FotoFocus, America’s Largest Photo Biennial, Gets Strange
Highlights of the exhibition include house illuminations reminiscent of Rene Magritte's Empire of Light paintings.
Ian Strange, DALISON 1 (2022). Site-specific intervention. Perth, Western Australia. Courtesy of the artist and FotoFoucs.
Over 600 artists will participate in the sixth edition of FotoFocus, which launches in Cincinnati on 29 September. The theme this time is 'World Record', a phrase that implies both record setting and keeping a record of events.
'This idea of setting records, The Guinness Book of World Records, is so much about the hubris of mankind. What was once seen as heroic — the longest time spent underwater, the farthest journey in the snow — now it all seems basically destructive,' said the Biennial's artistic director, Kevin Moore.
Ian Strange is an Australian artist whose practice touches on both meanings of 'World Record'. Showing at the Art Academy of Cincinnati, his images of homes in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Japan, and the United States document our changing relationships to housing amidst record-breaking changes in the climate and the economy.
'His work is about the social aftermath of the way capitalism rolls through cities,' Moore said. 'Housing is a sentimental, common, universal theme, but I like the way he treats it all over the world in different countries and different circumstances, from earthquakes in Christchurch to urban and suburban blight in states like Ohio.'
Strange has previously marked entire homes in bright red, the same way photographers mark their negatives, and created light installations reminiscent of Rene Magritte's Empire of Lights paintings (1953–54), which simultaneously depict day and night.
He is currently creating a news series of works exploring homes in Cincinnati for the exhibition. He hopes to trace the sources of materials such as the stone and timber used to build them.
'I'm really interested in looking at how a home might actually be a kind of material record of a place and a material record of land and landscape as well, particularly if it's a local story,' Strange said.
Over 100 venues are participating in the Biennial, including The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which was built on the river between Ohio (a northern state), and Kentucky (a southern state).
'If you were escaping slavery you crossed that river to freedom,' Moore explained. 'They have a slave pen reconstructed in the lobby.'
The show there, 'Free as They Want to Be': Artists Committed to Memory, is curated by Deborah Willis and Cheryl Finley. It involves about 25 artists dealing with notions of memory, including the history of J.P. Ball, the black studio photographer who lived in Cincinnati in the 19th century. It also includes works by Carrie Mae Weems, Bisa Butler, and Catherine Opie, who photographed monuments in the South during the pandemic.
'There's been a revolution in the last three years in terms of what's shown and what's of interest, and our standards for what art is now,' Moore said. 'It's been so broadened by the cultural and political conflicts of the last few years, and I for one think it's really healthy and good.'
Moore, who lives in New York but grew up in Kansas City, said the biennial had found 'an appreciative and sophisticated audience' in the Midwest.
'It feels more real than New York. It's easy in New York and San Francisco, but in Cincinnati it feels like maybe the work you're doing is crossing over and having meaning.'
Another dubiously-spelt American photo biennial, Houston's FotoFest, has just announced the 23 artists in their main exhibition If I Had a Hammer, which goes on view from 24 September to 6 November.
Co-curated by Amy Sadao, Steven Evans, and Max Fields, the exhibition features new commissions by Elaine W. Ho, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, Dionne Lee, Liz Rodda, and Fred Schmidt-Arenales.
FotoFest will also present African Cosmologies: Redux, an exhibition curated by Mark Sealy that was postponed from 2020, as well as Ten by Ten: Ten Reviewers Select Ten Portfolios from the Meeting Place 2020-21. —[O]