Unexpected at first, Salon 94’s pairing of historic works by Jimmy DeSana and Hanna Liden’s new body of work pushes a refreshing outlook for how photography can operate in terms of manipulating both reality and perception of the body. Culling works from distinctly separate eras and cultures, both DeSana and Liden made their paths to New York to pursue artistic careers. The first from mid-west and the latter from Sweden, they had never had a physical encounter. Yet aesthetic and thematic parallels in their works are uncanny, tracing similar investigations into the displacement and manipulation of bodily elements in space, creating bizarre, occasionally otherworldly arrangements.
At the core of the show is a shared experience of New York’s gritty urban landscapes: DeSana moved to the city in the early 70s, while Liden first came to the city in the late 90’s. DeSana’s homespun shots, depicting the heyday of the downtown scene through his intricate experimentation with light, props and interiors swiftly contrast with Liden’s clear-cut, digitally manipulated images of everyday materials in strangely evocative juxtapositions. While such distinction only makes this conversation between works somewhat more explicit, their arrival at similar results from opposite sources sets the prevailing tone of the two-person exhibition.
DeSana, heavily engaged with the unorthodox and turbulent manifestations of body politics, gender and identity, employed his camera to subvert definitions of the human body and its metaphorical potential during the emergence and surge of the AIDS pandemic. His keen interest in stripping the body from its physical extents led to a voluminous photographic repertoire in which bodies are transformed into sculptural entities through performative contortion techniques and inclusion of mundane props. In some works, legs or arms hang distended and alienated from the rest of a figure. Elsewhere, a body hangs in freefall, as if defying the logic of the shot’s otherwise clean, placid arrangement.
In line with the body’s departure from corporeality, in exchange for more esoteric forms, the identity that it had adhered becomes problematized, and molded into an exposed political matter. Liden turns this process around, beginning with inanimate objects, and grafting them back onto the body. Everyday goods such as umbrellas, plastic cups or brown bags, positioned in various brisk acts, stand within pristine studio settings in front of single color backgrounds. Akin to live models’ vigorous poses, the forms these objects maintain create emotive, humanlike poses, further emphasized by the artist’s manual and digital manipulation. Piled, lined up or hung together, Liden’s objects possess a distinct energy, while complicating divisions between carnal and consumptive desires.
Subversion of body environmental and bodily space places both DeSana’s and Liden’s works in an impressively nuanced dialogue, in which works decades apart simultaneously comment on the immutable interplay between the body and its further extensions, both today and in the past.
Jimmy DeSana and Hanna Liden: Still Lives is on view at Salon 94 through June 25, 2016.
— O.C. Yerebakan
Salon 94 [Exhibition Page]