DB14 at Oliver Francis
Oliver Francis Gallery in Dallas hosted one installment of the ongoing, multi-faceted, multi-venue arts attack known as DB14 (Dallas Biennial 2014). The exhibit itself is untitled, and is a balance between curated exhibit of photographic practices and intentionally separate showcasing of three distinct artists.
The first room features Paul Anthony Smith’s beautifully destroyed photographs. Picked-apart by some pin-like tool, the images’ details and identities are delicately dismantled into basic, amorphous forms by thousands of intricate holes. The result is a flecked, fuzzed-out version of the original.
Smith makes trips home to Jamaica to take pictures and, upon return, prints them out and alters them, which might lead a viewer to consider the works through issues of displacement, rendering the obsessive destruction a cathartic act to assimilate absence, but I am infinitely more fascinated with the remnants’ tactile physicality than the narrative burden of Smith’s biography.
Moving from Smith’s muted, delicate works into the next space, one encounters a brilliant wall of hundreds of digital photos. Penelope Umbrico’s Sunset Portraits are sourced from Flickr, printed out as 5x7s and hung in mural-sized grid. The ever-expanding piece physically visualizes a meme, commenting on the apparently universal need to photographically demarcate oneself against a radiant, romantic beach sunset. They’re sunset selfies, but ironically, while attempting to align themselves with the archetypical moment, the subjects are unwittingly backlit, causing the inverse of individual validation: personal details are darkened into a generic silhouette. Overall, the multitude of images and artist’s accompanying video of a pulsating ocean sunset make an intense impact that quickly flattens into the consideration of a powerful phenomenon made visibly cliché by Internet ubiquity.
In the final room are two DubaiLand photographs from Aleix Plademunt. One features a classic car, maybe a Lincoln or Crown Vic, jacked up on tractor-truck tires needed to clear the balustrade-protected port of what appears to be a military hangar. The other presents a robed, turbaned man with a hooded hunting falcon posing in front of a large-scale mural featuring him identically dressed with soaring falcons, tents in the desert, and a convertible jeep. They are awesomely odd photos, taken with a formality that further heightens the showcasing of opulent wealth combined with a spoiled teenager’s level of taste and need for aggrandizement.
Physical image erasure, conceptual identity erasure, and direct images of the utterly foreign: isolating the trio into separate spaces encourages contemplation of individual artists rather than forcing associations between clearly diverse practices. Sparsely hung and brightly lit, the exhibit was gratefully, blindingly, direct and free of pretense.