Saturday, February 14, 2015

FARRAH KARAPETIAN | LA TIMES Review | Beautiful, conceptually ticklish photograms by Farrah Karapetian

Farrah Karapetian's luscious, provocative work at Von Lintel marries two traditions in photography — that of the staged picture and of the image made without a camera.

Both have been around since the medium's earliest years, and both remain vital, thanks, in part, to a wave of contemporary practitioners who have broken down photography into its most basic components and reconfigured it anew according to their own particular sensibilities, freely adding, subtracting, tweaking and torquing along the way.
Now is an invigorating moment for the medium, and Karapetian's work shows us why.
Her images speak in questions, equally addressing eye and mind. Photograms in saturated emerald, aqua and gold on matte or metallic paper, they elicit an immediate how? and what? They are as physically beautiful as they are conceptually ticklish.

Karapetian's overt subject is the musical instrument in performance, but her attention is most acutely fixed on photography's multiplicitous relationship to the real. Her images are at once impressions and traces, inventions and records.

The most arresting depict a drum kit (sometimes being played, sometimes not), the armatures coming across as white silhouettes, the cymbals as gauzy disks. The actual set used in making the pictures is here too, a fabrication that Karapetian refers to as a “sculptural negative.” The cymbals are cast in clear, ruby and grape glass, the drums mere metal frameworks with neither sides nor skins. Light projected up through the pieces onto the wall delivers rich shadows and refractions, the cymbals generating dappled and veined orbs suggesting astronomical bodies or jellyfish.

Projected onto photosensitive paper, those same forms yield bright, schematic outlines and soft translucencies.

The earliest photograms, made by placing objects directly onto light-sensitive paper, were largely used to document botanical and other specimens. Their power and value derived from the direct physical correspondence between subject and image. More personal, interpretive takes on the process were pioneered by Christian Schad, Man Ray and others between the world wars, and artists like Floris Neusüss and Adam Fuss have more recently adopted and expanded it further.

Karapetian, who is based in L.A. and has been making photograms for more than a decade, engages with both the evidentiary and evocative strands of the tradition.

She also plays seriously with self-reflexivity: These images are performances of performances, visual stagings, enactments. However contrived, they bear the photographic pedigree of veracity, vexed as it is.

And — they are gorgeous. There are some compositionally static pieces, in which craft alone prevails, but even in the least interesting images there are passages of exquisite mystery. In those weird, liquid ripples and diaphanous blurs, time and space seem to reveal something of their true, elusive nature.



Read original review @ LA TIMES

FARRAH KARAPETIAN | art ltd magazine : Profile

Got to the Mystic 2014
Chromogenic photogram, metallic 97" x 82

Farrah Karapetian knows how to orchestrate a memorable image. With its bold theatrical façade, and formally reductive lexicon, her work is shadow play of considerable nuance and complexity, engaging rigorously with issues such as space, scale, surface, narrative, and performance. Yet perhaps the work’s most striking aspect is its timeliness: using photograms—a medium that was pioneered nearly a century ago by Man Ray—Karapetian has created a practice that is distinctly, often startlingly, of the moment. Subjects of her pieces have included illegal immigrants, civil protesters, riot police, and US army veterans.

As a photographer who works sculpturally, without a camera, Karapetian has created a truly interdisciplinary practice. Talk to her about her work, and the topic veers from mark making to ancient Greek pediments and pottery. “Part of what’s fun about the photogram is that it divorces the image or the characters from the context, and relief sculpture does that,” she notes. “So does the amphora—the black and orange pottery that’s just a field of black, and the characters on it. Obviously, there’s more going on in the atmosphere of a photogram, but it’s certainly divorced from its original context and therefore divorced from the documentary. To me, that’s a big part of what the color fields do—they suggest reenactment, they suggest fabrication.”

