PRINT December 2019


Harry Dodge

A jolt of pleasure runs through my chest each time I look through Stephen Gill’s monograph The Pillar (Nobody Books), which consists of 120 photographs mostly of birds in various moments of liftoff and landing. (A separate pamphlet proffers a short, stirring essay titled “Birdland,” by Karl Ove Knausgaard.) Gill attached a motion-sensor camera to a rural fence and for three years captured images of creatures who might come to rest on a nearby post (the titular pillar). The results are chaotic and riveting.

Shot mechanically, bodilessly, the photos exude a goopy, persistent extrinsicity. Rarely is an animal actually on the post or fully in the frame. Several birds’ feathered heads appear to be upside down, just impossibly twisted. (Are they hurt?) A kestrel’s wing is outstretched while the other is folded. (Is this bird busted?) A jackdaw’s face—eyes bulging, pupils dilated, beak open—seems to fill the frame, causing a grave personal interpellation. (Am I the one who is busted?) Another image shows a wake of a recently departed bird: Hun-
dreds of grains of hay appear as a floating scud above the vacant pillar, a joyful dustup, a swarm, the presence of absence. There’s dread in these pages too, threaded in quietly, not sure where, like a bird might flap right out of its skin: things we do and do not want to see.

The form of the art book here provides a necessary density, a repetition—softly evoking cinema—that works to communicate something about flow, by which I mean unscripted movement: something anticategory, a kind of ecstasy of the awkward, the broken, and—more timely—the impure.

Harry Dodge is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. His book My Meteorite: Or, Without the Random There Can Be No New Thing is forthcoming from Penguin Press.