Uta Barth at the Art Institute of Chicago

… and to draw a bright white line with light (Untitled 11.3), 2011 (image found at minusspace.com)

I went into the Modern Wing at the Art Institute yesterday to see the Uta Barth exhibition. The show consists of three series of photographs – two inside the gallery and another on the outside wall. The work occupying the first half of that gallery is a new one series: … and to draw a bright white line with light. These photographs, as most of hers are, large; each about 3 x 4 ft. The images are arranged in the gallery for the viewer to track the growth of the band of light that falls on the curtain. It starts out as a thin white, wavering strip on the white linen curtains. As I walked through the exhibition, the strip grows wider in the undulations of the curtains, and I began to forget what this band of light was and where it was coming from.  Two photographs remind us of what is causing this domestic phenomenon: Barth’s hand makes its appearance, holding the curtain to make the folds and thus “draw with light” (AIC statement).

These photographs inspire my photographic work. I am intrigued by Barth’s attention to the domestic and the infusion of affect or memory I find in her photographs. 

Field #3, 1995 (image found at thecry.com).

One interesting similarity I found between commentary of her two earlier famed series Ground, 1994 and Field, 1995 and my Untitled Blurs/Blears is the descriptor “painterly,” which Barth points out is not accurate in her work (interview with Barth Journal of Contemporary Art, 1996). She describes that she is working within the conditions of photography: “out-of-focusness due to shallow depth of field.” In my case, the images in the series Untitled Blurs/Blears are also made in reflection of the conditions of the camera’s technology, though very differently than Barth’s. My camera’s aperture is stuck almost closed, so instead of a very wide aperture that creates a shallow depth of field, mine is stuck at the opposite. Though, this does not allow me to see an image through the viewfinder, and it forces a long exposure time, where an unsteady hand becomes apparent.

Ground #42, 1994 (image found at http://moodpending.blogspot.com)

Barth claims that the viewer’s confusion in regarding these images is an important aspect of the work. It invites us to consider our position as “looking”: looking at the image, the photograph, what is depicted in the photograph. We are, albeit if we can, are looking, gazing, at images, people, objects, other beings. The second half of the gallery at the Art Institute shows photographs from her series Sundial, 2007; another series that invites us into the domestic sphere to look. These photographs were made at dusk in Barth’s apartment and play with the condition of changing light coming through the windows on the right side of the frame. The play of shadows and the negative space seems to point to the complexity of our everyday. Our home’s interior can create a complicated composition that can be easily passed over if we are caught up in looking out the window.

Sundial (07.6), 2007 (image found at artnet.com)

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