How do we survive?

by

comment

Blued Books, Li Mu
  • Blued Books, Li Mu
In China, all photographs of teenagers in juvenile detention facilities are marked with a black stripe over the subjects' eyes. This rule is a government effort meant to obscure convicted teenagers' identities and lessen any ridicule they might receive upon release. But as Chinese artist Li Mu illustrates in his piece Blued Books, a face remains identifiable and expressive even in the absence of the eyes.

In 2008 and 2009 Mu spent six months visiting the Shanghai Juvenile Reformatory. During his visits, he created a temporary library of art books, interviewed the teenagers, and photographed them for his project. Blued Books is a series of individual portraits that depict young men and women clad in baby blue uniforms holding art books at their waists. One woman, who Mu says has been in the reformatory for ten years, holds a book of Pablo Picasso paintings. Her hands are puffy, irritated—even reminiscent of Picasso’s elephantine women in his painting Grand Nu à la draperie. The contrast between the overtly sexual Picasso woman on the book's cover and the teenager's rigid pose is jarring. Here, Mu seems to play Picasso’s figure, celebrated for her individuality and sexuality, against his own subject, a young female stripped of both qualities.

Blued Books is part of the latest show at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, “Survival Techniques: Narratives of Resistance.” The show, a meditation on the term “survival,” explores the word from many perspectives.

A stark contrast to Blued Books is German artist Julika Rudelius’s video piece One of Us. Rudelius’s film shows happy (and tacky) Miami couples narrating their love stories to one another. The conversations are stilted, somewhat staged, and inundated with saccharine terms of affection—not to mention sloppy, overly indulgent kisses. Rather than celebrate love, Rudelius manages to manipulate the “loving couple” euphoria into unpalatable, ick-factor jargon. But it’s a refreshing perspective and a feast for cynics.

Another interesting piece was Raphael Dallaporta’s Domestic Slavery. Dallaporta partnered with journalist Ondine Millot to tell the stories of people caught in domestic slavery and human trafficking. Dallaporta pairs the brutal tales with austere photographs of the buildings where the narratives unfold. While Li Mu uses portraits to show the effects of a space on the individuals within it, it’s the absence of people in Dallaporta’s work that's haunting.

Other participating artists include Zhang Peili, Uriel Orlow, Sigalit Landau, Yto Barrada, Rainer Ganahi, MRK Palash, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Navin Rawanchaikul.

Mon-Wed 10 AM-5 PM, Thu 10 AM–8 PM, Fri-Sat 10 AM–5 PM, Sun 12–5 PM, Museum of Contemporary Photography, 600 S. Michigan.

Add a comment