s artist statement, the whole of the artist’s history is bound up in the creation of the work. The infinite possibilities of a subjective understanding of truth are bound together with the immanence of finite, particular, existing phenomenon, that of the art of catastrophe, the objective presentation of ruination, in the art itself. Reddin’s anticipatory daydreams become an anticipatory illumination as an image, a constellation, a configuration tied closely to the idea of the concrete/fluid utopic/dystopic landscapes of the body and the earth. Reddin’s paintings work at both a macro and micro level, a phenomenon that is cross-disciplinary like the phenomenon of catastrophe itself. The work reminds me of cellular structures at the micro level (cross-sections of diseased kidneys, the veins of the heart or scientific slides of blood cells) and of aerial views of the earth at the macro level (alluvial deltas and views of open cast mines). They balance beauty with serendipity, the manipulation of the “flow” of paint (from one point in time to many points) that captures light, the light of the cosmos and of the subconscious. These magnificent works of art have emerged from the artist’s life – much as Immanuel Velikovsky argued that the planet Venus is a former “comet” which was ejected from Jupiter – in an act of catastrophic creation. They are dreaming of the future and yet also dreaming of catastrophe. 

Running with these ideas you might argue that these dream images are both an act of emergence and an emergency, a catastrophe. For some thinkers the sociology of emergences aims to identify and enlarge the signs of possible future experiences, under the guise of tendencies and latencies, that are actively ignored by hegemonic rationality and knowledge. For Ernst Bloch the concept of The Not Yet, “is the way in which the future is inscribed in the present. It is not an indeterminate or infinite future, rather a concrete possibility and a capacity that neither exists in a vacuum nor are completely predetermined. Subjectively, the Not Yet is anticipatory consciousness, a form of consciousness that is extremely important in people’s lives. Objectively, the Not Yet is, on the one hand, capacity (potency) and, on the other, possibility (potentiality).”4

Here the field of possibility has a dimension of darkness (disaster) as it originates in the lived moment whilst the sociology of emergences inquires into the alternatives that are contained in the horizon of concrete, utopian possibilities in order to identify therein the tendencies of the future (the Not Yet): the light of the future. Hence these images contain both emergency (of the catastrophe, of the lived moment) and an emergence (into the future). A (bad) star is born. I also believe that in this artist another star has been born, one that will shine strongly in future dreamings.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Many thankx to Anita Traverso Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs of the paintings in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Jenny Reddin
Caught in an Effervescent Breeze
2012
Oil on canvas
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Ms. Broadhurst’s Poppy
2012
Oil on canvas
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
A Shifting Reality
2012
Mixes media on linen
137 x 122 cm

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“At the heart of a catastrophe there is a massive burst of energy. Jenny Reddin’s works seek to capture that energy in an alchemic process that involves the dissolving of pigments in various solutions and pouring the viscous mixes onto prepared structures. Due to the varying specific gravities the pigments drop out at different rates offering alternately dry, textured or smooth, mirror-like fields. This series presents works inspired by the natural phenomenon and the interaction of the human form, capturing the juxtaposition of the beauty of the Australian country with the ongoing cycle of natural catastrophe.”

Text from the gallery website

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“I have been painting for around 14 years. At a time when I should have been at Art School, I was studying for a bachelor of business. When I should have been exhibiting my work, I was running a consulting practice and managing people. It wasn’t until my husband and I adopted a little girl from India that I was able to take the time to explore my creative side. I have been painting ever since.

Catastrophe plays an important role in my life. I am an idea, act, plan person in everything I do. It’s how I live my life and it’s how I paint. I had to make a decision early on in my painting career that I either learned to celebrate the spontaneous nature of catastrophes or go mad trying to paint in a conventional manner. I found also that it was becoming increasingly important for me to find my own style and form of expression. I would cringe when people would compliment me by telling me that a work looked just like a Fred Williams or a John Olsen.

To a large extent, I have had to learn to paint from the subconscious. The more deliberate and planned I am at the commencement of a work, the less spontaneous and evocative the result. I go through what feels like long periods where the works are muddy and unsatisfying and I have to rip off the canvas and start again. I usually find when I take the time to analyse why, I have been trying to force an outcome and then all of a sudden, as my consciousness steps back and my subconscious takes over, they work.

Catastrophe is a piece that was painted early this year. It is a good example of the elements that I am looking for in my work, drama and light. The dramatic effect is created by dissolving pigments in viscous solvent solutions and then pouring them onto prepared canvas supports. I often pour two and three colours together so that they bump into each other creating riverlets and craters as the pigments drop out of solution at different rates. Light is captured by manipulating the flow of paint to trap sections of blank, white canvas which to my eye increase the sense of drama and luminance of the work.

It’s hard to say who inspires my work because I am unaware of anyone else painting in quite the same way. What I take from other artists would be honesty and integrity from artists such as Andy Goldsworthy; simplicity of form from the likes of Anthony Gormley and Antonio Tapies; the love of limited palette from Godwin Bradbeer; the beauty of gesture and rhythm from Yvonne Audette and Susan Rothenburg.”

Jenny Reddin’s opening speech at the exhibition The Art of Catastrophe

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Jenny Reddin
Space within space within space
2012
Oil in linen
122 x 122 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Amillaria
2012
Oil on canvas
120 x 100 cm

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Jenny Reddin
Suspended Journey
2012
Oil on linen
138 x 97 cm

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1. Braga, Luciana L., Fiks, Jose P., Mari, Jair J. and Mello, Marcelo F. “The importance of the concepts of disaster, catastrophe, violence, trauma and barbarism in defining posttraumatic stress disorder in clinical practice,” in BMC Psychiatry 2008, 8:68 [Online] Cited 22/09/2012

2. Ibid.,

3. Charles, Matthew. “The Future is History: Dreams of Catastrophe in Ernst Bloch and Walter Benjamin,” Proceedings of the No Future
conference, Institute of Advanced Studies, Durham University, 25-27 March 2011 [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.

4. Anon. “Sociology of Emergences,” on the P2P Foundation website [Online] Cited 22/09/2012.

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Anita Traverso Gallery
7, Albert Street
Richmond, Vic 3121

Opening hours:
Wed – Sat 11 – 5

Anita Traverso Gallery website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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