“All one wants to know is whether the mere representation of the object is to my liking, no matter how indifferent I may be to the real existence of the object of this representation.” - Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgment | Part 1: Critique of Aesthetic Judgment / First Section: Analytic of Aesthetic Judgment / First Book: Analytic of the Beautiful / First Moment of the Judgment of Taste: Moment of Quality
Asking me to look of a photograph of another photograph is asking a lot. So much in fact, I only made the perfunctory walk-through recently of Anne Collier’s recent exhibition Anne Collier at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. I wasn’t planning to write about this exhibit: but, surprisingly, more than a week later, I find my mind wandering back to one of her images and digging out a classic and favorite novel (certainly an object without indifference).
I’d made it through the first two rooms without much pause until I turned to the left and glanced sideways to catch a glimpse of Sylvia Plath (Covers). Lauded for negotiating the personal and the universal in a fluid, sophisticated way with unusual depth and generous accessibility; Collier, has eliminated unnecessary artifice between me and the object/subject with her distinct, cool, detached, California photographic style. By isolating this cover in a field of exaggerated space, staging it in muffled neutral tones, and printing it large scale; Collier has elevated this artifact into a cherished reliquary of autobiography, disconnection, and desperation that reaches far beyond the edges of the book. This perfect, muted isolation perfectly emulates how the writings of Sylvia Plath make me feel. Encapsulating the disconnection often found between viewing and experience, Sylvia Plath (Covers) is a haunting visual depiction of the labored and bittersweet sentiments found in Plath’s writings – loneliness, numbness, and resignation:
“Look what can happen in this country, they’d say. A girl lives in some out-of-the-way town for nineteen years, so poor she can’t afford a magazine, and then she gets a scholarship to college and wins a prize here and a prize there and ends up steering New York like her own private car. Only I wasn’t steering anything, not even myself. I just bumped from my hotel to work and to parties and from parties to my hotel and back to work like a numb trolleybus. I guess I should have been excited the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
While I find many of the images in the exhibition more stagnant than engaging and far less poignant than noted, this image has remained with me. I believe it thoughtfully explores ideas of superficiality, the gap between the external and the internal, complacency, and fear – all in the same unromantic but sincere way Plath brutally exposed her raving voice of desperation.
Although Anne Collier is now closed, perhaps, her work is (ironically) worth a first and a second glance. I did find most of the images encompassing books and covers notably strong. In particular, I found Open Book #7 (Light Years), 2011, and Open Book #6 (George Platt Lynes), 2011, worth more exploration.