Introduction to Show
There is a Greek phrase––panta rhei––whose reputation oscillates somewhere between philosophical staple and pithy aphorism. The loose translation, “all is flux” or “everything flows,” is often paired with a metaphorized river. The story goes that at any observable moment, the river occupies an entirely unique state. Never again will the flow of the water be precisely the same. The animals amble up and down the shoreline, sunbathing and swimming and aging, and the people who visit it, especially, are never identical to the past versions of themselves who stumbled on the riverbanks for the first time. Every moment it is a new thing. On and on this metaphor scales into something grander––the idea that life is ever-flowing, that people are ever- changing, that the only constant is inconstancy and as microorganisms floating through the current, we must bend and be carried into the future, let the world make canyons of us.
Still, And offers a different idea. Captured by the late Daryl Hines in his poem “Panta Rhei:”
But what if all this flim-flam simply means ourselves apart, that nothing moves at all?
. . .
In fact the world stands still and still we flow
Uniting the twelve theses that form Still, And is a collective question, an invitation to consider the ways in which the world remains stubbornly the same. Rather, people are the origin for the immense diversification of lived experience and the main instigator of the immense change we see at cultural and environmental levels. We may all occupy the same river, but its landscape is handcrafted by the inventions and whims of humanity. There are whirlpools, rapids, hundred-foot dams, estuaries, deltas where life used to flourish, plush and green, and now lay barren from overuse. Structures of power and systemic failure live even in the imaginary.
Through photography, film, philosophy, and other multimedia elements, this Parsons MFA class offers viewers time to pause: if we are the purveyors of change in a world, what do we do with this responsibility, with this life? Moving from more microscopic, individualized experiences into more macro observations about culture writ large and the physical space we occupy, Still, And does not ask for answers, but gives something far more valuable: an open space to think, to choose, to be in-progress and imperfect.
Grant Hao-Wei Lin
Dichotomy is inherently biblical. God designed man as a whole split into two––body and spirit––and all resounding judgments of those parts can only ever seem to be similarly duplicitous: a man is either pious or wicked, indulgent or tempering, chaste or wanton, good or evil. For each measure of goodness, there is a staunch reminder of its corrupt counterpart lurking just beneath.
Covenant Eyes acts Lin’s interrogation of how his membership in a devout Christian Baptist sect, and the moral appraisal that dictated his life for three years, exposed the chasms of his own identity as a closeted gay man sworn to abstinence and heteronormativity in the search for a community who understood him. Digitally rendered through 3D modeling and world-building in Blender, Lin offers a meta-perspective on how the Church controlled and altered his ideas about himself to invoke larger hypotheses about the private lives we all keep behind closed doors.
Working off of man’s inherent dichotomy, Lin contrasts the ways in which natural pairs sometimes work in antithesis to one another––”real” life versus digital behaviors, honesty versus infringement, control versus guidance, God versus disciple. Through Covenant Eyes viewers can immerse themselves in the reconstructed reality and confounding experiences of a cult survivor, from recruitment to escape.
Fang’s exhibit is a mix of acceptance and resistance. For the majority of her life, the artist has lived with severe myopia. Her ability to navigate her surroundings and live productively are dictated by her ability to see clearly. In part, our technology-dominant culture demands visual attention, and with the added stress of overuse from daily exposure to phones, computers, and artificial lighting, it’s inevitable that our vision will grow worse as we age more exponentially than previous generations.
Over the years, Fang slowly released the feelings of frustration and inconvenience she experienced without her glasses to bring the world into focus, and she found herself wondering if this version of her world might be beautiful, too. She also became fascinated with stories of others with more advanced visual disorders, from glaucoma to total blindness. Blur is an experimentation in acceptance of the world through an unaltered gaze, and in some ways, an appreciation for what may be more or less of an inevitability for those with visual afflictions. These photographs offer a simulated reality meant to challenge the relationship between clarity and beauty, and a glimpse of a world of atmospheric haloes, magnified color, streaks of comet-light, and maybe––if we extrapolate––our own private piece of the galaxy sky.
Caiying and Lizhang
At its core, Caiyang and Lizhang is a love letter.
At her family’s suggestion, Huan Chen began accompanying her grandfather to routine check-ups with his physician in rural China to ensure his diabetes was being properly maintained. Immediately, she noticed how the aspects of her daily life that were convenient––namely how she navigated the world of healthcare through her smartphone and computer––were alienating and inaccessible to her grandparents, who were never formally taught to read or write.
With the Chinese medical industrial complex so highly digitalized, the artist’s grandfather struggled to manage his disease, prescriptions, and communications with his doctor without a phone. Even in-person, elderly patients like the artist’s grandfather fight an uphill battle just to communicate their concerns about their health, as the elderly Chinese population maintains significant levels of illiteracy. The gap in accessibility is felt most acutely in communities like that of Chen’s grandparents, and as she visited more frequently, she began to catalog the small, daily moments in their lives that would otherwise be unobserved or antiquated in the bustle of modern life––the two of them hugging in the cold of morning, bundled in parkas and knit hats as they lay in bed; collecting beans and corn in woven baskets, trading produce for freshly-made dumplings from a neighbor.
