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fuTure greATs
Sara VanDerBeek
by Joshua Mack
Sara VanDerBeek infuses the increasingly common, synthetic pursuit of
appropriation – work usually explained by heavy rhetoric – with profoundly
personal, formal, conceptual and historic resonance, evincing a sophistication
and maturity uncommon in a thirty-one-year-old. To make her pieces, she
constructs, and then photographs, small sculptures and collages from found
images and objects, teasing complex skeins of meaning from associative
combinations.
Take Decorations in a Notebook, 2006. Here she mounted an illustration
of Picasso’s skull-like 1943 bronze, Death’s Head; a photograph of a Vietcong
guerrilla; a single, disembodied eye (it happens to be Liz Taylor’s); and a
semicircular sheaf of folded paper on an armature made of wooden struts and
blocks. A small Associated Press item, after which the piece is titled, obscures
the lower part of the soldier’s face and explains that he decorated the photo
with stars, the symbol of the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam.
It was found in a notebook on his corpse.
The work’s structure recalls constructivist sculpture and a kind of 1950s
aesthetic, à la Louise Nevelson, while its lugubrious lighting, which plays off that
in the image of the Picasso, hints at surrealist photography. But it’s the play
between the Picasso’s hollow sockets, Liz’s floating eye and the bright gaze of
the Vietcong that creates poetic resonance, linking war, death, commemoration
and the human need to connect with others by seeing and being seen. That
such meaning is created through references to past wars comments on the
present. But more importantly, the combinations signal that our understanding
of images is malleable, personal and contextual. Thus VanDerBeek raises issues
of subjectivity and of the passage of time, suggesting that the fourth dimension
plays a role in work which plays with photography – two dimensions – and
sculpture – three.
VanDerBeek draws her material from an archive collected in forays to
antique shops and flea markets. A few images, such as the AP news clip, come
from the files of her late father, the experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek,
who died in 1984, when she was seven. His collages and his use of multiple
projectors in screenings inform her interest in combining images. But her
sensitivity to the potential of visual material to bear meaning stems from her
efforts to know her father through his archives. The sense of loss and absence
which pervades Decorations in a Notebook reflects, perhaps, her realisation that
photographs can memorialise but can never make the lost one tangible.
from top: A Reoccurring Pattern, 2006, digital c-print, 76 x 102 cm,
artist’s label, edition of 3 + 2AP; Periodicity, 2007, digital c-print,
41 x 51 cm, artist’s label, edition of 3 + 2AP; Drawing in Perspective,
2007, digital c-print, 76 x 102 cm, artist’s label, edition of 3 + 2AP.
facing page: Decorations in a Notebook, 2006, digital c-print,
61 x 51 cm, artist’s label, edition of 3 + 2AP. All works: courtesy the
artist and D’Amelio Terras, New York
Artreview 96
FUTURE~1.INDD 96 11/2/08 12:27:02
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