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Photographic Memory & Other Shots in the Dark
3/9/2002 - 5/11/2002
Curated by Carolina Ponce de León, Photographic Memory focused on the way photos reinforce, distort, create and dissolve memory. It featured photography, video, and computer-mediated art by 14 artists from the Bay Area, Sacramento, San Diego and from Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay.
  Galería Exhibitions We Carry A Home With Us: Post-Immigrant Reflections <2002>
Photographic Memory & Other Shots in the Dark <2002>
Digital Mural Project: Robert J. Sanchez and Richard A. Lou (Los Anthropolocos) <2002>
Tania Bruguera: Performance Night <2002>
Paper Tigers <2002>
Digital Mural Project: Liliana Porter <2002>
Substance of Choice <2002>
The Resurrection of Tigilau <2002>
Digital Mural Project: Armando Rascón <2002>
Viology: Violence of Culture & Cultures of Violence <2002>
Related Media for this Exhibition
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The Dark Rooms of Memory
By Carolina Ponce de León

Photographic Memory & Other Shots in the Dark features 14 artists from California, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Uruguay. Through photographic techniques, video and computer-mediated art, they explore the intimate relationships between image and memory.

Photography is a tool for processing memory. It can construct or reconstruct the past, capture and suspend its memory permanently, document collective histories and record personal stories. Processing memory via photographic images —whether still or moving— has become a fundamental part of our times. Nevertheless, photography, like memory, is susceptible to interpretation, intention, and context. This has become ever more present as we now witness the images and symbols that substantiate the new culture of war. Photographs are cultural mementos that can play a significant role in the manufacturing and maintenance of ideological discourse. Although this exhibition does not address directly the visual narratives of this new era, the exhibition does explore how artists process, internalize, transform and transcend the images that forge personal and collective memory.

For decades, artists have systematically questioned the nature of representation, and consequently have turned the cultural and ideological conditioning of photographic images into critical and satirical devices. The "shots in the dark" featured in Photographic Memory are attempts to materialize personal and collective memory by creating photographic evidence of visions that are imperceptible to the conventional lens. Through hybrid techniques, the artists here take advantage of photography's aura of reality while bringing to light its deceptive nature.

Embodied Memory
Bay Area artist Pedro Lepe creates subtle photographic images that do not identify time, subjects, or places. However, they are an intimate reflection of a state of consciousness in which vision is only part of the picture. Lepe's photographs suggest that memory is not only associated with image, but with a full array of the senses. The lush red light that bathes his pictures insinuates a connection to the body. The vague impressions of figures or spaces generate a climate of tension that evokes sensuality, seduction and even danger. However, his visual clues are only partial and cannot be reconstructed.

Wura-Natasha Ogunji also creates elusive, non-representational images. Ogunji's work can be seen as an attempt to order the past through an intuitive process of re-examination. While studying the history of photography, Ogunji was disturbed by the lack of references to photographers of color and therefore by the "non-existence" of the stories and histories of African-Americans depicted in their own terms. Approaching memory through the critical gaze of the present, Ogunji's work is nonetheless based in the belief that history and ancestral knowledge are inscribed in the body. This inspires her to access her cultural and spiritual past by creating a multi-layered body of work that combines metaphorical objects, "photographic documents", and text—the result of a complex relationship between ritual, history, and cultural theory. Her "photographic documents" assert that reconstructing memory can subvert and even change history.

Sacramento-based Francisco Dominguez creates eerie photographs of Aztec dancers that transform the ordinary into the supernatural. Although presenting contemporary dancers —and thus alluding to a cultural reality that surrounds him— the infrared-sensitive film he uses creates an ethereal atmosphere, a timeless reflection of cultural legacy. Present and past collide. Dominguez's pictures give an unexpected twist to the common assumption that photographs reveal "what once was."

Mexican artist Tatiana Parcero's series entitled "Interior Cartographies" consists of constructed photos in which anatomy diagrams and ancient Aztec codices adorn parts of her body —her face, hands, feet, mouth, and pregnant abdomen. These self-portraits blend biographical and mythical retrospection, and relate to the intersections of gender, identity, memory, and territory. In Parcero's powerful icons, physiology and individual memory are embodied expressions of cultural lineage.

Marta María Pérez Bravo is a Cuban artist who currently lives in Monterrey, Mexico. Her enigmatic and poetic photographs are emblematic tableaux inspired by the spiritual beliefs and artifacts related to Palo Monte, the African-based religion she practices. Using her body as an altar, Pérez Bravo incorporates symbolic objects associated with her faith and personal rituals. Both as a Cuban exile and as a contemporary practitioner of ancestral beliefs, Pérez Bravo creates powerful dreamlike visions that serve as metaphors of the interconnectedness between spirituality, cultural memory and displacement.

Like Parcero and Pérez Bravo, San Francisco-based artist Susie Valdez is also the subject of her "staged" photographs. However, her work incorporates a heightened sense of performance qualities. Valdez produces her photographs in the dark room, exposing the multiple layers of her self-portraits, and developing a dramatic range that blends tragedy and ecstasy, eroticism and vulnerability, fact and fiction. The performative qualities in Valdez's photographs go beyond conventional self-portraits and reconcile the oppositions between "visual truth" and staged representation, between the personal and cultural, objective and subjective, revealing and concealing.

