Sean Kelly Gallery

2 Stories

Alec Soth

The Minnesota native turns his lens onto country life

6 Images
Open The Gallery
6 Images
Open The Gallery
6 Images
Open The Gallery

Alec Soth’s work is rooted in the distinctly American tradition of ‘on-the-road photography’ developed by Walker Evans, Robert Frank and Stephen Shore. From Huckleberry Finn to Easy Rider there seems to be a uniquely American desire to travel and chronicle the adventures that consequently ensue. Soth’s photographs have been collected and shown at the Museum of Modern Art, the 2004 Whitney Biennial and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


We caught up with the Magnum Photos member on the eve of his upcoming exhibition, “Songbook” at Sean Kelly Gallery, on view through March 14th, 2015.


What’s the premise of your upcoming exhibition at Sean Kelly, and what was its genesis?
My last project exhibited at Sean Kelly was called Broken Manual. This work was about the desire to retreat from society. Upon its completion, I’d had enough solitude and wanted to explore community life. This new project, Songbook, is about re-engaging with social life around the country. I did this in a variety of means, but the majority of the work was made while working on a self-published newspaper.


What was it was like to assume the role of a “small town news reporter,” traveling from state to state across the country?
In my mid-twenties I worked for a suburban newspaper in Minnesota. The stories I covered were pretty generic: a ribbon cutting for a new store, a city council meeting, that sort of thing. A long time after I left that job, I wondered if those same scenes might be interesting, if seen in a different way. So a few years ago, I asked the writer Brad Zellar to accompany me on an assignment. We quickly learned that the world of small newspapers is completely fascinating if approached slightly askew. Twin Peaks is right around the corner.


It’s been said that the cornerstone of your photographs is the chemistry you create with strangers, what do you think about this idea?
I’m not sure. A photograph is simply light reflecting off of surfaces – the rest is projection. My camera doesn’t penetrate anybody’s soul, nor do I. I’m not saying I don’t have a relationship with the people I photograph, but I’m not sure that this relationship can be read in the pictures.


According to your gallery your images tackle the tension between American individualism and the desire to be united, can you comment on this?
We live in a country that treasures individualism. We have all of these myths of the cowboy and the self-made man. But if I learned anything from my years of work tracking down hermits and recluses, it is that we need other people to stay sane. We long for connection. This dualism can be found in a lot of my work and is at the heart of Songbook.


You’ve also said that you’re in love with the process of taking photos, and it feels like a kind of performance, what do you mean by this?
I like the process of moving through the world. Before I was a photographer, I was interested in land artists like Richard Long. I liked the idea that a walk could be a work of art. I feel like the process of driving around looking at people and things is also a kind of artwork.


Do you think that your wanderlust fuels your desire to document the world or is the other way around?
The wanderlust is the engine, definitely. The fact that I produce something that looks like documentary photographs is just a happy byproduct of my process.


What’s something that’s really exciting you at the moment?
A few years ago I began to realize the creative potential of live slideshows. After creating a workshop to explore this idea, I’ve started experimenting. Last fall I did an event on stage with Billy Bragg. I found the whole thing both exciting and terrifying.


What’s the thing or idea that most frightens you?
It sounds corny or cliché, but as an artist I think it is essential to keep listening to that weird little voice inside. I’ve always been nervous about having that voice drowned out by career expectations. But as I get older, this concern has been replaced with fears of my voice becoming atrophied by age.


Have you had an epic fail in your life and how did you recover?
Great question. I’ve never told this story, but in college I studied poetry. I had a teacher who thought the world of me. He actually got me published. Anyway, at the end of the semester, he wanted me to give a public reading. I had a terror of public speaking and couldn’t do it. So I drank a bunch of wine. I don’t remember the reading, but I know it was a disaster. Part of the attraction of being a photographer is that it didn’t seem to have anything to do with public speaking. Boy, was I wrong. It took me about fifteen years to get over this fear.


