Critics’ Picks

Mariah Robertson, Untitled (9), 2009, color photograph, 27 x 27".

Mariah Robertson, Untitled (9), 2009, color photograph, 27 x 27".

New York

Mariah Robertson

Marvelli Gallery
526 West 26th Street Second Floor
October 15–November 14, 2009

While most young photographers plunge into theory, politics, or portraiture to develop their themes, Mariah Robertson can’t get out of the darkroom. Her aim is to explore the process of making pictures, rather than making meaning, and she uses all the technological tools at her disposal—color separation, oversaturated hues, photograms, chemical drips, and so on—to disrupt the form’s conventions.

Cut haphazardly from large rolls of photographic paper and allowed to curl and buckle within their frames (making them sculptures as much as photographs), the seventeen images in this show mix the aesthetics of early computer graphics, futurist dynamism, and LA noir. One image depicts a planet ringed in gold emerging from behind the vanishing point of an array of grids. (Think Tron.) In the foreground, colored blocks tumble off the edge of the grid, like water from a cliff. (Unsurprisingly, Robertson’s work—blurred sequences of lights that resemble something out of Close Encounters—has been included in Discover magazine.) Another includes the blanched spines and covers of books such as Develop Your Psychic Skills, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952), and Vibrations and Waves—all hints, perhaps, at Robertson’s interest in thinking beyond the medium’s norms and producing a fresh logic. In fact, she resembles a kind of Richard Tuttle of photography, utilizing all the mundane tools of film developing—the chemicals and processes—to erase the line between representation and abstraction and to make, in Tuttle’s words, “something that looks like itself.”