“The Limits of Control”

Station Independent Projects
138 Eldridge Street, Suite 2F
August 12, 2016–September 4, 2016

Kohei Yoshiyuki, Untitled, 1971, gelatin silver print, 9 x 13''. From “The Park” series, 1971–79.

Landscapes can be deceitful. The city park you thought was a haven of innocent wonders is, at night, swarming with sexual activity. Parking lots, which Joni Mitchell considered the opposite of paradise, are sometimes used for religious ceremonies. And a refurbished kitchen—domestic landscape—that so impresses a dinner guest might actually feel like a prison cell to its owner. So how can we know what a landscape means to its inhabitants? Susan Sontag noted that understanding “starts from not accepting the world as it looks.” Taking these words to heart, Finnish curator Ilari Laamanen has assembled photographs from various countries and time periods that question our relationship to the built and regulated habitats we live in.

In Parking Lot Hydra, 2009, for example, Estelle Hanania shows Bulgarian men in yak costumes celebrating Kukeri, a ritual intended to ward away evil spirits, in an empty parking lot. On one level, her photographs dramatize the spatial meeting of tradition and modernity, of past and present. But on another, they also call attention to the general power that humans have to metaphysically transform, or even hallow, their physical surroundings. Those transformations are often negative, as in Kohei Yoshiyuki’s grainy, Moriyamaesque shots of nocturnal voyeurs spying on couples in Japan’s public parks. Here, the park is an erotic arcadia for lovers, but something between a gallery and a prison for Peeping Toms. Iiu Susiraja’s indoor self-portraits critique gender roles with a mordant humor that puts housekeeping magazines—and men—to shame. In Training, 2008, Susiraja rides a treadmill wearing a knitted hat with loaves of bread protruding from it like pigtails. Exercise and cooking: How liberated the modern multitasking woman is!

Sontag’s critique of visual complacency was actually part of a diatribe against photography. But by expanding and, indeed, perverting our associations with commonplace sites, Laamanen’s exhibition returns curiosity and suspicion to our eyes.

Ratik Asokan