Reception: Saturday November 7 > 5-8pm

Paul Mpagi Sepuya: Figures / Grounds / Studies

A Script for the Pleasures of Unsanctioned Knowledge Idle Pictures

(an excerpt)

01 – He wanted to do something . . . to write or draw . . . or something . . . but it was so comfortable just to lay there on the bed . . . . . . his shoes off … and think … think of everything . . . short disconnected thoughts-to wonder. . . to remember . . . to think and smoke . . . 1

03  [In 1934] Cecil Beaton captures his mentor Pavel Tchelitchew painting the portrait of the unconsummated love of Beaton’s life, Peter Watson, who is pointedly avoiding the layers of looking of which he is the object but whose stare out of the frame looking at us is even more intent that Tchelitchew’s glance at Beaton. (Waugh 27)

04 – In 1936, Carl Van Vechten photographs Richard Bruce Nugent, and as a slight, places a bust of Antinous hanging above his head.

06 – STUDIO VISIT(S)2

Paul uses the phrase “concentric circles” in describing his interest in the diaries of Bloomsbury lesbians. Their overlapping lives and the ways in which their writings overlap fascinate him. I’m not too so sure, but his summation (“They are either gardening or about to kill themselves after a breakup”) makes them sound like a good read.

Concentric circles are on my mind whenever I’ve gone up to Harlem to visit Paul in his studio. I picture, incorrectly, Venn diagrams with grade-school blue and yellow circles and the muddy green oval they have in common. I think about the ways that lives intersect because there, tacked up on the walls and scattered and stacked on the floor, are photographs of men (and the occasional lady) who I have seen in bars and on sidewalks for years, have met at one of Paul’s dinner parties, or worked under.

There are portraits of friends, people who I want to meet, and guys I’m just beginning to get to know. It’s a bit like a social network mapped out on the wall.

07

ME: its strange you know

HIM: i kind of thought about this website as a separate entity where i would try out feelings, emotions and experiences, on people i didnt relate to really and then apply those experiences onto “real” people i would meet in every day life

ME: i found my neighbor on here. as in, his bedroom is on the opposite side of my bedroom wall!

HIM: but now its become a life of its own, dragging me through my deepest wounds and through my most personal social affiliations

ME: yes, things dont always work out as you forsee them

HIM: especially in the realm of, well this space is safe and not connected…

11:35 PM

That was an excerpt of an online conversation from Manhunt, September 27, 2007, 11:35pm. It’s saved in a folder on my computer, time stamped. I have no reason why. Five years later, I photographed the neighbor on the other side of my bedroom wall. The portrait is called, Paul, before the move. We share the same name, and the same birthday. But that’s not the neighbor I was talking about in the text above, but it’s the same room, same wall.

08 – Paul. Christopher Isherwood calls him “Paul.” But his name is Denham, or Denny.3

09 – (back to Ryan)

But I say incorrectly because while writing this I looked up “concentric circles” and discovered that they are, in fact, circles that share the same center. They fit inside of one another, like a bull’s-eye. This strikes me as more apt, because more than a mere representation of Paul’s social world, the accumulation and repetition of images of objects and people in the studio seem to have the power to collapse time in a funny way. The potted succulent and shriveled orange peel that sit on the window ledge are the same ones in the framed photograph that leans beside them. When my boots and shirt get cast aside, they end up slumped over a portrait that Paul took of me months before. While I take my pants off, the Beyoncé that we’re listening to is the same Beyoncé that we danced to a few nights earlier. Paul asks me to recreate poses struck a week ago by someone I recognize but don’t personally know. I realize I could listen to Beyoncé and talk about Beyoncé pants-less with Paul all day.

Concentric circles.

