At its highest level Art is dialogue with society.1 Even then it is usually contextual, the conversation is with a particular society.2 Photographer and documentarian John Rash’s work exhibited at the Carrack earlier this month speaks deeply to two societies.
Art imitates Life? Or recapitulates it?
Rash’s documentation of Chongqing, China is powerfully poignant. At the Carrack in a complex and layered exhibition of still photographs and extremely short films3, he opened a window to real lives and personal spaces. Rash mixed media to the viewer’s advantage, large art quality prints were interspersed with polaroids, an interpolation that gave unspoken credibility; tiny personal photos of the same places validating the reality of the bigger scale portraits of life.
The intimacy was amazing. The distance between Durham viewer and Chinese citizen across the globe was shortened to an arm’s length. Rash’s subject matter writ small was kitchens, kettles, cups, and dishes, chairs, tables, desks, and windows, wires, stairways, A/C units, and laundry lines, doors, benches, parks, and trees. Writ large, it was humanity, living. His trained lens took one inside a culture.
And then you remembered the title of the exhibit “Chāi Qiān(拆迁): Inevitable Development.”
What are those sloppily painted red characters present in so many of these photos?
Marked for destruction?!?
Rash tells us Chāi means pull down; dismantle. The lettering signifies spaces that are designated to be demolished to make way for Qiān; development.
Sound familiar, Durham?
Suddenly the intimacy of the photos becomes fearfully powerful as you rush back around the room to look again into the windows of people’s lives and stories in spaces and places where the wrecking ball is coming. The most commanding photo in the room shows the results of the demolition having already come. Mounds upon mounds of brick and debris liter the foreground of empty space ringed by high rise apartments.
An inevitable development, Durham?
1Art at its most primal level is visceral.
2Save for the archetypal, the DaVinci’s, the Van Gogh’s.
3The Carrack’s founder, Laura Richie, made the salient and important point in an exhibit that features these sort of mixed media, film inevitably becomes what people gravitate towards and appears to dangerously erode their patience and observation skills for more ostensibly “staid” photographs.
“From the Editor’s Desk”
is written by our Editor: Aaron Mandel