(re)arrangements: New Works by Tamara Suarez Porras
The Growlery (SF)
March 30 - April 15, 2019
By FORREST MCGARVEY, April 2019
On April 10th, scientists revealed the first photograph of a black hole. Five days later, images and video footage of the Notre-Dame cathedral burning spread across our networks. Both of these events are as much about images as they are not: history was made and each event was almost immediately memorialized through the rapid circulation of indexical images.
Experiencing an event solely through its disseminated media is not a new development in our ever-evolving relationship to images. But the surreal qualities of these two images do frame an interesting question about how we use images as a panacea to the fear of the unknown. During these events—from March 30th to April 15th—artist and writer Tamara Suarez Porras showcased work produced during her tenure at The Growlery, an artist residency in San Francisco. Titled (re)arrangements, the show consisted of black-and-white gelatin silver prints made from found images, along side color prints and other found objects and photographs. Through this work, Porras asks questions about the life of photographs, specifically those of a scientific and historic nature, after they have been taken and become part of a larger indexical system of meaning.
Porras’ series that which we cannot ever expect to re-presents found images of objects including photographic equipment, diagrams of light and stars, and images of celestial bodies and moons. In affixed star, a small torn square of paper or fabric is secured by two cut pieces of tape, seemingly glowing against a dense, silky, black background. A black halftone covers the material’s surface as a dappling of white dots orbit a larger, softer sphere sitting dead center, its four lines stretching from its center just past the outline of a subtle gradient. Although I do not recognize the source material, I immediately recognize what I am looking at—a print of a night sky and stars. With its textures revealed by the photographic process, the image feels immediately ancient and current, literally distant but intimately close. Through these instinctive responses, Affixed Star reveals how photographs can conjure familiarity around things we have never previously experienced.
In considering palmistry, the palm of an inky handprint is concealed by the cut out of a swirling cosmic body. Beneath it, the image is captioned “A square palm; the hand of a 33-year-old artist.” Tucked under the image’s corner lies another slim portion of the night sky. An incredible scale that starts at one fingertip ends with the entire galaxy that connects the boundaries of t subjective-personal to the empirical-universal. Just when the kaleidoscopic movement between the macro to micro parallels the different physical layers of the work, I found myself suddenly back where I started—considering the entire diegetic image space, in its ancient stillness. This transgressive movement to and from either extreme on multiple axes is the highlight of Porras’ work. The more they reveal to you, the more intimate they become—the inverse of cold, scientific exploration and documentation. Here, Porras successfully reconstructs the assumptive nature of photography through initiating an embodied experience of the unknown.
Porras’ images encourage a perspective of photography as an embodied experience, and they do so by indulging in the visual language of the photographic medium. In history of light, two torn images are stacked upon one another. The top consists of three images of light in varying degrees of focus. Below, the second image has a multitude of stars against a rich black with the cursor of a computer mouse almost hidden among them. Timelessly black-and-white, a feeling of tenderness is amplified as fibers of each material are luxuriously and lovingly preserved in film. The fuzziness of the top image sets a comparison to the crispness of the second image. But what does a star actually look like? Can I then say for sure that these are good or bad representations? Even when reveling in the traditions of photography, Porras’ work still circles around to seemingly question its fidelity.
By presenting and re-presenting instances where the viewer must identify and situate themselves in relation to the images, the work in re(arrangements) amplifies our desire to own, categorize, and differentiate images from one another, and places photography central to that discussion. If the experience of Sagittarius A* and the Notre-Dame is one-directional—in that they represent or telegraph information from person, to apparatus, to image, to another person in linear progression—then Porras’ work exposes how our desire to consume images is synonymous with a need to understand of them as truth. re(arrangements) suggested a deeper consideration of that relationship that opens up how we think about digital image dissemination and networked circulation as an extension of knowing and ownership—a false connection to an unknowable truth. WM
Forrest McGarvey is an interdisciplinary artist and writer examining the ways that visual technologies are changing the world. In his visual practice, he combines and copies images to push the binary of “analog” and “digital” objects. In his writing and research, he looks at how the dominant focal point of the digital screen is effecting how we perceive, understand, and experience visually similar or identical instances. Both of his practices look for moments of failures, substitutions, and inversions in media to rethink how we use it to shape and define our current selves and culture.view all articles from this author