Caiyang and Lizhang is a living archive. Even as our culture becomes increasingly digitized, the project showcases the kinder, more tender moments of life, the quiet power of family and love, treasures that can sometimes feel lost in the noise of modern city living, and with it the implication––in the race to move our society forward, who are we leaving behind?
Language would be all –– without
Language would be all –– without is a conceptual expansion on an emerging field of study surrounding language, translation, and obscurity.
The development of this particular collection utilizes Jorge Luis Borges’s short story, “The Library of Babel,” as a launch pad. The story tells of a hexagonal building containing the universe––the Library––and with it, every possible iteration of a 25-character set of symbols written in an infinite amount of books, all with exactly 410 pages. The collection of books is infinite, which implies that across the library exists every piece of writing to ever exist, and every piece of writing that could ever be. With each book holding a different combination of symbols and words, changing onto infinity, the Library theoretically holds a “total” book amongst all the shelves. One book to explain all other books that have ever been or will be. One set of symbols––a language––to understand all others.
Alas, as humans often do, the Librarians fall into despair and disarray in the search for the “total book,” splitting into sects and warring with one another. What we are left with are fragments of language and understanding, a splintered human race that lacks a common language. Even with translation and multilingualism, there are those elements of life and culture––the nebulous and minute characteristics that distinguish all individual experiences––that cannot be captured perfectly across languages. Such a translation was lost in the infinite halls of the Library.
This “unlanguage,” as Barra and other artists in this field refer to it, is the center around which the project orbits. Barra utilizes mixed media to show the process from Borges’s philosophical story to the application of that translation on a famous historical Italian poem, with each imprecisely translated work gradually stripped away.
Language would be all –– without asks: how do we describe those parts of life that live in the undefinable gap between one language and another? What do we call these gaps and cracks and imperfections? How does one characterize these moments of without-ness?
When he first moved to New York, the mysticism of the city was lost on him. All he saw was trash. On the street, in the park, on the subway, sprinkled on every sidewalk and chain fence and public basketball court. It disgusted him until it didn’t. As months passed, his sensitivity to the pollution permeating his environment gradually lessened.
Somewhere Nearby is a partial reckoning of our culture’s complacency to the continued proliferation of pollution and the rising concerns of climate change’s irreversible effects on our planet. The project showcases images from Superfund sites ––ecological hazards that require intervention and mediation per assessments from the Environmental Protection Agency––throughout New Jersey and New York. Many of these locations are located in the midst of bustling communities or a mere 15-minute drive away.
Alvarez pushes viewers to interrogate their own feelings around toxicity and its encroachment on our communities. To what degree are we complicit in our own destruction, and at what point, if any, might we trade our security for the present for the possibility of a stable, ecologically-sound future.
Portraits of Ephemerality
It’s difficult not to think of glaciers as gorgeous, alien titans. The youngest of them are thousands of years old, hovering in the most remote areas of our world, domineering and beautiful and rapidly disappearing. But West’s Portraits of Ephemerality is the antithesis of aestheticized disaster. The project transforms classical observations of ecological disaster into an intimate encounter with these remote glaciers.
West applies portraiture techniques to distinguish individual land glaciers from their surrounding environments. The images offer viewers a chance to stare in the face of these dwindling behemoths, highlighting their distinct personalities and details.
This isn’t to say West is unaware of the ecological consequences of shrinking glaciers. There is an implied element of tragedy in memorializing their appearance not dissimilar to long-term portraiture projects that depict people aging. These glaciers will never appear the way they do outside of these images ever again. Each day they melt and shift and break a little more, a trickling that is literally felt in the foundations of human ecology. But West’s project suggests there can be activism in beauty, too. By offering viewers a front-row seat to the status of these glaciers, he showcases how alive the inanimate can really be, and helps us humanize these gods on Earth.
GUILTY FEET HAVE NO RHYTHM
Splicing analog video with aquatic soundscape and Mao’s on poetry, GUILTY FEET HAVE NO RHYTHM is a meditation on bodies of water and all they inform.
Mao has been a lifelong surfer. Her life has been pointedly defined by the presence of water, the lack of it––in all her travels to coastlines across the globe, she has been fascinated by what she calls “communities by the water.” These communities are not monoliths, but between them exists a universality, a mutual and inherent understanding of how ingrained water is into their lives, how it envelops and nourishes and destroys.
Featuring scenes of members from these communities and the various bodies of water that command these traceable migrations, Mao encapsulates a poetic and amorphous study of water and its propensity for both connection and power.
DuPont opens a world of purposeful obscurity and harsh juxtaposition. Overlaying natural sources of softness and rigidity––mountainscapes and canyons over the curve of the human body, raw mesh wire indenting skin––Tread Lightly is a deep dive into a textural mystique that evokes a sense of polarity between the physical and the emotional, the gentle and the unforgiving.
