New York

Sokhi Wagner

Christine Burgin Gallery

Sokhi Wagner’s recent photographs and photo-objects skittishly avoid interpretation. Intentionally obscuring her disjointed imagery, Wagner creates work with a highly cryptic presence. A series of four photographs (View from the Doorway, View from the Trail, View from the Stern, and View from the Shore, all works 1988) show her use of the medium to make images containing more mystery than information. From miles of film, Wagner edits out four stills and leaves them partially obscured, abstracting each image through obfuscation and decontextualization. Each of the tiny images she employs are actually rephotographed film stills. Circular halations reveal the majority of each image—a woman’s head in silhouette, a mountain vista, a misty seascape, a woman dragging a man out of the water—making these works resemble images generated by a pinhole camera. The “unlit” region of each photgraph is an area of concealed information—it prevents our recognition of the genealogy of the still. In this work, narrative and iconic readings are suppressed in favor of a more general meditation on the act of looking. These views-once-removed constitute not only the anonymous filmmaker’s views of the landscape or the figure, but also Wagner’s own reading of the still. Their elusivity recalls the vagaries of Surrealist photography.

Window 1 and Window 2 are two photographs of paned windows. The former has been partially rolled, obscuring half of the image; the latter has been folded in half twice, so that the gridlike image is on the inside and peeks out along the top and left edges. One can look into the piece to find more of the image, and its outside is the blank white of the photographic paper. These two pieces are further manifestations of Wagner’s interest in concealment and cancellation. The window, like the lens of the camera, is a transparent body through which information is gleaned, an object that assists in the act of looking. The panorama revealed by the window and recorded by the camera is suppressed through Wagner’s folding and rolling of the image. These two photo-objects project a presence that is more sculptural than imagistic; their blank white exteriors suggest a muteness that shrouds the revelatory implications of the window image.

All of Wagner’s pieces exhibit an appealing economy of means. The photographs are simply rolled or folded and held in place with a thin metal armature. Though fragile in appearance, their volume contrasts strongly with the flatness of the photographs from which they are composed. Waterlily consists of a photograph of the flower curled in an evocative floral shape. Film Curl I, a more open-ended and clever piece than Waterlily, is composed of two rephotographed strips of film—segments from two different scenes, stuck back to back and loosely wound into a spiral. The piece juts out from the wall, revealing the frames frontally. The simultaneous display of these two clips suggests a cacophonous editing process, a recurring theme in this show. Not only is the majority of the imagery film-based, but Wagner’s tendency to hide one thing in order to highlight another parallels the editing process. The main difference is that in traditional film editing, information is sacrificed for a greater clarity, whereas Wagner sacrifices information as a means toward mystification.

Matthew A. Weinstein