Exhibition continues through March 31
Hours: 10:00 am – 4:30 pm, Mon. – Fri.
The Italian Academy, 1161 Amsterdam Avenue | New York, NY
It is written that Kobodaishi, the holiest of Buddhist priests, a wizard among scribes, wrote with his brush upon the surface of a stream a poem in praise of the ephemeral qualities of water. The characters remained intact for a moment, like autumn leaves falling from the trees, before dissolving in the rushing current.
There was at first something of this in photography, how light was harnessed to write upon the surface of the world — but limited to a piece of paper, metal or glass. The images of photography are static, but seem always to want to be something else, something yet more intimate with the changing appearance of things, hovering between an object and story, a document capable of comprehending, not rending, time. What a shock, this fall into time, into the perpetual pastness of the photograph.
For Beatrice Pediconi, the condition of photography is the subject of photography, investigated as a means, finally, of transcending its limitations. She is the medium’s Kobodaishi, who has dispensed with the camera and returned to the primary registration of light in order to record conditions and phenomena (the interaction of light, water and ink) as they occur. This exploration at the margin between states, disciplines and technologies marks her as contemporary, and marks as well the expansion of photography beyond the borders of the single fixed image. Pediconi’s images move; her art exists as both the frozen pattern of a photograph and the changing pattern of a video. The paradoxical aspect of this abstract work is that although the video is itself contained within a frame, we can imagine the surface extending like a diaphanous scroll, and the patterns simply developing continuously throughout time.
The closest relation to the transparency and mobility of Pediconi’s work, which unites drawing and photography again after at least a century of division, is Roland Flexner’s recent investigation of suminagashi. The Korean-Japanese technique employs the breath to blow ink across a water or oil surface in order to create patterns for “marbled” endpapers of a book. These patterns are directly blotted with carefully chosen paper to produce remarkably intricate and detailed abstractions. Like Pediconi’s photographs, the suminagashi works hover near the edge of photography, with their rich and complex tonalities. A very different artist, the English photographer Susan Derges, touches on the capability of the photogram to record the events of the world without mediation. Her large photogram works capture the motions of the rivers and tides flowing over her photographic paper.
Pediconi finds herself in ethereal and deeply contemplative company. Her work is meant, I think to evoke states, not to merely to provide an image of them, that is, to represent. It certainly refuses the traditional transactions of meaning in which the artist is presumed to have the upper hand. These are works in which chance plays so great a role that the viewer is at least on equal footing with the artist. It is as if the work came directly from nature itself (as it has, in a sense). So the reference to the Buddhist master Kobodaishi is not adventitious. It suggests the frame of mind with which we should approach these works. Allow yourself to see as if you were passing away as swiftly as the patterns that form on a wave. Allow yourself to see as if you never moved. Allow yourself to be temporary and timeless. As you are.
About the author:
Lyle Rexer, author, independent curator, and professor at the School of Visual Arts, New York.