Whitechapel Gallery, London
June 7–September 3, 2017
By John K. Grande
Everything vanishes and yet it all remains, changed somehow, interpreted differently: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A Handful of Dust is a show that has a mysterious point of departure that is as much about the ambiguities of art in photography as it is about the way art fuses, morphs, reinvents conceptions, how it is a process long before and after realization. This point of departure is a photograph taken by Man Ray of a partially completed dust-covered artwork. Each in their own way, the photographs, documents, video, and ephemera in the show follow the initial flow of Man Ray’s picture of a fragment of Marcel Duchamp’s dust-covered La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (also known by its English title, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even, and as The Large Glass, 1915–23). The incredible range and variety of art grabs one’s attention all the way through this show. Most have some correspondence with that first Man Ray image. The work that Man Ray photographed “appeared like some strange landscape from a bird’s eye view” and it was a “paying job” for Katharine Dreier for her Société Anonyme.1 Man Ray’s photograph, which first appeared in Littérature, a surrealist journal, in 1922, is displayed in a vitrine in the gallery with Duchamp’s Green Box and other surrealist ephemera.
The 1968 reprint on view, co-signed by Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, has been retitled Élevage de poussière (Dust Breeding). Strangely, it is reminiscent of Isamu Noguchi’s Sculpture to be Seen from Mars (1947), an early form of land art, later destroyed, for which only a photographic document remains, a quasi-sci-fi confabulation. And this may be curator David Campany’s intent with this show. The crossover between real document and fake refabrication and the reinterpretation and transferral of ideas across media offer an otherworldly, close-to-fictional aspect of photography. Anonymous aerial reconnaissance photos taken in 1916, during the First World War, further the play on and between real and projected interpretations of the Man Ray photographs. There is even a mention of Ernest Hemingway’s comment about reading the landscape from an airplane in France and saying how he now understood Cubism…
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