Born in LA, Karapetian studied photography as an undergrad at Yale, but found her herself instinctively rebelling against the aesthetic that emphasized the purity of the photographic image: “A perfect print, that was not handled physically, and didn’t exhibit its physical nature.” From 2006 to 2008 she attended grad school at UCLA, where her teachers included James Welling, Catherine Opie, and Charles Ray. “I got to UCLA, and they give you this big space, so you’re able to think three-dimensionally, and so all my thoughts about photographs being objects suddenly became realizable,” she recalls. “And I could look at shadows, the way they went on the floor.” She discovered photograms by chance, after a trip to Kosovo, when she banged her hand in frustration on a photo enlarger, and a light went off. Her first large-scale work was made in 2008 and 2009; titled Stowaway, it depicts a U-Haul with a man—presumably an illegal immigrant—standing inside, amid rows of soda bottles. The piece was inspired by reading online that agents at US border crossings used X-rays on trucks to scan for illegal cargo. To create the piece, Karapetian built a transparent mock-up of a truck, added plywood shelves, hired a worker to be her model, then drove to the desert to find a collection of 200 Mexican Coke bottles, finally setting up the scene in front of vertical strips of photosensitive paper. As with all her work, the shoot is just the culmination of an elaborate process of research and preparation that then resolves in a flash (and a rush to get it to a processor to be developed). “The first time a person engages with me in this process, they always laugh,” the artist laughs. “They’re like, ‘That was it!?’”

In Riot Police (2011), she created a tableau in which several silhouetted figures clad in riot gear stand clustered at the left side of a deep purple field, divided into five vertical panels, while a protester lies stretched out at their feet, resolving the almost triangular, classical configuration. It’s a startling scene, its formal asymmetry enunciating the stark asymmetry of power it depicts. In fact, the actors playing the riot police were art world friends, but garbed with helmets and translucent shields, they are sharply convincing. An ensuing work depicts protesters in Egypt, set amid texts from a government pamphlet.

More recently, Karapetian has begun to employ real people’s memories in her practice. After describing her interest in muscle memory and physical communication in a class, one of her students, a veteran, approached her to describe his actions in Iraq. The resulting project used a group of actual US army vets, gripping translucent guns made of resin, to reenact a method of breaching an entry called “stacking up on doors.” Silhouetted against a field of acrid orange, Karapetian’s veterans were deployed around the doorway of LA Louver Gallery, as part of their 2013 “Rogue Wave” show. The same year, Karapetian created another semi-site-specific work—a ruins made of block-like photograms of ice—for OCMA’s California-Pacific Triennial, and a public artwork in Flint, Michigan, relating to that city’s blue collar workforce.

Notably, for all their loaded content, Karapetian’s works do not declare any specific political POV, so much as they present formalized narratives, turning what would normally be portrayed in documentary terms to a fictive reenactment. She explains: “The photograph is conventionally understood as the document of an event; but what happens when the photograph is the event itself? This is something I think about when I’m staging a reenactment in the dark; it’s something I think about when I install a photograph sculpturally, so that the viewer has a life-size experience of an object, a place, or an event. It’s all focused on re-humanizing the photograph, making it manual, hands-on, experiential, and surprising.”

Like a photojournalist, Karapetian seems drawn to troubled places, taking the experience she gleans back to her studio; this winter, she will be traveling to Kabul to create a music video for an Afghan youth rock band. The interest in music coincides with the new body of work she will be showing in January, at Von Lintel Gallery, in Los Angeles. In this case, the muscle memory and performance reenactment were provided by her father, who used to be a drummer. As per her elaborate shadow process, Karapetian created a faux drum set in eerie silhouette, with translucent cymbals, and had her father practice drumming with it at her LA studio. On the walls, a large photogram of her father playing drums shares space with images of female musicians, instruments, and a red flowing curtain. As yet, the final make-up of the show, titled “Stagecraft,” remains to be determined. “I’ve made a lot of work that I’m not going to end up using. I started thinking about stagecraft and spotlights…”she muses. “What interested me most… was really the vulnerability and drive of creative practice.”
Read original review @ art ltd mag

In Colors: Farrah Karapetian at Von Lintel — artcritical feature


by Natalie Hegert

Dispatch from Los Angeles

Farrah Karapetian: Stagecraft at Von Lintel Gallery

2685 S La Cienega Blvd (between Alivar and Cullen streets)
January 17 to February 28, 2015
Los Angeles, 310 559 5700

Farrah Karapetian, Got to the Mystic, 2014. Chromogenic photogram
from performance, metallic, 97 x 82 inches

When I was a child my father would delight me by playing Ken Nordine’s word jazz. We’d listen and laugh along with the absurdist poetry delivered in Nordine’s mellifluous baritone accompanied by bebop improvisations, breathy flute trills, the swish of a brush across a snare drum. I’d close my eyes and stare with my ears at the scenes Nordine sketched with words — short, jokey stories brimming with onomatopoeic ornamentation and witty little rhymes. His 1966 album, Colors, is a collection of 34 roughly one-and-a-half-minute vignettes, each characterizing a color with anthropomorphic anecdotes: ecru is a critic, for instance; burgundy is bulging and fat; lavender is an old, old, old, old, old lady.

