Synopsis by Jennifer Laffoon
Linda Levinson began her presentation by discussing some of her previous work. She was selected along with three other artists from Los Angeles to produce a billboard project that was in collaboration with Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and Patrick Media. The project relocated from site to site throughout LA County. The billboard was of an image of a flooded street in Hawaiian Gardens, CA. This image alluded to an over-abundance of water desperately needed in LA (LA was experiencing a severe drought at the time) and at the same time the devastation it could bring.
The billboard of the flood became a rupture in the media landscape of outdoor advertising since it was not trying to sell you anything. She then went on to discuss a collaborative project she did at Rochester Institute of Technology with her colleague Alex Miokovich. It was an installation entitled The Coffee Cantata that was based on an actual cantata that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote in 1732 of the same name.
Essentially, the cantata is about a father who forbids his daughter to drink coffee. He fears the power of caffeine, its addiction, the mental stimulation it produces, and is afraid that his daughter will go on to live her own emancipated life. The cantata is written in ten acts and is sung in three parts. The RIT photo gallery was reconfigured into a cafe where cappuccino and espresso were sold. An audio-loop of the actual cantata played in the background. On the walls of the gallery were prints of the musical score in German and English telling the story of the plea of the young girl's father as well as ten color photographs constructed by the artists depicting the ten acts of this story.
The cafe created a common space for social interaction to take place that transformed the culture of the RIT community. Students and faculty began to congregate in the cafe and classes and administrative meetings began to be held there. Levinson then discussed her ongoing archive project of platinum/palladium photographs entitled Annotations. The images are from her collection of found/discarded snapshots.
She finds the photographs, which had writing on the back of them and photographs the writing on the back of these images with a large format camera. Shooting them 1:1 she makes platinum/palladium contact prints of the entire back of the photograph, making sure not only to render the writing but the texture of the paper and the edge of the photograph as well. Levinson's intentions are many. The significance of the hand written word, its style and form, and its disappearance as a gesture in the world becomes important in the work.
Questions of how meaning is constructed are central to the work. What is the relationship between image and text? What is the relationship between photographs and our own lives? How are these meanings constructed? We perceive ourselves perceiving this work. We construct our own images according to the words we read since we are never presented with the front image. The use of snapshots in her work addresses current discussions about the vernacular and its relationship to the history of photography and the history of culture. Also, there is a very formal, poetic quality in the placement of the annotations on the back of these photographs that allows the work to continue to resonate on a multitude of levels.
Carole Naggar spoke about memory, loss, what image and text mean to us and how we position ourselves with all of these ideas. In the 1950s her family found themselves in exile from Cairo to Europe. Through this transition she was alone much of the time and began to keep a secret diary and take snapshots. During this time she knew that she didn't want to be a photographer, however found herself picking up and dropping the medium throughout the 70s and 80s. Naggar went back to Cairo and became obsessed with images of books, what they meant to herself and to others. She remembered seeing Christ holding a bible written in Arabic, which made her think about her family history and her own background of being Jewish but raised in a Catholic family.
Naggar discovered an interest in language and the confusion language can pose between words and pictures. She questioned where this language was from and where it is going. With these questions in mind she came to New York, started making hand-made paper and speaking English. She decided to make paintings about words, creating the series Unreadable, which was inspired by the cave paintings of animals at Lasco.
She returned to Cairo and began making books about the idea of public image and private text together, books of exile, love, ashes, and books everyone could read. Being Egyptian she was spared from the horrors of the Holocaust but felt the need to work the collective memory of the survivors. Eventually Naggar began to work with the Arabic and Hebrew language and all that it implied to the differences between both societies and their struggles. The letters were taken from both languages and mixed together, bringing the letters together so they danced and mingled but also making them hard to discern. Naggar realized these works no longer represented exile but were more grounded, more like a meditation on the fragility of language.
Having text legible and illegible was a way she could speak about the notion of being between worlds. Some text and image could be understood while some remained indistinguishable. This allowed for a personal narrative to be interjected, establishing a memory with some distance. Unfortunately, Holocaust survivors became angry at this work because it did not illustrate the suffering endured by the victims and survivors. Naggar had to step back from the project and reflect on the criticism. She now works with the Palestinians by layering photos, objects and color, so as to allude to a reconstruction of living tissue emphasizing the past and present of Arabs and Hebrews living together.