For ten years, Lisa Ross has documented the ritual objects and burial sites of the Uyghurs of Western China. In her enigmatic new series After Night, she has revisited Xinjiang, and captured another aftermath — the commonplace ritual of sleep. The photographs in this series isolate meager beds, with a few blankets or pillows, within the vast and arid desert landscape. As in her earlier work, no human is allowed into the picture frame, and we are left to decipher what or where, and even whom, the photograph suggests.
In Ross’s past images, twigs laced and knotted with scraps of brightly colored cloth suggested an ancient art installation. Similarly, in After Night, the viewer at first imagines that some trickster has placed the beds expressly for our visual delectation.
In fact, the beds are captured exactly where they are, left by an unseen farmer tending his harvest. The artistry is at once incidental – as the beds are actually a nightly shelter – and purposefully expressive. The actual daily existence is left a mystery, and the harsh daylight in Ross’s exposures reveals only the simple materiality of the beds, the intricate bedspreads, and the lunar landscape of their surroundings. Recontextualized as found objets-d’art and elevated into aesthetic stillness, the beds have a visual urgency that transcends our mind’s desire to dismiss the domestic.
In giving us these glimpses of a land 12,000 miles away, Ross is an unlikely anthropologist. She thwarts knowledge with an infinite incomprehension, as these unforgiving and unfamiliar images force a distance, exaggerated by the absence of specific markers of place and time. How can we possibly imagine the day-to-dayness that follows night? Sometimes, a pair of beds breaks the eerie loneliness within this series. So spare, desolate, and startling in composition, Ross’s photographs are remnants and suggestions of otherworldliness.
Each new series based on the Uyghurs reinvigorates our imagination, even as Ross’s images remain unpopulated. Like Scheherazade, Ross spins her tales with no end in sight. In After Night, we crave not just to know where she has travelled and what she has seen, but to discover the place that exists only in her photographs, knowing that if we arrived in that same spot, her tales would go up in thin air, just as Scheherazade’s.
Asya Geisberg, 2011
Lisa Ross: After Night
Until December 17, 2011
Asya Geisberg Gallery
537B West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011