Erin Shirreff Captures the United Nations As Mirage

THE DAILY PIC: At the Guggenheim, a video confuses a building and its image.

Photo-Poetics: An Anthology, November 20, 2015–March 23, 2016


Photo-Poetics: An Anthology, November 20, 2015–March 23, 2016

THE DAILY PIC (#1499): This is an installation shot of Erin Shirreff’s UN 2010, a 17-minute video now showing in “Photo-Poetics”, an exhibition of recent trends in “object-based” photography at the Guggenheim in New York. (Click on my image to watch a clip.) The “object” that Shirreff has photographed is not, in fact, the great United Nations building on the East River in New York. It is a printed still photograph of the building, sitting quietly in her studio and receiving an ever-changing fall of light. Watching the video, we think we are witnessing the sun playing over the U.N. itself when in fact the light is just playing over an image of the scene.

Shirreff’s video gives us plenty of clues that this must be the case: Even the smallest details in the scene, including ripples on the river water, stay impossibly static from moment to moment, and there are times when we can see reflections off her photo’s glossy surface. But our brains are so attuned to reading through images to some reality they represent that we can’t get rid of the confusion between building and print.

All pictures have this same duality: They confuse the space and moment they show with the studio space where they were drawn or painted or printed ­– their status as disembodied image and their status as made thing. Shirreff’s video just makes that two-ness utterly present.

But is it an accident that the building she’s chosen to depict houses an institution that has some of that same slipperiness? In a political universe built around the firm anchor of the nation state, the internationalism of the United Nations can feel like a fiction ­– an image ­– that never quite solidifies. Is the “un” in Shirreff’s title a prefix as well as an acronym? (Collection of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, © Erin Shirreff; photo by Kristopher McKay)

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