Sunday, May 04, 2008

Zoe Strauss I-95.08

THE perfect place for my start. I find Zoe Strauss's project incredibly compelling--her mixture of real community involvement and strong compelling images. I finally saw the installation and it was gorgeous, beautifully conceived and executed. I loved the urban space lightly swept and Zoe's well printed images carefully glued to the pillars. It was glorious to see people of all stripes milling about carefully examining the images.

A bit of confession. I stumbled upon Zoe's work first when she was in the Whitney Biennial. It struck me but until I started reading her blog (which I do almost daily) I didn't understand her project. While I wouldn't say her work was the impetus for our move to Philadelphia last summer it was an inspiration. I find her work regional in the best sense and it illuminated Philly's appeal to me. It's art grounded in a deeply loved place. Philadelphia's Arts culture seems to value community and public art much more than other places. I love the murals on every corner. Her project made me feel excited about our move and helped reveal a soulful and vibrant city.

I had a couple of realizations. Somehow I thought of her as a street photographer prowling the streets for artistic trophies. Instead she displays obvious sympathy for her subjects and environments and the portraits seem more collaborations with the subject than images snapped on the street. The shots of buildings, signage and urban details also display a formalism and art historical knowledge that is often poetic and moving. Kudos.

That said, although the images of streetscapes and signage may be critical to the project and it's narrative, I have questions. Which is a good, in my mind, because if I don't like the work I usually don't give it enough thought for questions to arise.

Sometimes I felt some images were "easy". A few seemed like obvious one liners that may have moved her story and installation forward but paled next to her (numerous) strongly felt and conceived images. I'm not sure this is even relevant since to the installation but occasionally I wished some images stood more strongly as singular images.

I mostly love the portraits. Although some of the signs and scenes, in my mind also have strong poetics and formal strength. I vividly remember "uniform city", a peeling phillies sign and a panelled wall with ghost rectangles of missing images. We didn't stick around to take an image from a pillar when the installation was over but it would have been a hard choice between "MLK Parade", "Tattoed Penises"...... or a dozen others.

A great installation. I look forward to next year as I suspect her work is always moving forward.

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