Los Angeles

Susan Silton, We See It Differently, You and I, 2020, photo intaglio print on paper, 14 1⁄2 × 18". From the sixteen-part suite We See It Differently, You and I, 2020.

Susan Silton, We See It Differently, You and I, 2020, photo intaglio print on paper, 14 1⁄2 × 18". From the sixteen-part suite We See It Differently, You and I, 2020.

Susan Silton

“We,” Susan Silton’s first solo show with Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, featured a suite of sixteen photographic prints of the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Northern California. Each black-and-white work presents two nearly identical views of coastal redwoods, resolutely earthbound trunks emerging from the grassy floor. Silton shot them on her iPhone; vantages capture clearings and the receding spaces of deep, dense groves that eschew the aperture of sky. She subjected the snaps to Apple filters (more limited than what is currently available, because she made the images between 2014 and 2015 on an iPhone 7), including “mono” and the evocatively named “noir,” redoubling the work of the pictured sequoias that differently screen daylight through their upper canopies. Silton then put the images through a comparably contemporary photo-etching process using Solarplates: prepared, light-sensitive polymer surfaces with steel backing that are exposed and rinsed. The resulting image pairs test one’s visual acuity in their adjacency, which produces a back-and-forth, optical stuttering that reveals distinctions in detail and modulations in tone that more affectively suggest the intensity of color. Coupled at near stereographic range, the pendant prints—their placement inevitably cuing the binocularity of vision—nevertheless remain apart.

Critic Ezrha Jean Black has characterized Silton’s project as “a single ‘theme-and-conjugations’ work.” The conjugations relate to the images, of course, but also to the texts inscribed beneath them, which provisionally serve as their captions (further radicalizing their resistance to reference). Installed in a horizontal band along the gallery walls, the pieces unfurled left to right, beginning with one that read WE SEE IT DIFFERENTLY, YOU AND I. The statement was offered in the present tense, but veered backward, and through gradual mutations, culminating at the end of the sequence with WE WILL SEE IT DIFFERENTLY, YOU AND I—an unambiguous telos. Between these sometimes conditional temporalities existed multiple possibilities of dialogic understanding, each contingent upon the subject as well as conditioned by the terms of the last encounter. In this framework, “We” likewise extends an earlier work from 2010 that also reads WE SEE IT DIFFERENTLY, YOU AND I, its language running atop a photographic diptych of a red-desert landscape, which is actually a Hollywood-style stage prop. Exposing a long and interrogative process, the newer iterations in the show reveal the changing dialogical contexts of the work. Also, the ‘we’ here remains as presumptuous in its address as it is uncertain in its interpolative claim (sentience might extend to the trees). The point seems to be one of discrepancy rather than a fusion of perspective.

Accompanying Silton’s portfolio was a short story by Dana Johnson, “Later and Later, Longer than Ever.” The text was printed and hung in nearly matching frames and existed in some oblique relation to the forest scenes that the writer saw in progress (and on which she reflected to generate her text). Johnson and Silton read the story aloud together—Johnson first and then Silton—on the last weekend of the exhibition, performing the particularity of differences manifest in its content, here embodied in the pair’s vocalization and also in their delivery. As punctual as this occasion was, “We” spilled out from itself. The Armstrong Redwoods reserve has been closed since the massive Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit Lightning Complex fire incinerated it in 2020. Like Zoe Leonard’s documentary photo project Analogue 1998–2009, a meditation on the coalescence of the anachronism of technology and the world it is used to represent, Silton’s scorched-earth subject matter draws equivalencies to the cessation of the material used to picture it, since the production of Solarplates has halted, if only temporarily. The whole thing is elegiac, absent of solace. While making her show, Silton also organized MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!, a living memorial to those dead from Covid-19, in the form of a letter-writing campaign featuring the handwritten names of the deceased and aimed at then-president Donald Trump. It existed aside from “We,” but was still right there.