I thought briefly of Ken Nordine after seeing Farrah Karapetian’s exhibition of new photograms and sculpture, “Stagecraft,” at Von Lintel Gallery. The comparison is perhaps a bit corny, I admit, but there is some correspondence to be found between Nordine’s evocation of colors through words and music, and Karapetian’s evocation of music through shape and color. There are shared elements of playfulness, improvisation and mood; with both, our mind fills in what the eyes do not see. While earlier works alluded to subjects with political weight (portraying riot police, protestors, guns and contraband), this series uses the accoutrements of music and performance as a vehicle to investigate the mutability of perception and the rhythmic possibilities of light, color, and space.
Farrah Karapetian, In the Wake of Sound; In the Break of Sound, 2014. Steel and glass, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

Farrah Karapetian, In the Wake of Sound; In the Break of Sound, 2014. Steel and glass, dimensions variable. Courtesy of the artist and Von Lintel Gallery.

Karapetian began with bronzes and blues — the colors one feels listening to jazz, according to what Karapetian’s father revealed to her about his own sensations when listening to music. In Got to the Mystic (all works 2014), we see her father as a ghostly figure playing a skeleton of a drum kit, his face obscured by the hi-hat; the drum stands and rims and closures and cymbals register a stark white against the ruddy ground of the photogram.

Karapetian’s painstakingly crafted replica of her father’s drum kit — minus the skins and shells, leaving just the armature, the metal lugs, rods and stands — sits in an adjoining room. The cymbals are formed from glass, allowing light to pass through. A spotlight positioned on the floor of the gallery illuminates the sculpture from below, casting its shadow against the wall, and revealing the apparatus at play in Karapetian’s photograms. Many artists go to lengths to conceal their processes, but Karapetian, in the service of transparency, divulges her sources, shows us the “negative.”

The viewer, however, does not get the full experience, rather just a glimpse of how things work. In Three Muses one can clearly see the three bodies in space, but one can only imagine the haptic experience of three people trying to position themselves in a completely dark room, waiting for the flash of light that would inscribe their shadows on the paper. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Pause. Flash.

Karapetian spoke to me about the primacy of physical interaction in her work, from situating her subjects in the darkened space to the handling of the paper and processing. The viewer sees only the final result, limited to the perspective of the paper itself. We see only what the paper sees, as it mutely records the impression of shadow and light across its surface. It bears other marks, too, though. Around the edges, little fingerprints are indelibly smudged, and the pricks of the push pins that held the paper in place are visible. The prints hold a remarkable texture, impossible to capture in the jpegs you'd see online.

Farrah Karapetian, In the Wake of Sound; In the Break of Sound, 2014.
Steel and glass, dimensions variable.
There are bronzes and blues — but also crimsons and yellows and indigos and deep, resonant greens. Yes, resonance: the colors here have it, just like sounds do. Light waves that linger. My memory of the electric greens and cyans of Kräftig — the color is so pure, so saturated and intense — challenges the colors I now see in the digital reproduction of the piece on my laptop and in the exhibition catalogue. Strange, how variable color is in real life and in reproduction. Stranger still, to think of these vibrant greens and blues produced by red and magenta lights. In the darkroom, the gap between perceived and resultant color becomes a playground of improvisation and experimentation, “a very present tense experience,” as Karapetian put it. Like a jazz musician mounting the stage, she may already know the riff, but where the song goes from there will always be a surprise.

Farrah Karapetian, Three Muses, 2014. Chromogenic photogram
from performance, metallic, 75 1/2 x 48 1/2 inches.

Installation view, "Farrah Karapetian: Stage Craft," 2015, courtesy of Von Lintel Gallery.

Read original post @ artcritical