Taryn Simon’s Complex exhibit entitled A Living Man Proclaimed Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII made its way to the Corcoran Gallery of Art here in DC, after spending some time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I had the opportunity to see it a couple of weeks ago.
The exhibit is technically categorized as as photography, but it is definitely much more than just a simple photography exhibition. In a way each piece is a mini-exhibit in itself, comprised of portraiture, narrative, and objects that are carefully curated. Woven together, they explore stories that are all at once historical, contemporary, significant, and controversial.
Simon’s artist statement identifies the exhibit as being an exploration of “bloodlines and their related stories,” but each piece has much more depth than the explanation suggests. Needless to say, to explain in intricate detail how and what each “chapter” tells its particular story would certainly be a lengthy task.
Each piece comprises of three parts.
First, one or more large frames on the left of each grouping shows a series of portraits of each bloodline the artist photographed over a period of four years, in almost every continent. Below is a family from China.
The second component in her pieces is a text panel that identifies each subject photographed. From time to time there are blank frames or obscured subjects – all of which add intrigue to the story.
Below the names is a narrative of the bloodline, and then below that, descriptions of the objects depicted in the succeeding large frame.The artist certainly did not limit herself to the traditional notion of the bloodline – and included groupings of animals as well as children in orphanages.
The one grouping that was interesting to me culturally and socially as well, was one showing the bloodline of a Filipino man from the Igorot communitiy, who was brought over to the US for the St. Louis World’s Fair. The “chapter” was dense with issues that deal with history, cultural identity, xenocentrism, and could possibly also relate to more contemporary topics like immigration.
Artists like Simon certainly steer contemporary art in new directions, with her work becoming not just aesthetic compositions but also vehicles of discourse for relevant contemporary social issues. Her medium and methods might not be as spectacular as some other artists working today, but the stories and messages so deeply embedded in her work give them their own unique sense of brevity. You will definitely leave this exhibit curious, questioning, and wanting to know more.
The exhibition is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC until February 24th.
See more about the exhibition: