Spring 2014, Volume 16

From the Art Editor

I was drawn most to Charity Vargas’s images by a strong sense of the uncanny that gets richer and more narrative with repeated viewing.  For example, “Tree Shadow at Thornburgh” rises way above most photographs of shadows and old buildings.  What starts as an interest in pattern as it arises in everyday subject matter becomes a celebration and a skepticism of photography, especially as it represents mortal things and Time.  I feel at first the lovely pattern of an absence, the tree outside the picture frame.  But the windows are blocked--and by plywood!  The tree has been transformed to block my looking into, or other’s out from, the building.  The tree's invitation to be seen is now a refusal to let seeing occur.  But these parts of the image are of great aesthetic beauty--and so you include in the frame a literal warning, "Danger," on a relatively ugly manmade cube.  The cube itself seems to be part of what has gone wrong, sitting on a blackened, scratched up earth, and all its warnings have done no good--the building is abandoned.  I look for beauty; there is beauty; but it’s tainted and complicated.  Yikes!  Lovely and creepy at the same time, in the best way.

Wenxin Zhang is a very good example of a real thing happening now in the intersection of personal narratives and visual art.  While the stories of immigrants, and of the children of immigrants, are a staple of American culture, the verbal forms in which the young have more often sussed out their own stories are being supplemented and sometimes replaced by visual media, especially photography.  Here, Wenxin Zhang’s work tackles a most complicated version of that.  She is documenting and examining herself as a young woman moving into adulthood and about to graduate from school, a topic complex enough by itself for some artists.  But she’s fierce in looking also to the country of her ancestors--which is complicated by that country’s extraordinary cultural and physical transformation in recent years.  It’s not enough any more to work out how much, or when, one feels of the old country versus the new, with one’s ancestors versus one’s peers.  Everyone is unmoored when the old country is disappearing overnight.  And it doesn’t hurt that her technique is well above average, and that the series of images maintains a tone and sense of quality.  Just as a good first novel will.

                                                                                                 — Jack Miller