13 – A multiply-produced photograph acknowledges both the preexistent desire of the individual spectator and the presence of another or others as well, a whole class. A chain of production and circulation lies behind the surface of the image. (Waugh 27)

15 – (now really, back to Ryan)

I stared to keep a diary faithfully after picking up a volume of Virginia Woolf’s diaries, but that was even before Paul had told me of his interest in all of her friends. Perhaps this is why we are friends? On my first trip uptown to sit for Paul, he read aloud from one of Virginia Woolf’s letters about the prospect of sitting for Cecil Beaton: “Really, it’s worse than being bound in Morocco by Lytton, and read by all the tarts of the moment. Which reminds me, do you know a man of that persuasion called Cecil Beaton – who wants to photograph me, and Osbert will comment up on the portrait in a catalogue; and shall I go and be done? I say no: I say I am living perpetually in Sussex. I say, judging from your style and manner (this is what I say to Cecil Beaton) you are a Mere Catamite. Clive who came in yesterday, dropping with sleep after what I understood was an orgy, confirmed this.” 4

ADDENDUM

December 9, 2014

Paul,

Sorry I’ve taken a while to get back to you! There were the holidays and family and some traveling.

We’ve talked it over a lot actually, but I think we’d rather not be photographed. Because our relationship is somewhat unusual, we feel a little sensitive about displaying it and ourselves publicly for various reasons: shyness, privacy, how the relationship figures into our own work, etc.

I hope you understand! We should all get together and hang out sometime regardless!

Hope you’re doing well,

—— [ name removed]


1 I begin with Richard Bruce Nugent’s text, Smoke, Lilies, and Jade, published 1926 in the single-issue magazine FIRE! For more on R.B.N. and queer subjectivity in literature, see Joseph Allen Boone’s “Libidinal Currents,” University of Chicago Press, 1998, and Christopher Vitale’s “The Untimely Richard Bruce Nugent,” New York University, 2007.

2 While my residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem was coming to an end in the fall of 2011 I asked several friends who had spent time with me in the space to share their thoughts about the experience. “Studio Visits” is written by Ryan Chassee. Our friendship’s beginning coincided with the start of the SMH residency, and I have continued to photograph him in the years since.

3 See Isherwood’s “Down There on a Visit,” and the story, specifically, titled Paul. For more on Denham Fouts, see Arthur Vanderbilt’s “The Best-Kept Boy in the World: The Life and Loves of Denham Fouts,” Magnus Books, 2013.

4 From a letter of Virgina Woolf’s to Vita Sackville-West, dated October 9, 1927, in The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Volume III 1923 – 1928, edited by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. Nicolson is the son of Vita Sackville-West, a lover of Woolf and the model for Orlando, which would be published a year later in October 1928. Sackville-West would write in response to receiving Orlando, on October 11, 1928 “… you have invented a new for of Narcissism, — I confess, — I am in love with Orlando – this is a complication I had not forseen.” (also included in Letters.., Volume III).

Elizabeth Atterbury

Elizabeth Atterbury (born 1982, West Palm Beach, FL) lives and works in Portland, Maine. Recent solo and group shows include Kate Werble Gallery, New York; The Portland Museum of Art, Portland; Mrs., Queens; The Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville; kijidome, Boston; Document, Chicago; Western Exhibitions, Chicago; The Luminary, St Louis; Et al. Etc., San Francisco; Pulaski Park Field House, Chicago; Able Baker Contemporary, Portland; Ida Schmid, Brooklyn; TSA, Brooklyn; Bodega, Philadelphia/New York; KANSAS, New York; and The ICA at Maine College of Art, Portland, among others. In the Middle, An Oasis, a monograph of her work, was published by Bodega Press in 2013. She received her BA from Hampshire College and her MFA from MassArt.

Atterbury’s studio practice is fluid, fluctuating between picture making and object making. Fascinated with the autonomy of the artifact – objects disassociated from their original function and context – Atterbury’s practice considers the distinction or lack thereof between artifact, prop, model and sculpture.  Drawn to materials such as paper and sand, Atterbury constructs ephemeral tableaux specifically for the purpose of transfiguring and recording them. Both her photographs and sculpture build upon a continued interest in display and its visual structures, along with a more recent interest in language, ritual, and abstraction.

