July 31st, 2019
Delirious Cities: The 2019 Aperture Summer Open
The city is an ever-changing landscape, a place of contested freedom, a laboratory of identity, a supermarket of desires. When the architect Rem Koolhaas first published his 1978 manifesto, Delirious New York, he wrote of density and ecstasy, of the epic visions of Manhattan skyscrapers and the otherworldliness of capitalist congestion. Through their photographs, videos, and lens-based installations, the twenty-three artists selected for the 2019 Aperture Summer Open propel Koolhaas’s curiosity into the present, defining the contours of metropolitan life in the twenty-first century. Together, they offer urgent statements about how images are shaping the contemporary city as an endless project, a delirious machine for living.
Originally trained as an urban designer, Sara Abbaspour makes photographs in the Iranian cities of Tehran and Mashhad, as well as on Hormuz Island. Her lush and cinematic images, characterized by crystalline highlights and a mysterious sense of drama, explore mental states of connection and contemplation. Abbaspour is influenced by the American photographer Mark Steinmetz and the late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, whose poetic films were associated with the Iranian New Wave of the 1960s. “In my work, I wonder about entanglements of life rippling outside the frame of my vision and the silent internal conversations of the people I photograph,” Abbaspour says. “I study the poetics of spaces and states in transition, the concealed burden of history on a nation’s back, and the wonders of a people floating in precarious eternity.” In these images from an ongoing series, Abbaspour is also thinking through the idea of psychogeography, first proposed in 1956 by the French theorist Guy Debord. A member of the movement Situationist International, Debord and other artist-flaneurs were keen to think about how urban spaces inform behavior and feelings. A flaneur herself, Abbaspour is aware of the undercurrent of political tensions in her work. “But,” she says, “in an era of intergovernmental and political hostility and projected identity politics, I believe that an apolitical or poetic expression can be the most profound political response.”
“All my work has been a continuation of a discourse about nostalgia, absence, and loss—themes that constitute moving targets in one’s life,” says Laura Barrón. In 2013, after a decade of living as a Mexican immigrant in Canada, Barrón decided to learn about the cities that her fellow Latino Canadian friends grew up in. She participated in residencies in several cities, usually for about seven weeks at a time. La Paz City, a subseries of Absentia, explores “vertigo in relation to the precariousness of its territory and urban landscape.” The dizzying upside-down images of dense urban spaces verge on abstraction, making one wish for the stability of understanding—and of home. Absentia, she says, “has become a meditation on historical trauma, national or cultural identity, and the desire to change one’s life forever by changing one’s surroundings and nationality.”
The sin and the service, the modesty and the majesty. Since Spaniards celebrated the Philippines’s first Catholic Mass in the island town of Limasawa on March 31, 1521, the contradictions of Catholicism have been ever present in Filipino life. For Rydel Cerezo, a queer Filipino from an immigrant family, the inability to fully escape the religion is a consequence of the holy entanglement of colonial enterprise and Catholic imperialism. “I am interested in the history of the church that served as a tool involved in the colonial mission and now acts as a space for bodies to commune with one another in the Diaspora,” Cerezo says of his autobiographical series Am I a Sea, which considers the trauma and love delivered by the Catholic Church. Cerezo uses his family members and a palette of bold primary colors to restage moments of Catholic ritual in an attempt to “probe the familiar space of the church in relation to the living post-colonized body.” Although church leaders speak of compassion and forgiveness, respect for the fully realized lives of queer Catholics often falters before the reverence for tradition. Cerezo’s photographs, blending the staged with the documentary, renew what Catholics call “the mystery of the faith.”
Alex Huanfa Cheng
Seven years ago, Alex Huanfa Cheng left his hometown in Hubei, China, to study photography in France. From a distance, Cheng began to see his home from a new perspective. “China is an evolving country and is full of contradictory duality,” he says. In his series, Chinese Wonderland, created while visiting home and traveling throughout the country, Cheng pictures scenes of leisure and everyday life in playful juxtapositions. In one image, a boy brushes up against a small tree of pink flowers, blossoming amid a landscape of half-demolished buildings and rubble. In another, Buddhist statues and temple furnishings stand before an industrial background. Telephone wires crisscross behind them through a hazy, gray sky. With wry humor, Cheng photographs small moments layered with inconsistencies, noting that “this kind of complexity is precisely what makes contemporary China so exuberant and fascinating.”
