Critics’ Picks

Michelle Stuart, “Fuerte Quemada: A Short Story,” 2011, 24 ink-jet photographic prints, each 8 x 10”.

Michelle Stuart, “Fuerte Quemada: A Short Story,” 2011, 24 ink-jet photographic prints, each 8 x 10”.

New York

Michelle Stuart

Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects
401 Broadway Suite 411
September 6–October 27, 2012

The photographic series “Fuerte Quemada: A Short Story,” 2011, opens and closes with a similar split image: on the left, a man wielding an old-fashioned tripod-mounted camera; on the right, his subject, a grainy image of a field of flowers. The rest of the piece could be read as a psychosexual journey into the mind of this photographer, which is populated by a chef with the head of a bird, headless mannequins, and crotch-flashing androgynes in pantaloons. In this oneiric sequence, one image stands out for its directness: a little girl gazing at the camera, nonplussed, under the typewritten caption VILLAGE FUERTE QUEMADA. Some Internet research reveals that this image was appropriated from a photograph taken during a 1926 paleontological expedition to Argentina.

Like most of the works in Michelle Stuart’s exhibition “Palimpsests,” “Fuerte Quemada” consists of framed ink-jet prints arranged in grid formation. Most, if not all, appear to have been rephotographed or scanned from archival sources; some have clearly visible pixelation, visual artifacts introduced as a result of their transmission through digital communications networks. Whether working from digital or paper-based objects, Stuart’s process often involves the physical manipulation of her source imagery prior to its redigitalization: Tearing images, collaging them together, placing objects on top of them.

Over the course of her long and varied practice, Stuart has consistently returned to the subject of the natural world. In series like “Serpent Mound, Ohio,” 1978, she used soil as the material for creating monochromatic works on paper. With “Palimpsests,” though, the focus is less on the primary experience of nature than on its photographic representation. The archives of a scientific expedition offer an opportunity to consider the psychosexual dimension of seemingly objective images; photographs function as a kind of fossil record, bearing rich cultural and material traces of their past use.