Elizabeth Atterbury, 26 Waves, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 22 3/4 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Alone at night, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Still life with bowl and mirror, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Anonymous Old Poem, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Another Poem, 2018, Mortar, plywood and glue, 23 x 19 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Calligraphy Frame, 2018, Maple, acrylic paint, glue, 60 x 40 x 1 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, The Well, Again (Pool), 2017, Beach sand, glue, MDF, 10 1/2 x 8 x 6 1/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, The Well, The Wall, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Beach Woks (Marks of a Tool II), 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Still Life with Popcorn and Pits, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Logogram III, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Logogram II, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Logogram I, 2016, Silver gelatin print, 20 x 24 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Tomb), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 12 x 7 1/2 x 5 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (The Cut), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 13 1/2 x 28 1/2 x 1 1/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Sunset Hedge), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 1 1/2 x 16 x 2 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Small House), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 1 x 16 3/4 x 14 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Bull Shark), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 2 1/2 x 18 x 1 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Paper Cut / Hedge), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 10 x 9 x 1 3/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Noguchi's Intetra, Mist Fountain), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 11 x 9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Lawn), 2016, Enamel paint, steel 9 x 9 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Big House), 2016, Enamel paint, steel, 16 x 18 x 6 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sunny Side, FL (Palms), 2015, Enamel paint, steel, 17 1/2 x 11 x 16 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Relief (China White), 2015, Plywood and paint, 33 x 48 x 1 3/4 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Moonlight on the river, 2014, Chromogenic print, 14 x 11 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Slow Song, 2014, Chromogenic print, 14 x 11 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Marks of a tool, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Rake, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 24 x 20 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Ghost Tracks, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 24 x 20 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Black Beach, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterbury, Bones, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in, Edition of 3

Elizabeth Atterburym Glyphs II, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Glyphs, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Site, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Sculpture Park, 2014, Silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Bricks, 2013 Chromogenic print, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Harry, Henri, Sal, 2013, Chromogenic print, 14 x 11 in

Elizabeth Atterbury, Blue Runner Night, 2014, Chromogenic print, 13 1/2 x 11 1/2 in, Editon of 3

What Role Do Photographers Play in an Increasingly Automated Image Culture?

by Hettie Judah |  November 8, 2018

At the Photographers’ Gallery in London, a show examining the increasingly ubiquitous images produced by machines

Who areWho are photographs for? Who are photographs by? Increasingly, the answer to both questions is, more or less, machine: images are captured by autonomous, or semi-autonomous devices in the act of gathering data for artificial intelligences.

Reading the world of the internet through human eyes, this devolved, machinic image-capture seems ubiquitous. Whether tracking down a building through Street View, reading an academic text on Google Books or locating an artwork through a search engine, there is little sense of authorship to the photos we consume online. For all our sophisticated understanding of image manipulation – from Snapchat bunny filters to movie special effects – we are remarkably trusting of many of these apparently unauthored images, as if the question of intent or agenda was removed alongside human agency.

Stephanie Kneissl and Maximilian Lackner, Stop The Algorithm, 2017. Courtesy: The Photographers Gallery, London

In ‘All I Know Is What’s On The Internet’ – an exhibition at London’s Photographers’ Gallery, ominously titled after a Donald Trump quote – artists mine online content for evidence of human intervention. These often present themselves as glitches of one form or another. Winnie Soon’s video Unerasable Images (2018) shows how heavy-handed censorship causes even a Lego rendering of the 1989 protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing to pop in and out of visibility on online platforms in China.

