from ECO ling
“The history that resides within me speaks not only of actions that have happened once, in the distant past, it speaks of actions that have repeated themselves to the point of erasure. The history that resides within me speaks of trees, rivers, wounds, hands.”
This erasure project (provisionally collected as ECO ling) unfolded in late spring of 2021 — begun on the day I underlined the above passage in Christina Tudor-Sideri’s extraordinary meditation, Under the Sign of the Labyrinth (Sublunary Editions).
The history that resides within me speaks of actions that have repeated themselves to the point of erasure.
Over the past several years, I had begun to realize that the unease I’d felt in the U.S. had a familiar feel to it — a particular rhyming of history. For many white South Africans of my generation who left home during the height of Apartheid, the story —privileged, definitely; naive, probably — is usually a story of leaving that terrible form of erasure behind, for something better. But the unease, violence, division, erasure, and political manipulation of the Trump Age made the old suspicions clear, once and for all. I’d left nothing behind.
In that mindset, early 2021, I began questioning directions in my poetic work. By which forensic process could I free voices (“speaking of trees, rivers, wounds, hands”) from the closed texts of my childhood, from the colonial, post-colonial, and Apartheid-era language and history of my country of birth? I followed various paths to new questions, if not answers.
At the same time, my wife — a designer — had been reading about the cyanotype photograms of English photographer and botanist Anna Atkins while using Northern California sunlight to create her own cyanotype record, on fabric, of the plants and flowers growing in our garden, and collected on our hikes on Mount Tamalpais.
I wanted in on the printmaking action. Especially one focused on recording absence in presence.
At that point, poet and translator Norma Cole and I were more than a year into a meandering, glorious, easy conversation that transpired day after day, almost entirely via texts between us. In counterpoint to the isolation and dread pervading that time, our daily conversation created a world in which we found shelter, and from which came a series of collaborative poems (Briefings) which I then printed in cyanotype.
One day, while waiting for a set of Briefings to dry, I grabbed a copy of Rudyard Kipling stories that I hadn’t opened in years — tales of empire — and tore a page from one story whose title had always troubled me. A Second Rate Woman. I saw ECO in the title and LING in the name — and began a process of erasure using pencil and the chemical paints that, once exposed to sunlight, would turn sky blue.
My work on the remaining erasures occurred daily against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of May, 2021, and in the larger collection of ECO lings, about two dozen pieces all told, I feel that echo among all the other threads and concerns described above.
Kipling was a regular visitor to Cape Town (later, my childhood home), guest of another champion of empire, Cecil Rhodes, in a residence that is now part of the University of Cape Town.
In 2015, a memorial to Rhodes was removed from the UCT campus after protests by student activists. I do not know what sits in its place.
Apples and Bananas
—click on any image to enlarge—
My photographic work utilizes found language and imagery. As an undergraduate I studied Anthropology and I look at my source materials, books, blackboards, card catalogues, player piano rolls, sewing patterns etc. as potent artifacts that can yield poetic information reflecting the circulation and dissemination of information and material in our shared popular culture. I’m thinking about structures and systems and how a playful engagement can yield insights as well as generate new meanings.
Transposing the tradition of street photography, I navigate intuitively framing and partially decontextualizing my subject matter harnessing moments that suggest meanings beyond their original situations.
What interests me are the juxtapositions and sense of history derived from the words themselves even without knowing everything. I want to give you a sense of a particular environment but not in its entirety. The view is oblique and re-contextualized. In this close up immersive situation the viewer can retain a level of awareness, just enough to inform but also to allow a different visual and semantic experience to take hold. The source is familiar and recognizable but the experience is new. It is that tension between something that we recognize, that we routinely encounter and the fact that we can look at it in a different way that creates a strangeness, a difference in which exist multiple possibilities.
While respecting the constraints of a given subject, the page sequence of a book or the reference system of a library, the work suggests a visual meta-language, mixing history and humor to display the disparate, often unheard cacophony of voices present within cultural structures.
Reflecting intimate and direct encounters with familiar actions and objects – opening a card catalogue drawer, opening a book, folding a page – the viewer is reminded that meaningful visual surprise surrounds us if one pays attention.
Recent museum exhibitions include Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Face à face, frac île‐de‐france, Villetaneuse, France; Anna Atkins Refracted: Contemporary Works, The New York Public Library, New York; The Swindle: Art Between Seeing and Believing, Albright‐Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Lever le voile, Frac île‐de‐france, Paris; The Arcades: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, The Jewish Museum, New York; Photo-Poetics: An Anthology, Kunsthalle Berlin and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; and Reconstructions: Recent Photographs and Video from the Met Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Recent solo and two‐person exhibitions include A METHOD OF A CLOAK, Square is the Chatter, Galerie Markus Lüttgen, Düsseldorf; A METHOD OF A CLOAK, Klemm’s, Berlin; A Long Dress, Bureau, New York; Naked Eye Nature Morte, Galerie Crevecoeur, Paris, France; AAa:Quien, Erica Baum & Libby Rothfeld, Bureau, New York; The Following Information, Bureau, New York; and Stanzas, Galerie Crevecoeur, Paris. Selected biennials include: AGORA 4th Athens Biennale, Athens, 2013 and the 30th Bienal de São Paulo: The Imminence of Poetics, São Paulo, Brazil, 2012.
Her work is held in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; MAMCO, Geneva; Albright‐ Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Centre National des Arts Plastiques, Paris; FRAC Ile de France, Paris; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven and others.