Clouded Points of Access: Phantoms in the Dirt at the Museum of Contemporary Photography

August 10, 2014 | Published Articles, Writing

Published by Artslant in August, 2014.

What first reads like an astral constellation is in fact a photograph whose blackness is broken only by the erratic swarm of dead insect bodies. Greg Stimac’s Santa Fe to Billings (2009) documents the choreography of the countless lives his windshield intersected on a drive between locales. The momentum of each smash is evident—guts smear and spray across the surface, recording innumerable tiny accidents. To create this piece, Stimac placed an 8 x 10 inch sheet of Plexiglass on the hood of his car. Upon arriving to his final destination—Billings, in this case—he used the car’s cigarette lighter to scan the resulting plate, thereby producing the final 20 x 30 inch photograph. This piece—its documentary mode, its gritty surface, its use of technology—is the perfect beginning for the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Phantoms in the Dirt, a group exhibition curated by Karsten Lund, which currently showcases sixteen artists. In each work lies a theoretical straw: something the viewer grasps with sudden exuberance and recognition—Yes! Bugs spatter on my car too!—only to bump into larger questions, mysteries, and catastrophes thereafter. Stimac’s insects might provoke anxiety in the viewer about her own mortality, or encapsulate an expression of violence both sickening and banal, or even illustrate humanity’s omniscient relationship to its environment. Like the early efforts to prove the existence of an afterlife by capturing spirits on photographic paper, Phantoms in the Dirt presents the enigmatic trick of landscape photography, stirring up powerful questions about authenticity, mechanical illusion, and existential meaning in the process. read more