The Politics of Memory
Uruguayan Ana Tiscornia's digitally-altered photographs are part of a series entitled "Once Upon a Time" which was originally inspired by a New York Times Magazine photo of the shack where Ted Kaczynski —a.k.a. the Unibomber— was hiding. The peculiar note of the NYT photo was that the shack was removed from its original location and was standing in the middle of a vast FBI barrack. This strange contradiction led her to visualize what she calls "the deprivation of history, intentional or unintentional", and "the individual or social loss of memory". By manipulating ideologically charged found images, Tiscornia confirms the focus of her art: to question how our "collective memory" is displaced, decontextualized and fragmented. The series serves as a deceptively simple, yet eloquent, reminder that forgetting is an organic component of memory. Her works speak about the "strategic" forgetting of events that may be too dangerous to keep active in the institutional archive of memory.

Los Antropolocos —San Diego artists Richard Lou & Robert Sanchez— perform as fictional Chicano anthropologists "studying" white ethnicity. Whether using still, moving, or digital photographic means, photography plays a fundamental role in their work: it "legitimizes" their research and archeological findings of specimens and artifacts from the "colorless". The parody of ethnographic explorations reveals the power relationships inherent to the making and contextualizing of "documentary" depictions of the Other. The satirical representations of subject and subjugator expose how colonial behavior and racist beliefs are often perpetuated consciously or unconsciously. They also raise important questions: on which side of the camera do you have to be to preserve your own image, context, and cultural memory? Where does the factual and cultural content of these photographs actually lie?

Mexican video-artist Alfredo Salomón also uses parody as an artistic strategy. In his video, "Empty Trash" (2000) , a young man revisits pictures and video-clips of his family, friends, and events from his past that are on a file called "memory", saved on his computer desktop. He carries out a solitary exercise of selective memory as he picks and discards certain files. His private performance evokes the peculiar nature of personal photos: their capacity to awaken the existential dilemmas of preserving or denying personal history, the burden of memory and nostalgia.

Chilean-born San Francisco artist, Claudia X. Valdes' video-installation entitled "1974-2001" (2000-01) also explores the connections between personal history, family pictures and memory. In the installation, an old family photograph is juxtaposed with a video of waves flowing back and forth. While the photo hints at the transference of identity through family lines, the rhythmic motion of the waves makes us ever more aware of the transient nature of the memory. With this association, Valdes suggests that time —the essence of photographs and memory— is a negotiation between present and past.

Over the past 20 years, SF-based Chicano artist Armando Rascón has researched the underpinnings of cultural boundaries. In "Untitled [Dream Reality with Two Subjects]" (2002) , a young Latino man smiles at the camera while bending over the coffin of a deceased elder —Rascón's father, a migrant worker who came to the US in the 1940s during the Bracero Program. The warm glow of the candles casts its light on the elaborate universe condensed in the shot. A series of snapshots, arranged along the body, preserve family histories and affections. This is an intimate, culturally-specific portrait of life and death, loss and endurance, of the passing of cultural knowledge and the inevitable fate of youth and change. The contrasts evoke a spirit of resistance necessary to the shaping of cultural memory.

Defying Anonymity: The Aura of Life and Death
Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz appropriates the generic ID photos of the deceased one finds in the obituaries published daily in Colombian newspapers. The rigid and frontal poses of the photographed subjects, and their hypnotic gaze looking straight at the lens, produce grim yet disturbing mementos of the rising count of political murders. Life and mortality become tragically superimposed. To produce "Los Narcisos" (1997-2002) , Muñoz sifts charcoal powder through a photo-silkscreen and on to a tray of water. The image floats on the water's surface. As the days pass, the water evaporates, gently alters the particles of dust and finally disappears, leaving a dematerialized, slightly deteriorated, imprint of a man's face at the bottom of the tray (actually Muñoz himself posing in the manner of an obit photo). Muñoz’s unusual technique reflects the transitory and vulnerable condition of life in a culture overwhelmed by death. In "Aliento [Breath]" (1996-97) , Muñoz reproduces found pictures of deceased people that manifest only when some one breathes on them. Breath and death and life and memory are all part of the same reflection the viewer sees when looking at him or herself in the mirror. Muñoz's artistic mediums are themselves metaphors of the fragile possibility of defying anonymity, oblivion, and death in a state of war.

Lourdes Portillo's film, "Señorita Extraviada" [Missing Young Woman] (2002) , is a poignant documentary about the circumstances surrounding the abductions, rapes and murders of over 250 young working-class women that have occurred since 1993, in Juárez, Mexico. Unexpectedly, the victims' photographs play a lead role all through the film: they appear repeatedly in testimonies of family members, news reports and interviews with activists and government officials. These pictures weave different narratives depending on whether they are printed in the media, posted on flyers throughout the city, or conserved in family albums and altars. In the media, they become the temporary depersonalized faces of the ruthless tragedy caused by organized crime, political corruption, and the economic war against the poor. Xeroxed and taped to street posts, they appear like ghosts reclaiming their bodies, justice, and public recognition. In the hands of their loved ones, they become intimate relics of love and loss, life and despair, faith and distrust.

Intertwining biographical, cultural, mythic, and satirical visions of past and present, Photographic Memory and Other Shots in the Dark takes photography out of the dark room and brings light to its significance as a medium that bridges art and life.

Participating Artists:
Richard Lou & Robert Sanchez alias Los Antropolocos (San Diego), Francisco Domínguez (Sacramento), Pedro Lepe (Mexico-Bay Area), Oscar Muñoz (Colombia), Wura Natasha Ogunji (Oakland), Tatiana Parcero (Mexico), Marta María Pérez Bravo (Cuba-Monterrey, Mexico), Armando Rascón (San Francisco), Alfredo Salomón (Mexico), Ana Tiscornia (Uruguay-NYC), Susie Valdez (San Francisco), and Miguel Ángel Rojas (Colombia).