Rose Marie Cromwell
Miami is Rose Marie Cromwell’s subject and canvas. She photographs in Little Haiti, Liberty City, Allapattah, Bay Point, Edgewater, and Wynwood, each neighborhood and district filled with people from different countries, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and each—perhaps with the exception, more recently, of the rapidly gentrifying Wynwood— underrepresented in the media. “I want to convey the sense of disorientation that I feel in Miami,” says Cromwell. To create that feeling, Cromwell sometimes stages scenes of her own, as she looks for the “performative” in the everyday. “I’m interested in how we create space for intimacy, spirituality, and a sense of community in these areas meant more for industry and commerce.”
Created in collaboration with intelligence surveillance experts, Esther Hovers’s series, False Positives, pictures eight different algorithmic “anomalies” around the business district of Brussels, mimicking images used to detect social deviance in public spaces. Described as “signs in body language and movement that could indicate criminal intent,” the “anomalies” rendered in Hovers’s photographs and pattern drawings become like blueprints of potential state control. In their banality and clarity—businessmen on sidewalks, joggers on streets—the images are all the more sinister, especially in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, whose stated goals are to “offer freedom, security and justice.” “False Positives is set around the question of normal behavior,” says Hovers. It’s an investigation of “how power, politics, and control are exercised through urban planning and the use of public space.”
Mateo Gómez García
Since 2009, when he returned to his native Colombia after studying cinema and photography in Buenos Aires, Mateo Gómez García has documented the changing visions of Colombian society—both subtle and dramatic—often driven by the politics of drugs and violence. His 2014 series, A Place to Live, considers the complexities of life in suburban Bogotá, which over the last decade has seen a rise in new housing developments and shopping centers. A 2016 commission for the California Sunday Magazine profiled religious communities in Bello, a town near Medellín. In his newest series, Paraiso, Gómez García deploys a language of absurdity as a riposte to ideas of optimism propagated by the Colombian media. “I refuse to consider the image shared by the media as the mirror of my reality,” Gómez García says. His photographs become enigmatic metaphors, with a kind of visual flexibility that moves between documentary truth and fiction. “This work is an approach to the new Colombia,” says the artist. “A fragile and ephemeral paradise, a folkloric dream of a society without memory.”
Before moving to Portugal at the age of eighteen, Délio Jasse grew up in Luanda, the capital of the oil-rich nation of Angola, routinely named one of the most expensive cities in the world for expatriates. Angola’s fortunes have traveled with the velocity, the sudden rises and hurtling falls, of a roller-coaster: three decades after a catastrophic civil war, the country rebounded with an oil rush only to be followed, in 2014, by a crash with the collapse of oil prices. In 2013, Jasse began making photographs in Luanda, tracing how architecture, as curator Marta Jecu puts it, “is a container of time.” Working in a variety of analog formats, Jasse photographed Luanda’s colonial relics, its modernist architecture, and its new “international corporate style”—buildings constructed in the era of rapid globalization—which together create a palimpsest of streetscapes and memories. Jasse’s images of Luanda, he says, “point to the past” while also alluding to “a utopian architectural future for one of the fastest-expanding African cities.”
Lygos, Byzantium, Constantinople, and now Istanbul—for three millennia, Turkey’s iconic metropolis, once the largest in the Western world, has been the capital of an empire and a bridge between worlds. In 2015, ninety-two years after the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Lilly Lulay created a moving “collage” while at a residency in Istanbul. She gathered images ranging from iPhone snapshots, to black-and- white analog prints, to slides from the 1970s. She reproduced the images at postcard size and made cutouts and interlayered prints. Some viewpoints are unique, she notes, whereas others are just the stereotypes of the city, repeated across time and throughout individual albums. Lulay’s resulting video, Istanbul, up and down, traverses the city’s streets and is attuned to a spirit of change, architectural mashup, and constant movement as scenes from different eras overlap and merge. “Setting the cutouts in motion was a means to reflect this constant process of deconstruction and new construction,” says Lulay. It’s a tribute, a portable museum, a postcard sent to no one in particular and everyone at once.
