Shep Steiner has a new essay out titled Fidelity to the Archive and Beyond: Five Versions of the Photographic Act in the Work of Andrea Robbins and Max Becher, in Andrea Robbins and Max Becher Black Cowboys (Siegen: Museum für Gegenwartkunst, 2016).
The article focuses on the logic structuring the large corpus of photographic work of New York based photographers Andrea Robbins and Max Becher. With special attention to their motif of the “transportation of place” the author argues the practice must be understood through a combination of emphases that include colonialism, semiotics, performative theory and issues specific to the medium of photography, especially in the modernist notion of the photographic act. The author suggests this act, or trigger event, which is placed under tremendous pressure by the photographers is reproduced and disseminated at five crucial topoi: two hinging on the retrospective processes of viewing and keyed to the encounter with photography in the gallery and book, and two more obscure versions that bring the latter acts into visibility. These antecedents of the act proper are shown both to underwrite the extensive literature on the theory of the archive as well as to determine the very possibility of modernist aesthetics, something the author tethers to the question of ideology. With key examples drawn from Robbins and Becher’s series of Black Cowboys (2008/2016) the author shows how these inherently political and aesthetic problems overlap with the problem of ethics and intersect with what the artist’s call, Southernization. Finally, the argument turns on how the ticklish subjects of Robbins and Becher’s photography intersect with a version of ethical violence tethered to hegemony that the artists are able to harness in the viewing process.
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