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One opposition recurs throughout Heidegger’s philosophy so repetitively that it often seems like the only idea he ever had: the distinction between a thing’s shadowy concealment and its explicit appearance. This is also known as the temporal interplay between past and future, or between the equipment that silently functions and the signs and broken equipment that show themselves "as" what they are [by not functioning]. . . . [T]he truth of the artwork is a duel between [this] clearing and concealing. . . . a deep intimacy in which the two terms belong together, reflected in one another. . . . [C]oncealment . . . not only withholds reality from us, but shelters it and lets it be, deeper than the thin facades through which they become visible to us. Concealment guards what is secret. Yet the concealment itself can also be forgotten, leading us to focus entirely on what becomes present. . . .
—Graham Harman
The idea of this show is to use advisedly a specific medium of showing (high-resolution documentary photography as art on gallery walls) in order to show things that are conflicted about showing versus not showing subject matter that allegorizes that conflict and that medium and its conflicts.

For example: to hang on the wall of a below-ground art gallery a 30 x 37.5-inch print of a 191-megapixel photograph shot head-on of a wall from which letters spelling “FUNERAL HOME” have been removed. The fine detail of the print shows the dust that remains where it settled around the letter shapes; the words are not present but their absence is barely legible, undead, in a sense. The wall is a funeral home of sorts for the “FUNERAL HOME” sign and for the former identity of its building; the photograph is a funeral home for both. All three are in limbo between permanence and transience. They are resurrected embalmed in a half–open secret casket, for now. A dead light in the photograph points absurdly at the vacant display on the old wall; a live light in the gallery points at the photograph where it hangs on the new wall, renovated after flooding by Hurricane Sandy. But not for long. As if in the voice of the writing on the wall, Roland Barthes mused “I am truly becoming a specter. The Photographer knows this very well, and he himself fears . . . this death in which his gesture will embalm me. Nothing would be funnier . . . than the photographers’ contortions to produce effects that are ‘lifelike’.”

But this is just one example. The specifics of the allegory are different for each photograph in the show, while the structure remains the same. Instead of allegorizing photography’s resurrection / death conflict, other works in the show, respectively, allegorize photography’s dynamics of identity / difference, or of equality / discrimination, or of exposing / masking, or of repairing / damaging, or of truth / beauty, or of security / insecurity, or of closeting / outing, or of disabling / enabling, and so on. The work titled No war allegorizes not only photography’s negative / positive conflict, but also even its conflict conflict, so to speak: conflict per se. Its a conflicted medium, uniquely suited to showing the conflicts of being in the world.

In a way, to show is always also not to show. And to show not showing: in a sense, that’s what showing does, what art does, what photography does, what this exhibition does, what the photographs in this exhibition do, what the things in these photographs do. I'm trying to make ironic analogies between each of these levels of showing. (Timothy Morton defines irony as “the aesthetic exploitation of a gap between 1+n levels of signification”; he sees “irony as hard wired into the fabric of things, since there is a gap between appearance and essence.”)

To put it less abstractly: These are pictures of things (or their remnants, or their alterations) that were meant to show or not show (or both) but are ambivalent as to which, or what, or how. Examples include painted-over graffiti, empty display cases, and blank signs; awnings, flyers, letters, and signs of many sorts that have been removed, taped over, erased, cut away, peeled off, replaced, veiled, and so on. But not just any such things; rather, things that have purposes (or affiliations or associations with purposes) that reflect back on variations of the showing / not showing theme. So for example: not just any tarred over parking-lot paint, but some that used to indicate a disabled parking spot, as though symbolizing the disabling of the painted symbol. Or: not just any empty display case, but one for patrons of The Stonewall Inn, site of the Stonewall riots, lined like a coffin or a closet with purple satin still stapled and taped but cleared of all announcements, cleared even of the decorative star whose sunburned shape nevertheless remains.

The world is full of displays hailing us with words and images for who we could be, what we could want, stands we could take, and categories we could belong to. There's a superficiality to things made for showing, and their literal messages can shoehorn us: one room for men and another for women; the rooms need their names, and the names need their signs, until they don't and they get blanked out. I think these displays show us less when they're full or functional than when they're blanked or dysfuctional: generic explicitness shows us less than quirky implicitness. The nuance of a specific object's expired purpose and peculiarly imperfect blankedness can be expressive, sympathetic, suggestive; an invitation to projection of our identities, concerns, or issues. Topics suggested by the objects in these photos include gender distinctions, sexual preference, liberation movements, disability, shelter, money, terrorism, race relations, nationality, war, and photography. It is fitting that my photographs raise these topics and make these invitations with as much superficiality and openness as the displays do.

Objects (and pictures of them) suggesting topics of such social significance while wearing such blank expressions are hyperbolically ordinary. They appear too humble to be worth noticing, let alone worth framing (and most of them, like photographs, are framed, or were framed, or are themselves frames). But they repay attention when we see them again for the first time. I hope their humility lies at the heart of this series. These things, or their ancestors, all aspired to showing off at one time; and they, or their survivors, aspired to some neutrality or other at another time. All such aspirations are bound to pass through disappointment on the way to whatever modest success they can muster, which is poignantly legible in these objects, in their decay, and in their persistence. I want my pictures of them to share their aspirations and poignancies, along with their capacity to layer one time with another time, and another, so that their conflicted aspirations can coexist on the same surface.

I have called these things I photograph ambivalent. I want to mirror (show and redirect) this ambivalence in comparing it implicitly with that of my photographs, and I’m drawn to photograph things for this series that lend themselves to this comparison. These photographs are, after all—like the things they show—visible objects in the world conceived of invisible conflicted intentions and accidents.

Click here to see these pictures.