In the 1960s, emerging from the devastating impact of World War II on Japanese cities, a group of architects began to develop a visionary movement called “Metabolism.” Based on the idea of growth and regeneration of organisms, the manifesto “METABOLISM/1960–Proposals for a New Urbanism” became a signal text of postwar urban design in Japan, with its dynamic master plans and prefabricated housing. Since 2010, Noritaka Minami has photographed the Nakagin Capsule Tower, a thirteen-story tower designed by Kisho Kurowawa and comprised of “removable” cubes, each one only 107 square feet. Built in only thirty days in 1972, the tower became the most prominent of the Metabolist structures, at first a symbol of progressive design, but years later a retro-futuristic relic. Some capsules retain their original furnishings, whereas others are uninhabitable; after Kurokawa’s death in 2007, residents voted to demolish the building. Minami’s images describe the irony of individuality under a once-optimistic regime of structure. “The building is a reminder of a future that was never realized in society at large and exists as an architectural anachronism within the city,” Minami says. “Despite Kurokawa’s plan to mass-produce the capsules, this structure became one of a kind in the world.”
Known for its sweeping views and golden beaches, Rio de Janeiro has in recent years been beset by recession and political upheaval, and an uptick in narcotics-related violence and police killings. Alice Quaresma, in attempting to process her relationship to her homeland, culls black– and-white photographs of downtown Rio de Janeiro from her personal archive, and paints shapes, often in primary colors, on top of them, thereby transforming the city’s architecture. Tempo, Portuguese for “time” and the title of Quaresma’s series, invokes the relationship between past and future. “The geometry hides the past, the old Brazil, opening a gate for new possibilities and new horizons,” says Quaresma, whose use of bright hues brings to mind similar interventions by the late painter Ellsworth Kelly. “The bold colors come to provoke action and attitude.”
Dyckman Street divides the upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Inwood. Named for the Dutch farmer William Dyckman, the street is also the byway between Fort Tyron Park and Inwood Hill Park, enclaves in the city that form the backdrop for Adam Pape’s photographs in his series, Dyckman Haze. “The park is the city’s subconscious, where its citizens can indulge in the desires and urges not meant for the public streets,” says Pape. This land was once occupied by Native American tribes, and Pape notes that his title “juxtaposes the colonial past with contemporary intoxication”—“haze” is a state of mind and a potent strain of marijuana famous in the Heights. Like the artificiality of natural spaces in the city, Pape’s black-and-white images stage a theatrical view of everyday “performances and private rituals.” His dramatic, glassy lighting transforms the banal gestures of smoking, sitting, kissing, sleeping—even the ominous lurking of a skunk—into dream states. As a series, Pape says, Dyckman Haze is like a fable about the precarious public spaces in cities today and the impulsive thrills of the night.
Locarno, Switzerland, a town at the northern tip of Lake Maggiore, boasts pristine views and a balmy climate, where palm trees grow at the foot of the Alps. Carlo Rusca—who grew up there, and after some time away, moved back in 2016— presents a more complicated vision. Turistica is “a visual journey dedicated to all the small tourist destinations and to their lonely citizens,” says Rusca. His silvery photographs show darkness, nighttime, fog, and a noirish mist. In one, sheep crowd into a paddock, and a truck with a ramp looms ominously in the background. In another, two figures float on a sidewalk grate that disappears into fog. Through Rusca’s use of black and white, his images withhold the lushness of Locarno’s landscape; there are no sapphire lakes or royal– blue mountains. Instead, he portrays modern apartment buildings, lit by streetlamps, where the only sign of life is two dimly glowing windows. As Rusca says, “I always felt my nights in Locarno monochromatic. I’m still searching for my colors.”
“In a city as dictated by car culture as Los Angeles, there is no way of escaping the billboards, window vinyl, flashing signs on top of cars in traffic, whole painted sides of buildings, and advertisements in all shapes and sizes that flash by as you drive around,” says Josh Schaedel. As Thom Andersen argues in his 2003 film Los Angeles Plays Itself, which compares the real- life city to the way it’s portrayed in cinema, LA is a city built on its own mythologies—and on its images. Schaedel’s series, It’s Almost Not Worth Talking About, interrogates the validity of making new images of LA. Looking for the in-between, the unexpected, or the overlooked, he hopes to break the spell cast by the self-conscious staging of events and experiences for instant broadcast on social media. “I try to flatten the space and time that separate the fabricated realities of the constantly shifting representations found in advertisement, from real experience,” Schaedel says. “I want to create a space where the banal feels surreal.”
