Bleaching Beirut: Curtis Mann’s photo prints
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 8, 2009
This morning I happened upon the Boston Globe‘s review of a gallery exhibit with an intriguing premise:
Details erased, obscured, and bleached into a sea of white like the glaring desert sun can tell a story just as intriguing as one packed with information. Chicago artist Curtis … Mann’s [photo-based art] work is particularly searing. He downloads photos of sites of conflict taken by amateur photographers who have posted their images on Flickr. He drops his disk off at the drugstore and has prints made. Then he takes them home, coats pieces of them with varnish, and pours bleach over them in the sink. The bleach washes away the parts of an image not protected with varnish.
The results, jagged scenes that pop off pages of white shimmering into yellow and red, effectively convey landscapes stripped by battle. Mann has washed out some of the supports holding up the subject of “Building, Standing (Beirut),” [the piece shown above] so the crumbling structure barely holds itself up amid the unearthly white. Above, the sky is blue, bleached at the bottom edge to party-girl pink, smearing into the white.
Mann uses bleach as if it were paint, and his most ambitious piece, “After the Dust When You Come Over the Hill (Beirut),” has a gorgeous painterly quality in the way he uses his bleach and in the way the image flutters between representation and abstraction. The piece features 84 8-by-10-inch photos in a grid. The pink-fringed blue sky is a banner at the top; dry earth and rubble cross the bottom. In between, shards of photographs trail across the whiteness, as if a blast has just occurred and we’re in the pocket of silence and disbelief just afterward, with these shreds of images like shrapnel.
I want to like Mann’s work: the combination of ‘found’ images and artistic intervention to me is incredibly rich. But Beirut is more than merely a conflict zone, and I feel that his pieces, while visually striking, turn Lebanon into a deeply alien space.
I’m curious to know what you all, my US-, UK, Norway- (go figure), Lebanon-, Gulf-, and elsewhere-based readers, think. (More samples of Mann’s work can be found on his website.) Do these images speak to you?