What’s next?
That’s a secret for now. In order to preserve that little voice inside me, I’ve found it’s helpful not to blab about it prematurely.

The Generator

Marina Abramovic's Latest Experiment Sans the Senses

Marina Abramovic

On a cold Saturday morning in December, I went to Generator, Marina Abramović’s performance installation at Sean Kelly Gallery. In her first solo exhibition in New York since The Artist is Present at MoMA in 2010, Abramović focuses on “nothingness” and asks visitors to participate in an exercise of sensory deprivation and forced self-introspection. Here is my story.


MA-2014 SKNY Generator - photo Jason Wyche 3


Upon entry, I was greeted by a charming female facilitator and asked to sign a waiver, which I did not read. I then disrobed – coat, gloves, scarf, bag – and placed my belongings in a locker. I took this time to drink some water from the cooler and answer any last-minute texts and emails before locking up.


I relished the opportunity to be untethered by my belongings, my constantly ticking iPhone, my “stuff”, and I moved towards a group of attendants, one of whom walked across to me, blindfold in hand. “You have great style,” he said. I said thank you, and asked if he would catch me if I fell. He said that I wouldn’t fall because I was so graceful.


MA-2014 SKNY Generator - photo Jason Wyche 11


He explained the rules: he would walk me in and then I would raise my hand when I wanted to leave. He placed the blindfold on me and asked, “Is that ok?” “Tighter,” I said. Darkness. Then, the noise-cancelling headphones. Silence. With one hand in mine and the other on my back, he led me down what seemed to be an interminable corridor. I imagined being led without candlelight through a dark catacomb. As he walked me, slowly and gingerly, into the abyss, I could hear only the sound of my heels on the gallery floor. Then, without notice, I was released.


It is at that moment, I suppose, where all the “nothingness” should begin. Lauren Kelly, the gallery’s director, later told me that the facilitators, who are all trained by Abramović, are taught to read people’s energy. Some want to be engaged, want attention, some want to be ignored, treated sterilely, coldly, and so on. Each experience is unique, each participant led in and out of the gallery in a different way.


I took my first steps cautiously, but then quickly gained a stride. There is a certain freedom to walking, destination unknown, sight unseen, sound unheard. It wasn’t until I ran into my first wall that I was jolted back into somethingness. Ah, the harsh, cold reality of literally hitting wall. I giggled, a reaction to a feeling of embarrassment, the possibility of having been seen – a feeling that quickly passes without the ability to see or hear any possible outside judgment. One is forced to let go of the idea of looking silly while being placed in an uncomfortable situation, a trademark found in many of Abramović’s pieces (only the very resolute will not at least blush while walking through two naked people facing each other in a doorway in Imponderabilia). Self-awareness is forced upon the participant in these moments.


MA-2014 SKNY Generator - photo Jason Wyche 10


As I walked along, there were hard walls, there were padded walls, and there were people. There have been tales of people dancing, holding hands, almost kissing in the installation – all of which is captured by cameras and loaded onto the dedicated Tumblr – I ran into one person in my time inside Generator, or, more aptly, I ran into a chunky knit sweater, and found myself swiveling around and walking in the other direction almost immediately. I just wanted to be alone.


I imagine that to reach the “full emptiness” that Abramović touts would take more than my short time inside the gallery that morning (not to mention years of meditative training), but, if anything, Generator forces one to be confronted with the rather daunting task of being with oneself – nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to do – even if just for a moment. To not check one’s phone incessantly (and live to tell the tale), to not seek outside stimulation to satiate us and save us, to be present (even if the artist is not)… this is the modern man’s plight.


MA-2014 SKNY Generator - photo Jason Wyche 19


When I decided my time was done, I raised my hand and a facilitator came to me and guided me back, this time via a more labyrinthine path. When we finally came to a stop and the facilitator removed my earmuffs, a familiar voice whispered in my ear, “You didn’t fall.”