Biscayne Bay glistened as I travelled across MacArthur Causeway to visit Untitled in Miami Beach. Two rowers cut through the water, gliding in the opposite direction. It’s these crisp, sunny December days that lure in northerners seeking a respite from the cold.
After entering the tent and bumping into a friend, Nuria Richardson (founder of Clandestina), the conversation around history and borders continued to echo through the work of three artists presented at the booth of Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco.
Anton Stubner, the Director, provided valuable insight into these photographic works.
CYJO: Can you talk about the photograph of Ana Teresa Fernández’s Borrando la Frontera (Erasing the Border)?
Anton: Ana was born in Mexico and is now based in San Francisco. This project began in 2011 where Ana went to the border wall separating Tijuana and San Diego. This was at a time when the Obama administration had ended a Sunday visitation program for families on other sides of the border. When that had been closed, Ana went down to Tijuana and to the border wall. And she tried to imagine what it would look like to erase the border wall and cut out a section of it, to literally “bring the sky down” as she said. So she, in her tango dress, came with a ladder and proceeded to erase a multi-foot section of the border wall by painting it a powdery blue. This is the 10th year of the project. So, this has been an important culmination for her to think about how these questions around immigration, border politics and as she says, “drawing a line” are more prevalent than ever.
Images: 27, 28
CYJO: And what about Nina Katchadourian’s photo based project Sorted Books?
Anton: Nina was born in Palo Alto but splits her time between Brooklyn and Berlin. Since 1993 when she was just out of graduate school, she has been creating this extended body of work. In this project, she’s invited into special collections’ libraries and takes certain titles off the bookshelves, stacks them up so you can read the titles on the spines in sequence almost as if they were a cut up poem. She sees each of these book stacks as being a portrait of the particularities of these various libraries.
Earlier this spring, she was invited by the Noguchi Museum to spend time with the personal library of the sculptor, Isamu Noguchi. So, each of the book photos are from his collection and are books that reflected his interests and values. Each of these photos she sees as being a portrait of Noguchi. She is an artist who often uses humor and visual wit to ask deeper questions about ordering systems, about systems of knowledge.
CYJO: There are some compelling photo based pieces from Stephanie Syjuco here as well.
Anton: Yes. Stephanie is a tenured faculty member at the University of California at Berkeley. She was born in Manila, but has lived in the Bay Area since she was a small child. A lot of her work has recently been dealing with the archive and how it relates to the construction of the Philippines and Filipino identity.
The project we are showing is from a body of work called Native Resolution. Native Resolution is a title that refers to the native quality of an image file. This work also pushes against the idea of archives and who our archives are built for. And what lives, what bodies do our archives have in mind?
She was invited to the archives of the Smithsonian as a recipient of the 2019 artist research fellowship. And she dealt with the archives of the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History and the Freer and Sackler Galleries, which has the main holdings of Asian and Asian American art within the Smithsonian. When she was in each of those collections, she used the search terms Philippines and Filipino to try to see what kind of material she would encounter. And a lot of what she saw was very racially charged and had complicated relationships with the history of colonialism.
She came with the prospect of when an archive is built with not your body in mind, and when an archive reflects certain values related to the history of colonialism, how do you take those materials, recombine them and find new narratives within them? So, she photographed all these objects and decided to arrange them in intricate, hand assembled photo collages, recombining them in a way that’s asking you to think about not just the limits of an archive but how you can change the material that you’re finding in an archive.
CYJO: Stephanie’s crumbled images on the opposite side of the wall seem highly charged from the act of crushing.
Anton: Yes. This project is called Afterimages. In 2019, Stephanie was also working on a major solo show at the Contemporary Arts Museum in St. Louis. At that time she was doing research from the Missouri Historical Society and came across these carte-de-visites from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. To give some context, 1902 marks the end of the Philippine-American war when the Philippines was trying to assert it’s independence. The American War department quells independence, and several thousand Filipinos die. Two years later, the war department brings 1000 people from the Philippines to St. Louis to populate a 100 acre expanse of land that becomes the centerpiece for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. It’s supposed to be a living exhibition looking at “authentic” Filipino life.
Stephanie worked with a master printer in San Francisco to translate these images into copper plated photogravures etchings. She printed them on Japanese mulberry paper that’s very strong but has a sort of tissue-like quality. And at this time, she was thinking about how to intervene with these very charged, racist images. It happened to be around the time when the murders in Atlanta occurred, when the Asian hate crimes happened this year. And she was trying to figure out how to channel this deep sadness and anger over what was happening. She started crumpling, folding and tearing these prints. Although there is a captivating, textual quality that emerges, she wants to deny these racist images their power. She wants to make viewers ask questions about how are we implicated in looking at another and how do we stop that? A lot of what she’s asking in this work are these core questions about how do we deal with the ambiguities, the complexities of our shared history? And how do we find a new path forward?
Image: 31, 32, 33
On my way out, I passed a booth which was thoughtfully curated. And after peering in, I wasn’t surprised to see Frances Trombly inside with Dimensions Variable (DV). The work they exhibit is relevant and part of the conversation of our times. Dimensions Variable is an artist-run gallery based in Miami, founded in 2009 by Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova and herself. They continue to exhibit and support compelling work from several artists and have been instrumental in amplifying the artistic voices in this city. We chatted about what makes artist-run galleries unique, and why they are important.
Frances: When we started Dimensions Variable, it was mainly for us to advocate for artists. So, we’re run by artists. We look at a lot of small galleries, and many are struggling. We talk with them, work with them and ask them, “How do you do it?” And our model, which is different, gives us the ability to get funding and support from the nonprofit component so that artists can have the financial support that they need. We can offer them a stipend for their work through grants. We’re very conscious of who we support because some of the people we have supported have been picked up by major galleries and institutions, because they’re watching.
We’re representing ourselves and our own projects amidst all of this. (Her hands wave out towards the rest of the tent.) By presenting here, we’re being the change. Because who’s better to talk about our own work than ourselves? Being an artist-run gallery that doesn’t follow conventional retail models means that not all of our work is necessarily supported by the art market, but our work is truly reflected. Many of these booths cost a substantial amount of money to rent out. In order to support that cost, you need money, and you need to sell. So, what goes into the booth isn’t necessarily going to be something that’s going to allow the viewers to rethink or change perspectives on certain things. Sometimes that happens but not overall.
Images: 34, 35, 36
Text by CYJO
CYJO is a Korean American artist based in Miami who works mainly with photography. Since 2004, she has been exploring the evolution of identity, questioning notions of categorization, and further examining our human constructs within her work. CYJO’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at venues which include The National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian Institution), Asia Society Texas Center, Venice Architecture Biennale and Three Shadows Photography Art Centre. Her last solo exhibition was at NYU’s Kimmel Windows | Art in Public Places (2019-2020). She is the co-founder of the Creative Destruction, a contemporary art collaborative founded with Timothy Archambault in 2016. www.cyjostudio.com @cyjostudio