When Carissa Barnard was completing her fine arts degree at the University of Arizona, she felt a kinship with photographers as fellow artists. For the 2018 Biennial, Barnard, FotoFocus’s Deputy Director of Exhibitions and Programming, curates two contrasting shows: Wide Angle: Photography Out of Bounds and Chris Engman: Prospect and Refuge, each exploring a different account of photography’s “realness” and what it means to create a visual document with such a tenuous connection to truth.
Chris Engman is known for his photographs of constructed sets. What can we expect from Prospect and Refuge?
His practice is to saturate a man-made structure (e.g., a garage) and cover the surface with photographic material. From one vantage point, it’s an image patterned over three-dimensional space. He manipulates the set and perspective, takes a picture from one angle, and that’s the work. He has never done what he’s doing for us now: building a 3D interactive performance set.
It goes back to the idea that a photograph isn’t really a truth-telling medium. You can’t capture a moment with a two-dimensional image. If you go out aiming to capture that, it’s impossible. You can take essence from it, if you understand the limitations. A photograph, here and by analogy, tries and fails to be a container for moments and places.
In Wide Angle: Photography Out of Bounds, you’ll exhibit collages and other works from 20 international and regional artists. How do their methods interact with this year’s theme of the Open Archive?
I have a sensitivity toward the art of photography and print-making and artists who use the medium to create collage. John Stezaker—who has been creating collage works for 45-plus years and plays with sourced vintage materials—juxtaposes landscapes over faces, manipulating portraits. Kathe Burkhart recreates paintings from film stills; these have collage elements. Jimmy Baker uses texture: big surfaces of paint over print. Mike Jacobs references Rauschenberg prints with patterning and pixelization. And Sigrid Viir is a performative installation photographer from Estonia. She folds her own portraits to create a disturbed, manufactured new portrait. In Wide Angle, all of these works are up together.
I talk about my show as being fun, but that’s the entry point. The backbone of most of these works is that they’re hyper-political—a way for us to have some serious conversations. That’s how I’m approaching this show: Let’s enjoy, and then ask some deeper questions about the juxtaposition of these narratives.