Andrew Norman Wilson’s Scanops prints (2012–ongoing) reproduce lone images found among Google’s Books pages that unwittingly reveal the role of human beings in the data extraction process. Fingers and hands wearing latex anti-contamination gloves are seen holding pages flat for scanning. A series of goofy, mangled, circular portraits by Emilio Vavarella – The Google Trilogy 3: The Driver and the Cameras(2012) – turn out to be accidental shots harvested from Google Streetview, capturing the drivers adjusting the cameras on their vehicles

Eva and Franco Mattes’s series Dark Content(2016) explores the covert role of content moderators – the humans performing the role of censors commonly attributed to algorithms – some working freelance for social media, others for the comments section of news sites. All participate in the videos anonymously, their voices and likenesses transferred to generic avatars. A moderator hired by a third party for a social media site worries that, after blocking a video containing child pornography, the censure might go no further. Will anyone help the child? Will the video be reported to the police? Caught in the web of the automated service economy, she can find no way of contacting the client company to check. Moderators for the news sites are horribly disturbed by suicide videos, and likewise haunted by unanswerable questions about how the footage made its way to them online.

Degoutin & Wagon, World Brain, 2015, HD Video. Courtesy: The Photographers Gallery, London

Sebastian Schmieg and Silvio Lorusso’s suite of leporellos Five Years of Captured Captchas (2017) are a reminder that more often than we realize, the humans caught in that web are us. ‘Captcha’ puzzles (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) used on online forms serve a double function: having identified us as non-robot, we are offered text or images that are troubling the optical character recognition tasked with digitizing them. Unbeknownst to us, our human eyes and brain become harvesting tools for non-human intelligence.

The artists point out that Google was once slapped with an (unsuccessful) class action lawsuit for this unpaid labour. The ethics are certainly twisty. On the one hand, what harm is there in crowdsourcing interpretation of documents and images that become sources of public information? On the other, if they are the property of Google – a global for-profit company that extends its post-national stance to its attitude to taxation – how public are they, really? And why do it covertly?

This vision of humankind as sentient servants of a giant artificial intelligence is extended in Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon’s World Brain (2015). A feature-length film work split between scenes in giant data centres, and a neo-survivalist forest camp populated by tech intellectuals, World Brain suggests that external observers of our present earth would see a planet colonized by a super brain that we are collectively dedicated to nurturing. The internet is presented as a highly successful superorganism, within which we all live, both virtually – the details of our day-to-day captured as data – and physically, surrounded by the cables, wires and transmissions of its infrastructure.

Andrew Norman Wilson, Scanops The INsland Printer, 2018. Courtesy: The Photographers Gallery, London

While not directly referenced in the exhibition, the spirit of James Bridle’s recent book The New Dark Age hovers over ‘All I Know …’ The exhibition brings illustrative focus to many of the issues raised by Bridle. The visual economy with which these works raise complex questions about control, surveillance, trauma, manipulation and agency is, in itself, a sharp reminder of the power of the image in relation to the word.

If an artificial intelligence learns what kinds of pictures you favour, why should it not assist you in optimizing photographs of your family? If an algorithm can predict what pleases you in an image feed, why should it not boost your happiness by showing you more of them? If cameraphones are already ubiquitous in conflict zones, why do we need war photographers? If we’re already broadcasting ourselves all of the time, what’s the point of documentary filmmakers? Is it wrong to have content moderators removing images intended to traumatise us? For the Photographers’ Gallery – an institution hitherto dedicated to images transmitting the vision of one human eye to another – these enquiries are pressing. They carry in their wake deeper questions about who a ‘photographer’ is, and what their role might be in an increasingly automated image culture.

‘All I Know Is What’s On The Internet’ runs at the The Photographers’ Gallery, London until 24 February 2019.

Main image: Miao Ying Lan, Love Poem, 2014-15. Courtesy: The Photographers’ Gallery, London

Owner
Aron Gent
aron@documentspace.com
Director
Sibylle Friche
sibylle@documentspace.com
Gallery and Print Studio Assistant
Renata Cruz Lara Guerra
info@documentspace.com

Gallery hours:
Tuesday-Saturday: 11am-6pm

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DOCUMENT is a commercial gallery located in Chicago that specializes in contemporary photography, film and media based art. The gallery has organized more than 40 solo exhibitions since its opening in 2011 and actively promotes the work of emerging national and international artists. Operating conjointly as a professional printmaking studio, DOCUMENT facilitates the production of works by artists from Chicago and the US. At this time we do not accept unsolicited submissions.