NINA T. BECKER & APRIL FRIGES: ERASING TRACES
Nina T. Becker
Becker’s art practice often revolves around the themes of absence, mourning, trauma and the irreducible quality of time. In her most recent series of photographic works she introduces us not only to the trappings of the cinematic mode of production but also to the apparatus of capture associated with economimesis (the aesthetic presuppositions of political economy). Both enigmatic and formless, the rooms depicted in this suite of images are known as ‘psyches’ or ‘coves’. Spread throughout the Hollywood infrastructure, these types of places are regularly reconfigured to accommodate simulated fantasies and special effects props. The illegibility of their local, their uncanny position as non-descript places and the evacuation of Cartesian coordinates works to undermine any sense of temporal and spatial specificity. Instead, such images confront us with the traumatic real of remediated culture, i.e., with the non-place of pure vituality that acts as a substrate for the projection of commercial desires. In this stark and surreal presentation of the repressed order of production we find that the obscene core of remediated culture is also a real place; that it can be visited; that it has a texture and location — but that it is still a place without a proper name. And yet, Becker’s photographs provide us a fleeting glimpse of an 'open space’ that highlights the difference between systems of symbolic meaning that circulate within the domain of white-cube-like production. That is the nature of their strategic intervention into the space(s) of the cultural imaginary as well as their enduring contribution to how we understand the contemporary moment.
Friges’s photographic practice is everywhere informed by different economies of experience: economies of habitation, of liquidation, of transference and of transformation. Her previous series have focused on creating documents of suburban compression rather than urban sprawl, of calling forth factory memories rather than factory production, and of situating homes in transit rather than homesteads in foreclosure. In each of these projects, as well as her newest series of works, Friges’s engages with the ethic of what remains, i.e., with the specificity of architectural forms and how they are informed by so many points of social interlocution. However, in her most recent body of work she also gives us a portrait of structuralist photography turned on its head — not so much documents of a style in time but of architectural motifs that are out of time — expired, conscripted and repurposed structures. In such a series of photographs we are made to question not only what forms subsist beneath the willful transformation of a familiar food chain but also what persists in an economy of disposability, decay and redistribution. Functioning as a subtle cartography of the commonplace, Friges’s images allow us to investigate the temporal division of before and after through so many indices of visual and structural displacement. Through varying degrees of indexical similitude we can locate a subject that is almost indiscernible at first glance — visible only through a few architectural ticks, instances of mixed or remodeled signage and the discrete attenuation of franchised building caught up in a process of erasure. That the structuralist idiom has to be rethought in an economy of accelerated consumption seems obvious, but that post-structuralist stratagems could be posited alongside socio-economic concerns, historical concerns, infrastructural concerns and even the process of enculturation — that is a decided challenge to the carrying capacity of the image. Friges’s photographs certainly serve as the high watermark of such an enterprise.