DIS. Positive Ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence). 2015. Commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art
Lucas Blalock (American, born 1978). Strawberries (fresh forever). 2014. Courtesy the artist and Ramiken Crucible, New York. ©2015 Lucas Blalock
Three decades ago, iconic art historian John Szarkowski organized New Photography, an exhibition of four American photographers working in black and white, arranged horizontally across the gallery walls: Judith Joy Ross, Michael Spano, Zeke Berman, and Antonio Mendoza. This year, Ocean of Images: New Photography 2015 features an astonishing 19 artists working in 14 countries, all pushing towards a new visual era.
Curated by Quentin Bajac, Roxana Marcoci, and Lucy Gallun, Ocean of Images is a departure from the original Szarkowski setup in that it marks both the shift from an annual exhibition to a biannual as well as the transition into what they have dubbed the “post-Internet” age. Here, the organizers take the title to signify both the endless current of imagery saturating modern culture and the fluidity and mutability of a medium in constant flux.
This exhibition is a radical one, with the potential to reconstruct the ways in which we understand and define photography. Its artists work in digital manipulation, installation, video, and other media outside the realm of the strictly photographic, but Marcoci for her part insists that to understand this kind of work as the “death of photography” is “ridiculous.”
Instead, this exhibition represents a rapid growth, an irrevocable opening of a photographic Pandora’s Box. Together, these artworks and objects serve as proof of Susan Sontag’s prophecy that an “Image World” has come to exist alongside the “real world,” and that pictures in all their forms help shape our perception of ourselves.
Though Ocean of Images is founded on abstract ideas, its artists escape the esoteric by grappling with them in literal and concrete ways. The artist collective DIS plays with the notion of generic stock images by watermarking their portrait of superstar Conchita Wurst with the recognizable MoMA typeface. John Houck visualizes his own experience with psychoanalysis by reconfiguring a slew of images of objects from his boyhood, and Lucas Blalock uses Photoshop to dismantle and reconstitute the mundane.
Perhaps in the most startling of the works presented, Indre Serpytyte enlists the help of woodcarvers in reconstructing in miniature the buildings in Lithuanian villages where the KGB interrogated and tortured citizens before photographing them as faceless grey facades, utterly excised from their original context.
Ocean of Images is dizzying—at times overwhelming—in both its scale and its subject matter. In a world where everything is reproduced a thousand times over, 19 brave souls enter into conversation with the Internet, daring to ask whether in fact the tangible human element that once made photography so powerful can be fished from within its depths.
Ilit Azoulay (Israeli, born 1972). Shifting Degrees of Certainty. 2014. Installation view Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. 85 pigmented inkjet prints, individually framed. Courtesy the artist, Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York, and Braverman Gallery, Tel Aviv. ©2015 Ilit Azoulay
Zbyn?k Baladrán (Czech, born 1973). Diderot’s Dream (still). 2014. Two channel HD video. Courtesy the artist and Hunt Kastner, Prague. ©2015 Zbyn?k Baladrán
Edson Chagas (Angolan, b. 1977). From Found Not Taken, Luanda. 2013. Installation of inkjet prints on pallets. Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Courtesy the artist; APALAZZOGALLERY, Brescia; and Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg. © 2015 Edson Chagas
Natalie Czech (German, born 1976). A Poem by Repetition by Aram Saroyan. 2013. Three chromogenic color prints. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Samuel J. Wagstaff, Jr. Fund. Photograph by Jens Ziehe. Photo courtesy Capitain Petzel, Berlin and Kadel Willborn, Düsseldorf. Art ©2015 Natalie Czech
Mishka Henner (Belgian, born 1976). Astronomical. 2011. Twelve softcover volumes. Courtesy the artist and Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York. ©2015 Mishka Henner
John Houck (American, born 1977). Copper Mountain. 2014. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund. ©2015 John Houck
John Houck (American, born 1977). Peg and Jon. 2013. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Photography Council Fund. ©2015 John Houck
Lele Saveri (Italian, born 1980). The Newsstand. 2013-14. Mixed medium installation. Produced in collaboration with Alldayeveryday. Courtesy the artist. ©2015 Lele Saveri
Indr? Šerpytyt? (Lithuanian, born 1983). 27 Vilniaus street, Alytus from the series (1944 – 1991) Former NKVD-MVD-MGB-KGB Buildings. 2014. Courtesy the artist. ©2015 Indr? Šerpytyt?
Lieko Shiga (Japanese, born 1980). Portrait of Cultivation from the series Rasen Kaigan. Courtesy the artist. ©2015 Lieko Shiga