whitehot | September 2012: BOOK REVIEW- Fatemeh Burnes; Drift
by Shana Nys Dambrot
Time, time, time, see what's become of me / While I looked around / For my possibilities / I was so hard to please / But look around, leaves are brown / And the sky is a hazy shade of winter.
Hang on to your hopes, my friend / That's an easy thing to say, but if your hope should pass away / It's simply pretend / That you can build them again / Look around, the grass is high / The fields are ripe, it's the springtime of my life.
Ahhh, seasons change with the scenery / Weaving time in a tapestry / Won't you stop and remember me / At any convenient time.
Look around, leaves are brown now / And the sky is a hazy shade of winter / Look around, leaves are brown / There's a patch of snow on the ground.
One thing at which photography particularly excels is isolating patterns across disparate contexts, identifying affinities and creating patterns between and among unlikely objects or events -- from general realms like “nature” and “industry” to specifics such as cobwebs, capillaries, and bare tree branches; cloud pockets and snowdrifts; tumbledown brick walls and scattered sunsets; peeling house-paint and striated rock faces. (Color is as much of a factor in generating this prose poetry as line.) Burnes understands this and deploys it to great effect in her painting practice; but the beauty of the book is that instead of willing all this synchronicity into existence, she sets out to track it down, and her story benefits from the extra narrative oomph of being true.
The joy of turning pages in the volume and discovering these patterns is akin to the early stages of learning a new language in the pure joy of growing recognition. But the lattices of domestic and industrial architecture; the red strip of sunset like a paint stroke across the horizon, knobs on trees and distant clouds -- the whole prophecy of nature and civilization merging into one vast dream of decay; a feeling like the whole world is damp and the creeping vines are taking over -- the joy of all of that would be enough to recommend the tome. But hidden behind the aggregate rhythms like when you notice that a mauve granite wall is precisely the same color that the sky turns at dusk, especially as the are both reflected in the puddles on a rutted dirt road -- the formal qualities once juxtaposed suggest a developing storyline that gathers in strength and coherence as the reader progresses through the book (aka, as the artist progressed around the globe).
Crashing waves explode into confetti of water; sparks fly into the air from a fire, in a self-conscious opposite. The ubiquitous tendrils of a barren tree backlit against a varied sky that the artist is particularly drawn to as iconographic fodder for both her photography and painting, it looks like veins, it looks like neuro-electric pathways, or the scars left by lightning strikes. The spikes of a wood pier extending out into a dark grey sea off a white sandy beach is the fraternal twin of tractor marks scarred across a snowy field -- in this case it’s the operation of black and white film that creates the sameness. In this way the book periodically reminds you that you are not looking at landscape photography, you are looking at art, intended to create and cull meaning, not impart likeness merely. “I make art to explore phenomenon... I resist at every turn our tendency to simplify the world by categorizing it.”
drift is brought out by ZERO+ Publishing, Pomona, CA.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief