Leslie Hewitt Riffs on Real Time (7 of 10), 2008 via Leslie Hewitt
In On Beauty, Objects, and Dissonance currently exhibited at The Kitchen, Rashida Bumbray presents selections from three diverse bodies of Leslie Hewitt’s photographs: A Series of Projections from 2010, Midday from 2009, and Riffs on Real Time from 2008, in addition to a new film installation created in collaboration with experimental cinematographer Bradford Young. Pieces from multiple bodies of work may seem inharmonious at first, but spend more time and the conversations of perception, narrative, and undertones of politics running through the room become more apparent.
More text, photos, and related links after the jump. . .
Hewitt offers the viewer three works from the Midday series. Untilted (Geographic Delay)(2009, 30 7/8” x 36 7/8”) is framed and hung traditionally; Untitled (Connecting)(2009, 52 5/8” x 62 5/8” x 5”) and Untitled (Seems to be Necessary)(2009, 52 6/8” x 62 5/8” x 5”) rest on the floor, leaning into the wall. Formally, these works reference sculpture. The two floor pieces are more sculptural than the wall piece, but even the presented imagery is treated as a tangibly manipulated, three-dimensional object rather than the flat recording of a photograph. Further, the objects being photographed (the wood panel, the orange with stem and leaf, and Claude Brown’s book, Manchild in the Promised Land) remain constant with the striped sheet making a cameo, as well as random personal photographs and DVDs. On the surface, this diaristic recording of assumedly personal items seem to investigate real objects in real spaces, punctuated by gravity and shifts in light, nodding to the passage of time. Go further and these objects and their treatment echo the excessive materialism of 17th Century Dutch still life painting, yet replaced by the humble personal effects of the artist. This quiet tongue in cheek reflection sets the tone for the entire show.
In her newest and most difficult work in the show, a grouping of photographs from A Series of Projections, Hewitt has forgone rich, warm color and turned instead to cool, grey-toned black and white imagery. Similarly quiet, the photographs focus on soft afternoon light that either illuminates objects or simply falls across a wood surface. In this grouping, we are also presented with two images of somewhat obscure subjects projected presumably on the wall of the artist’s studio. The repeated images or multiple frames taken in such similar light read as nearly imperceptible to whether or not the frames differ at all. Further, the images in A Series of Projections are grouped and hung in a non-uniform grid pattern of controlled chaos, thus hinting not at a relative cohesion, but an overall disparity. These cryptic works raise questions of perception and the narrative power of grouping and repetition.
The selected images from the series Riffs on Real Time are hung on opposing walls, emphasizing the distance between them. The piece Riffs on Real Time (10 of 10)(2008, 41” x 31”), hangs alone while Riffs on Real Time (7 of 10)(2008, 41” x 31”), Riffs on Real Time (2 of 10)(2008, 41” x 31”), and Riffs on Real Time (1 of 10)(2008, 41” x 31”) hang together. Though similarly sculptural, the ideas of stacking and manipulation in a specific physical space are again apparent. All of the pieces are comprised of three layers that include two images and the wood floor. The magic of this body of work lies in the contradiction of their implied whimsical construction and the weight of the imagery’s suggested narrative. For example, Riffs on Real Time (2 of 10)(2008, 41” x 31”) presents a snap shot photograph of an end table boasting the framed image of an African American male in a graduation cap and gown. This image rests upon a larger photograph of an industrial fire, presumably torn from a news magazine. Additionally, both of these images weigh upon the vertical grains of a hardwood floor. The viewer is now faced with a multitude of questions, starting with the relation of the two photographs. If one decides that the images are related, the possibilities for further associations and narratives are endless. The Riffs on Real Time series employs appropriation, and thus falls into a lineage leading back to Sherrie Levine’s photographs of the 1980s, and more specifically the body of work related to Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Though Levine arguably questions authorship, modes of creativity and the use of political imagery, Hewitt implicates viewers and artists alike in their associations with race, class, politics, and any other number of fantastic or mundane narratives. Who is this person that photographs the end table; who is the person that photographs the fire; and who is the person that re-photographs them together and why? What power do these images have singularly, and what power is added given the narrative of association?
Leslie Hewitt Riffs on Real Time (2 of 10), 2008 via Leslie Hewitt
In the darkened back space of the gallery, we find a dual channel video projection, Untitled (Level) (2010), in which Hewitt cites Claude Brown’s book, Manchild in the Promised Land (1965), as a point of departure. Though, I can see the reference in moving abruptly in and out of urban spaces as in the book, I immediately thought of Warhol’s film, Empire (1964), although this may not be a fair reference. The viewer faces images of an African American male and a number of urban landscapes, ranging from a quiet garden to the fronts of industrial roll down doors. The silent vignettes appear still, but then the man in the frame blinks or the leaves of the trees rustle in the breeze. The images are quite beautiful, yet the viewer is again charged with creating the narrative, though with noticeably less freedom.
Hewitt tethers these seemingly incongruent bodies of work to one another by multiple layers of process and concept. In each series, she presents photographs as sculptures or objects that exist within her own physical system, where installation and presentation dominate the experiential forefront. Conceptually, Hewitt challenges the images we have come to trust. What are the narratives we inevitably impose on images? What do those narratives say about us? Further, Hewitt references 17th Century Dutch still life paintings in the treatment of specific personal artifacts and the imagery that is presented throughout these bodies of work, thus reflecting contemporary notions of possessing material objects.
In a time where the art world is still licking its wounds from the fall out of the bubble’s burst, On Beauty, Objects, and Dissonance demands thought and attention. The work is tough, and therefore satisfying.