For DuPont, this polarity is inherently queer. The harsh darkness of secrecy shown in tandem with the overwhelming light and brilliance of being known: these dynamics are intrinsic to the identity battles many queer people are destined to reckon with in their journey to occupying a more absolute self.
Beyond the initial investigation of the presented imagery, viewers are left to navigate and carefully contemplate DuPont’s characterizations of fluidity in sexuality, identity, and being in this multifaceted body of work.
Newman’s project hovers at the crossroads of self and place. Thanks Waco perpetuates a truth we all know well––there is nowhere as tantalizing and heartbreaking as one’s hometown.
When she left her native central Texas for New York, Newman expected the oft-discussed mix of relief and homesickness that washed over her. As she traveled back and forth between her old home and her new one, she gradually exposed the underbelly of the Texas that she loved. A place where her family cherished and tended to her, where she roamed vivid plains and soaked in the sun, also nursed a herculean history of prejudice and an insidious system of racism and oppression that continue on today.
Still, Newman can’t help but look back on Texas with fondness. Her project drips with admiration and melancholia for her home, and in some ways the photographs feel like equal parts tribute and eulogy, a simultaneous mourning and appreciation for those parts of her that she left behind, buried in the central Texas desert, and what parts she will carry with her forever.
Damp Bones, Iron Moon
Helena de Bragança
Damp Bones, Iron Moon invites viewers to open their minds to new perspectives, new vocabularies, new places, and new ways in which Bragança occupies her new world, molded forever by events of tragedy and connectedness that occurred over the past two years.
Bragança reckons with an immense amount of material for this project. As the pandemic began to emerge, the artist captured her children in a pseudo post-apocalyptic landscape, encapsulating many of the feelings of isolation and impermanence that dictated humanity throughout so much of 2020.
Bragança then explores the intrinsic, layered connections between herself and collaborator and friend, Danniel Swatosh. These photographs and sounds carry viewers into a world of energetic and synergetic exchange between the artists, the communities that surrounded them (often in the throes of deep emotional pain themselves), and the many places they visited together while investigating the themes of premonitions, mysticism and mythologies, foreboding, and parallel realities that are woven throughout the work.
For the artist, there is no such thing as mere coincidence. Rather, Damp Bones, Iron Moon moves to demonstrate the deep interconnection between events that at first glimpse might be unrelated but, beneath the surface, share an occult and tumultuous connection that cannot be precisely explained. Instead, we are left in a space of the unknown and are left to question and wonder.
This Land is Your Land
In search of healing and contemplation from his time in the U.S. Air Force and a traumatizing close-call from a fellow wingman, Winters began visiting Glacier National Park in northern Montana in hopes of escape. He answered the call to the wild that many naturalists, artists, and writers have answered before him, but beyond the alluring landscapes and solitude that were promised, Winters found that the influences of imperialism and the fetishiization of the mythical American outdoors were not unlike those he encountered during his time in service.
The irony was not lost on Winters that the very thing that disillusioned him––his time serving in the American military––was the very thing that lent him unmitigated access to the National Park system, and to a more nuanced degree, access to rural, majority-white spaces where a Black man in America would rarely tread alone. As he spent more time in Glacier and the surrounding Blackfeet reservations, Winters compiled a significant archive of highly saturated, near-propaganda selling the image of America the Beautiful, a wild and opulent place made tame and now federally protected.
But as the name suggests, This Land Your Land encourages viewers to parse through contrasting materials that paint this area of northern Montana as both intrinsically “American” and intrinsically stolen and Indigenous. Viewers will be encouraged to reconcile their own ideas and emotions regarding American mysticism and the colonialism that permeates all facets of our culture, even those as remote and “untouched” as rural Montana.
Stop Looking For Something That Isn’t There
In the ways the Still, And exhibition offers a broad array of interpretations about how the self, society, and place interact with various themes, Palmer’s project is the exception to the rule.
Viewers can take the title as a precise directive. Palmer has no interest in didacticism; her work is composed with specific aesthetics in mind with little to no interest in projecting her affections or concerns onto the work. For her, there is no hidden core or meaning. She applies trained technique and restraint when capturing her images, but does little to interfere with the nature of the image itself with either editing or metaphorical extrapolation once it has been captured.
Her radical rejection of a premise, of a “why” for the project as it stands beyond aesthetic assembly, is almost poetic when considered in conjunction with the work of her peers and the themes of Still, And as a whole. Palmer knows that despite her insistence that the images hold no deeper meaning, viewers have an instinct to make sense of the disorienting or unfamiliar, and she is okay with that.
For as much time spent as each artist within this exhibition spends carefully crafting their perspective, they are ultimately at the mercy of the viewer. Whether or not their intended message was what resonated is uncontrollable, and arguably, it is of little consequence. What is photography or art writ large but an endless loop of subjective interpretation upon subjective interpretation?
Still, And invites that messiness and uncertainty, that impartiality, that openness. The exhibition is not a solicitation for answers, but an echochamber, a microbiome where the interactions between viewer, art, and artist are not a means to an end, but the means themselves––where it ends is for us to decide.