From April 16 through August 16, 2015 the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) will present “Alternative Modernisms” which captures the evolving relationship between the historical and contemporary image through diverse cultural perspectives of five contemporary artists: Harun Farocki, Leslie Hewitt, Pedro Lasch, Jumana Manna, and Jeff Whetstone.
Each artist stages a dialogue with historical and vernacular culture, revisiting representational traditions born in painting, at one remove, through the lens of photography and film. Each finds new spaces in the genres of still life, portrait, and landscape to intervene in how specific histories can be told. They work from the archive, the studio, the museum and the outdoors. They investigate personal histories of place, from Rural Appalachia to Palestine. Various approaches to narration emerge from time-based media driven by the desire to refute a monolithic sense of history and to speak from the contemporary vantage.
Harun Farocki’s film “Still Life, 1997”, tours the history of 16th century Flemish still life painting to reveal these tableaux as artifacts of commerce and vessels of a representational language that persists today in luxury commodity advertising.
Leslie Hewitt’s photographic series Untitled and Riffs on Real Time, 2013, incorporate archival documents, domestic spaces and objects, literary texts, found photos and popular magazines into nested images that tunnel between the present and the past. Her images expand the field of photography while drawing on collective memory, histories of Civil Rights and urban protest, and the tropes of still life.
Jumana Manna’s film “A Sketch of Manners”, 2013, uses a found archival image of a wealthy Palestinian merchant’s masquerade party in 1942, on the eve of Palestine’s dissolution. The source material inspires a dream-like re-staging of that moment and its cosmopolitanism, running counter to calcified narratives of conflict.
Jeff Whetstone’s classically composed portraits and landscapes provoke us to consider narrative and performative dimensions of regionalism and folk culture. Often carefully staged and composed, his portraits and landscapes trouble the native ethnographic look at rural Appalachia and the South, reveal nuance in gender roles of his subjects and complicate the role of photographer as participant-observer.
Finally, Pedro Lasch’s project, What are we before we are naturalized? Citizenship, Portraiture and Abstraction is a social mediation of art history, museums, and interacting publics that opens the Western canon of art to other subject positions. Lasch invites participants in museum settings to wear mirror masks of his design in viewing experiences that engender values of curiosity, inclusivity, and ultimately, global citizenship. Beginning at the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and Hirshhorn Museum, Lasch continues his project with SECCA. The artist has staged photographs in the historic setting and with the collection of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. The photographs from all four institutions are accompanied by public engagements using mirror masks at both SECCA and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.
From the contemporary vantage, these divergent responses to modernism offer new approaches to visual storytelling and representation that can only emerge from where we stand now.