New York

Moyra Davey

American Fine Arts

It’s just, you know, everywhere. Clutter. Piling up with no particular order or end in sight. At least that’s the way it is in Moyra Davey’s elegantly disarrayed photocollages: she constructs her work from a wide variety of photographic papers (standard color paper, photo transfers onto lined yellow writing paper), and a variety of formats (Super-8 stills, enlarged 35 mm. shots), arranging the results on white paper within slim frames. Inside these confines, the order of things is less apparent. There are photos of stacks of books packed, perched, and leaning precariously on old gray-painted metal shelves—the kind without solid sides, so that everything always looks as though it were about to spill out onto the floor. Other photos include forms of not-quite-refuse that are more innocuous (in size) but more insidious (in sheer volume): un- or mislabeled videos, buttons, scraps of paper, bits of cloth, ticket stubs, scissors, knives, an almost endless catalogue of chaos in the making. Rows of vinyl LPs, held up mostly by their own weight, clutter up other pictures. Extravagantly useless objects, out of date, all but obsolete, that are still, apparently, impossible to get rid of—if for no other reason than that someone actually bought them, paid real money for them, once upon a time—just like vacuum-tube receivers and high-tech turntables.

Davey’s project constitutes a kind of associative record of the myriad detritus of day-to-day life, all the things that had some kind of value, and now just don’t. When you look at the pictures (or around the apartment), the process by which things suffer this transformation is obvious: it’s entropy. Ticket stubs and LPs and buttons and once-read paperback classics are all alike in being not much good for much of anything after a while. Davey is mostly interested in the associations that tides of entropy can produce, in what is revealed by the way things accumulate, their particular chance groupings. Her idea is that they do, in fact, mean something. Inside her multiple frames, the world operates according to Freud’s dictum: everything is a symptom, nothing is an accident. Davey huddles over the remnants of the quotidian, like a kind Of modern-day haruspex, peering at entrails, trying to read the signs.

Curiously enough, it actually works, in a way. All of the photographs are officially untitled, but each piece has a subtitle, taken from the object that first strikes the eye: each subtitle actually reveals something about the nature of clutter. So one photo of random stuff gets subtitled “Complete Works of Rabelais,” prompting thoughts of the link between ordinary entropy and the first Western philosopher of chaos; another, subtitled “Sentimental Education,” tells us something about exactly why all this junk is still lying around the apartment. It also points up one of the weaknesses of this work: with all this fussy framing, and the addition of photos of “abject” objects like an empty hotdog stand and a guy dining alone, the whole thing becomes a bit precious. Still—it’s a whole lot better than cleaning up.

Mark Van de Walle