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ART REVIEWS : Adam Fuss' Photograms Fracture the Moment


Adam Fuss' photograms of flowers, viscera and falling water at Thomas Solomon's Garage enact the Romantic myth of the beauty of death. This is, on the one hand, stating the obvious, for all photographs traffic in this myth. Photography memorializes something that once was, but no longer is; photography packages the past as aesthetic form.

Fuss, however, resists the temptation to bury these ideas. Instead, he pulls them up to the surface of the work, questioning under which conditions the morbid becomes exquisite, the exquisite becomes morbid, and whether this alliance is necessary or unholy.

Fuss' technique bears some explanation. The photogram is a photograph made without a camera. Pioneered in the 1920s by Man Ray and Lazslo Moholy-Nagy, the photogram results from placing three-dimensional objects on light sensitive paper which, upon exposure to light, records contours, shadows and textures.

Photograms look like dead pictures, ghost images with forms traced onto dark backgrounds in milky white tones. In this sense, Fuss' flower images are emblematic--translucent blossoms etched in light and color tangled in opaque stems that seem to be there rather than here, to mark out absence rather than presence. One image of a single calla lily recalls Robert Mapplethorpe's isolated blossoms. Yet where Mapplethorpe celebrates the perfection of form, Fuss conjures loss, the flower's dangling roots suggesting the manner in which it was wrenched from nature in order to serve the (fatal?) cause of art.

If the flower pictures aestheticize death, the more spectacular images of rabbit entrails muddy up the equation. Spread all over the depthless surface, these blue, pink and yellow strings of blood, veins, and intestines less resemble their viscid referents than they do Jackson Pollock's pneumatic, colored webs. Caught between abstraction and representation, they demonstrate the extent to which the beauty of death is not inevitable, but willed. What is aesthetically pleasing here, then, is not decay, but the artist's spin on it.

The large, silver print photograms, which record the moment when water hits light sensitive paper, go a step further. Unlike Harold Edgerton, who used a millionth of a second exposure to freeze a splash of milk into a single, geometric form as unyielding as porcelain, Fuss fractures the moment into an infinite number of forms, sites and incidents. Before these images, then, we are drowned in shifting details--waves radiating outward, irregular striations, odd spots, overlapping concentric circles, opaque patches and scattered bits of translucence.

Here, the lure of death has become the seduction of chaos, the chilly grace of the silver print heightening the anxiety generated by its surfeit of information. This anxiety suggests restlessness rather than quiescence, movement rather than ossification. The water images are beautiful, then, while refusing the Romantic mandate to be still. And so they work--quietly and deftly--to sever the relation between beauty and death, and further, to break one of photography's most recalcitrant myths.

* Thomas Solomon's Garage, 928 N. Fairfax Ave., (213) 654-4731, through Nov. 1. Closed Mondays.

The Computer as Art: Most of us who are not at home in the cybernetic universe become visibly anxious at the mention of circuit boards, capacitors, micro-processors and cathode ray tubes--much less at the sight of them: sleek metal boxes housing who knows what, fat generators, shiny clamps, aluminum conduits, flickering monitors, that low but insistent hum.

What this techno-inventory signifies is the horror that there are things in the world we don't understand that are being used to quantify, circumscribe and control us--and that we need those things (no exaggeration) to live.

Alan Rath, a young artist whose computer-driven sculptures are currently on view at Dorothy Goldeen Gallery, assembles hardware that conjures "wetware"--computer slang for people. Digitized images of body parts--waving hands, blinking eyes, moving lips--appear on cathode ray tubes that are affixed to wood and metal armatures. Other works feature thumping audio speakers that seem as though they are breathing.

While by no means cute in the manner of Nam June Paik's robotic families, Rath's anthropomorphic sculptures are quirky and accessible. The obvious question, however, is why give technology a human face? Is it indeed as vulnerable as the body? And whose purposes might be served by having us believe so?

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