Thursday, January 21, 2010



The subjects of Maisel's enormous new color photographs appear to be corroded tin cans, shot against pitch-black backdrops and lit like precious objects. They are, in fact, copper cannisters containing the cremated remains of patients from an Oregon mental hospital; stored for years in a vault that flooded repeatedly, they’ve been transformed into strangely alluring pieces of found sculpture. The corrosion manifests itself as a multicolored crust that resembles slathered paint, but one can recalls views of the earth from outer space: swirls of turquoise and green under billowy white clouds. If Maisel wants us to be conscious of these objects as memorials, his dramatic treatment and grand scale push the work toward pure aesthetics and away from issues of life and death. Through Feb. 27. (Von Lintel, 520 W. 23rd St. 212-242-0599.)

Ashes to Art in Library of Dust

"Californian photographer David Maisel has spent years shooting the blighted landscapes around America's copper mines. No surprise, then, that in 2005 he was immediately intrigued when he read a small news item describing the efforts of the Oregon State Hospital to move the cremated remains of thousands of psychiatric patients who had died between 1913 and 1971. The article hardly suggested an art treasure — except to Maisel, who noticed that the remains were stored in copper canisters, which he guessed had probably turned to dazzling colors over the decades. 

So they had. In Maisel's new book Library of Dust, he shows dozens of the canisters in larger-than-life size, their turquoise, pink and gold colors so sumptuous they look more like oil paintings than photographs. On some of the canisters, white powdery corrosion oozes from cracks — the after-effects of regular flooding in their underground storeroom — creating geomorphic shapes in brilliant hues. The abstract beauty of the canisters is a jolting contrast to their grim origins. And to Maisel, that's the point. "It's about beauty and horror," he says. "It's a double-edged thing — seductive and disturbing."

Dust Collector
New York

"RARELY ARE CULTURAL EVENTS so fortuitously mirrored by their venues as Monday’s group reading in honor of Library of Dust, David Maisel’s recent book of photographs of psychedelically corroded copper canisters encasing the ashes of unclaimed Oregon lunatics. Inside the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts on Norfolk Street, formerly one of the oldest synagogues in New York, the images—hung on the cobalt-blue peeled-paint walls and projected on-screen behind the altarlike stage—seemed to have always been there, matching their surroundings in hue and vibe, twin testaments to the stubborn efflorescence of decay. Sponsored by the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU, the long, contemplative event applied layers of interpretation to the work as varied, inconsistent, and occasionally brilliant as the corrosion adorning the canisters. In tribute to the mental hospital’s nameless dead—whose identifying labels have been obscured by time—I will efface some of the thirteen participants.


After reading a quote from W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, Maisel said the Library of Dust project was "about loss of memory—and its recovery." He rushed to document the cache of canisters after hearing of it in 2005, as the Oregon State Hospital (formerly known as the Oregon State Insane Asylum, also the place where Milos Forman shot One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) was shutting down and clearing its archives. The vibrantly colored corrosion was, he said, the result of trace minerals from the cremains that had seeped through the lead seams of the copper canisters after years of water damage. He called the radical transmutation an "alchemical equation," the canisters "clocks, asserting the possibility of the soul’s existence." Eerily, a faint computerized female voice (probably from the lectern laptop) could be heard intoning "Good evening, and welcome to..." several times as Maisel spoke. He appropriated the name of the project, he said, from a prisoner whose work crew was helping close down the hospital, who saw the bland, officelike room housing the canisters as "a library of dust."

Geoff Manaugh, who runs Bldgblog and contributed an essay to Maisel’s book, followed, comparing the project to William Blake's mystical cosmology, which was partially inspired by chemicals and elements the poet used to fashion copper printing plates. Next was novelist Jonathan Lethem, who read a short, fanciful piece called "The Ballad of Henry Anonymous, Actually an Octopus," that turned out to be stitched together from sentences by Emerson, child psychotherapist Adam Phillips, and several scientists."







New picture prize puts climate crisis in the frame
Tue Jul 15, 2008 11:00am EDT

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Images of droughts, floods and water destruction captured by some of the world's top photographers are competing for the first international award for photography focusing on sustainability.

Melting icebergs, parched landscapes, battered coastlines and uprooted trees are among images from 18 photographers selected for the shortlist of the first Prix Pictet which has water as the dominant theme in its inaugural year.

The images on the shortlist, selected from an entry list of 200 photographers from 43 countries, range from the abstract to the actual, all illustrating the relationship between water and mankind and the devastating effect each can have on the other.

"We all need to mobilize public opinion to support the changes we are dependent upon ... the Prix Pictet is a unique opportunity for the world's leading photographers to influence change for the good in the field of sustainability." said UN climate change special envoy Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The 50,000-pound ($100,000) prize was created by Swiss private bank Pictet et Cie and supported by the Financial Times.

The pictures will go on show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris on October 30, and the winner will be announced the same night.

One week later they will start a world tour.

Meanwhile the shortlisted entries can be viewed at www.prixpictet.com where people can also cast their votes.

The shortlist consists of Benoit Aquin (Canada), Edward Burtynsky (Canada), Jesus Abad Colorado (Colombia), Thomas Joshua Cooper (US), Sebastian Copeland (UK), Christian Cravo (Brazil), Lynn Davis (US), Reza Deghati (Iran), Susan Derges (UK), Malcolm Hutcheson (UK), Chris Jordan (US), Carl De Keyzer (Belgium), David Maisel (US), Mary Mattingly (US), Robert Polidori (Canada), Roman Signer (Switzerland), Jules Spinatsch (Switzerland) and Munem Wasif (Bangladesh).

(Reporting by Jeremy Lovell, editing by Paul Casciato) 

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