Photography as Memorial: Karin Giusti at Smackmellon


Entering Smack Mellon’s gallery immediately creates a sense of place distinct from the bustling DUMBO neighborhood outside. Pillars lit from within illuminate the high-ceilinged room, reminding me of architectural spaces like cathedrals and the permanence of memorial columns. The columns are neither architectural features nor permanent: they are an exhibition by Karen Giusti featuring images photographed, spliced together as if a kaleidoscope, and printed on a polyester film. The colorful nature scenes–and the soundtrack of birds and other noises–counter any sense of mournfulness. The meditative atmosphere creates a peaceful space to consider the imagery more closely.


Looking more carefully at the photographs, one notices a highly specific sense of time and place grounded in the artist’s experience. Seasonal changes appear in landscape: snow, autumn foliage, bright green leaves and grass as Giusti highlights the passage of time. The artist has stitched together images in Photoshop that show her photographic process. Standing in one place, the artist would take a photograph looking down at her feet, then one shot straight ahead, then one looking above that to the sky, going around in every direction to create an embodied sense of physical place. In wrapping the grid of images into a circular column, Giusti forces the viewer into the position of outside observer. The interior of the column but also the memory of the place and time itself remains inaccessible to us. The hint we are given of those memories is in the landscape and the title of the installation: Honorem: Three Seasons at Black Forest Farm.


Black Forest Farm is the remote farmhouse in upstate New York where the photographs were taken. Three seasons reflects the time period they were taken, during which the artist struggled with the loss of her partner. Honorem refers to her late partner Stephen G. Schwarz, a firefighter and 9/11 First Responder, who died in 2010 due to health complications from 9/11. While the precise location and time is a private memory of the artist, this public presentation transforms the images into a memorial not just for Schwarz but all first responders. Giusti hopes this latest installment of the work will create a wider recognition of the ongoing health repercussions of 9/11 for first responders and all those affected.


While the installation has a distinctly personal origin, it serves as a reminder that all public monuments are made up of such singular, private tragedies. Writing about Giusti’s work in the wake of the attacks in Paris, it also reminds me of the many ways that terrorism, so spectacularly brought to the world’s attention by 9/11 and continued in less spectacular but equally barbaric attacks across the world, has repercussions beyond immediate loss of life.

Karin Giusti’s installation Honorem: Three Seasons at Black Forest Farm is up at Smack Mellon through December 13, 2015.


Abstraction or Representation? Macro or Micro?: Daniel Zeller at Pierogi

Detail of Fluctuational Placement, 2015

Detail of Fluctuational Placement, 2015

I want to start with the details: the tiny repetitive marks that constitute Daniel Zeller’s ink drawings line by quarter-inch line. This close-up look is absorbing, allowing one trace each stroke and follow the patterns that accumulate. It’s easy to imagine how the drawings evolved almost of their own accord, as one mark inevitably led to next. For me, to follow with my eyes the weave and expansion of these patterns was the central pleasure of the “Daniel Zeller: Immiscible Cohesion” exhibition at Pierogi Gallery.


“Daniel Zeller: Immiscible Cohesion” exhibition at Pierogi Gallery

The exhibition consists of black ink drawings on paper in the first room, with a glimpse of a wooden structure in the room beyond. The gallery hung two earlier, colorful examples of Zeller’s work by the entryway, but I found the greyscale effect created by the black ink at a distance formed a cohesive show that steered the mind away from exuberance of form for its own sake and down the road of scientific imagery like cell slides and aerial topographical studies. The drawings often take an amorphous shape that stands out on the unmarked sheet around it to great effect. Just as the lines connect and flow out and into each other as if by some internally generated force, the overall effect suggests natural growths like mushrooms or tree trunks.

Daniel Zeller, Fluctuational Placement, 2015

Fluctuational Placement, 2015

Drawings such as Fluctational Placement looks roughly the same from a distance across the gallery, viewed as a whole from a few feet away (like the image above), and viewed from a few inches away (like the first detail image). Wherever one stands, it’s unclear whether such an image is more reminiscent of a black-and-white photograph taken from a plane or a peep down a microscope onto a bacteria colony. This vacillation between macro- or micro-view demands a constant mental readjustment as the viewer tries to make sense of it. Yet while the drawings are evocative of the real world, they remain in the realm of formal abstraction, another tension not meant to be resolved as much as considered.


Inference, 2015

In the second gallery, Zeller’s sculpture Inference fills most of the room. The formal connections between the structured armature and connective fabric of the sculpture and the artist’s drawings are clear. However, Zeller’s drawings work well on a number of levels–as representations and as abstractions–and it is difficult to imagine whether this absurd object toes that line as well as they do, even if its shape recalls a bomb or submarine.

“Daniel Zeller: Immiscible Cohesion” is up at Pierogi Gallery in Williamsburg through November 17. Unfortunately, the drawings do not reproduce well online, so  I recommend going to see the exhibition in person if you are interested.

Moving Images in New or Old Formats: A New Curatorial Project Featuring the Work of Lily Sheng

Lily Sheng, Still from Mercurial Matter, 16mm to HD with sound by Michael Sidnam, 2014 - 2015, 6 min.

Lily Sheng, Still from Mercurial Matter, 16mm to HD with sound by Michael Sidnam, 2014 – 2015, 6 min.

As part of a curatorial residency at the AC Institute, a non-profit art organization focused on experimental media and performance, I had the chance to do several studio visits with artists working in video and the digital space last month. Among them was Lily Sheng, a Queens-based artist who makes films, videos, and hybrid moving images in her studio near the International Studio and Curatorial Program in East Williamsburg. Lily showed us a video work, Mercurial Matter, and a film work, Point, Line, Plane. In both, dense, abstract imagery moves quickly, sometimes at odds with the synthetic music that builds to a feeling of dissonance and unease.

Lily Sheng, Still from Point, Line, Plane, a film collaboration with Antonia Kuo, 16mm expanded cinema with live sound by Michael Sidnam, 2015, 11 min.

Lily Sheng, Still from Point, Line, Plane, a film collaboration with Antonia Kuo, 16mm expanded cinema with live sound by Michael Sidnam, 2015, 11 min.

Both the video work and the film projection she showed us were rich, multi-sensory experiences, deeply connected to the history of experimental film, although subsequent discussion revealed a different, purely digital mode she also sometimes works in (as seen in the image below). It was a pleasure discussing the many mediums with which she approaches the moving image and the technical processes behind her work. For example, Point, Line, Plane involved making photograms on the film itself to create a pair of black-and-white images, which she then showed as a dual projection, sometimes coloring the image with gels.


As a result of that studio visit, I am excited to be arranging an exhibition and screening of Lily’s work at the AC Institute. Lily is creating a new series of animated GIFs as an homage to experimental films by deceased female artists, taking advantage of the concept of an online exhibition that the AC Institute proposed as part of my curatorial residency. While animated GIFs are ubiquitous on the web, Lily’s thoughtful consideration of the transfer and degradation of information show how well the format can be adapted to artistic purpose as she creates GIFs that, inherently reductive, highlight the limited, ghostly nature of film on the Internet. Considering the uncertainty of film preservation as we move into a digital era, the exhibition “Lily Sheng: Avant-GIF” will go online November 10 and be complimented by a performative video and film screening of recent works by the artist on November 18.

Lily Sheng, Still from Kabukicho,

Lily Sheng, Still from Kabukichō, 16mm with live sound by Michael Sidnam, 2015, variable duration (5 – 8 min.)