Since 2010, Michele Sibiloni has lived in Kampala, where he has made photographic projects about night guards in the Ugandan capital, as well as about Kabalagala, a neighborhood known for its raucous nightlife. While making the photographs in Nsenene Republic, his latest series, Sibiloni became captivated by the world of the nsenene, or grasshoppers—a delicacy, basis of income, and potential food resource for the future. Twice a year, after the rainy season, grasshoppers migrate en masse, and each night people stay up late to gather and sell them. “The ubiquitous presence of the grasshoppers, the overall green shade dispersed by the night mist, and the smoke of bonfires create an otherworldly scenario, enhanced by the oddness of the hunting techniques and self-made equipment,” Sibiloni says of these pictures, made in Kampala and the city of Masaka. The hunting of grasshoppers is located “on a very precarious edge between past and future, tradition and innovation, and can shed some light on Ugandan identity as well as on new prospects for the whole planet.”
In her practice, Chanell Stone explores the “re-naturing of the Black body in the American landscape.” Stone’s self-portraits and environmental studies—made in Los Angeles, Oakland, and New York, locations where she has lived—seek to reconnect Black subjects in inner-city environments with what she calls “urbanized nature.” Scenes that appear like verdant, rural landscapes in Natura Negra I are actually tenements in Oakland. The seemingly archetypal high-rise buildings in Natura Negra II are from MacArthur Park in Los Angeles and Chelsea in Manhattan. “I was motivated by a sense of ownership and reclamation of these structures, no matter how monolithic they are in American society,” Stone says. “I am invested in showing the beauty of these environments and the Black presence within them.” By collaging Mylar prints and fragmented impressions, Stone also comments on the interlayering of urban experience and guides the viewer to what is seen and unseen. The collages float from their backgrounds in order to “call to the liberation of these environments from their restrictive settings” and to reclaim spaces of imagination and memory against waves of gentrification. As Stone says, “I create dialogues around these themes in my work to create space for the Black body in the canon of photography.”
“I had to make something happen there,” Leonard Suryajaya says of the apartment lobby in Medan, Indonesia, where he made the riotous tableau Arisan. Visiting his home city after the 2016 US presidential election, and noticing elaborate Chinese New Year decorations everywhere, he invited a group of subjects to pose in traditional Indonesian costumes in response to the Women’s March in Washington, DC. “I strive to show solidarity and the many different possibilities of rendering femininity, while also defying the rigid traditional views of what’s feminine,” Suryajaya says, noting that the title refers to a type of microloan in Indonesia. Suryajaya, who moved to the US at the age of eighteen as a queer immigrant in a same-sex marriage, uses photography to test definitions of family, community, and selfhood. Whereas Arisan rises to Kabuki-level theatrics, in Good Neighbors, Suryajaya employs spectacular textiles and masquerade to describe an undercurrent of racial tension during a residency for artists of color in Woodstock, New York. The subjects, including Suryajaya himself and his partner, Peter, riff on cultural stereotypes, including the fad for Asian beauty products such an “expensive pacifier” that’s like a “face workout.” Good Neighbors, he says, with its offering of flowers, is a way to say, “Hi, guys. We come in peace.”
In the 1970s and ’80s, turning away from the increasingly white-dominated drag balls that were once part of a multiracial, queer demimonde in New York City, black and Latinx performers began to organize ballroom houses and dance subcultures of their own. Based on traditional family structures, but fiercely competitive, houses would go head- to-head in “voguing” balls, where performers “walk” in categories such as Town and Country, High-Fashion Evening Wear, and Executive Realness. The phenomenon was introduced to mainstream audiences through Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning and more recently by the television series Pose, which is set in the 1980s and centers the stories of trans and queer people of color as gender pioneers two decades before the contemporary visibility of trans politics. In 2018, Dustin Thierry began to track how the ballroom voguing scene has expanded to Amsterdam, Berlin, Milan, and Paris in his series, Opulence. Although LGBTQ+ activists have successfully fought for equality in cities and countries around the world, Thierry notes that homosexuality is still strongly stigmatized within the Caribbean community, and Caribbean people are often objectified in places as seemingly open-minded as Amsterdam. Opulence, for Thierry, is therefore a “living archive of feelings,” a testimony to the energy of queer life, and an international connection to the spectacular presence, beauty, and diversity of the African diaspora.
“Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering,” the poet Claudia Rankine wrote in 2015, “there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed simply for being black.” Rankine’s searing essay appeared in the New York Times Magazine only days after the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine African Americans. But her words about mourning as a “condition” of black life in the United States continue to resound for the photographer Bryan Thomas, a Florida native who, in the aftermath of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, began to wonder about grief, personal memorials, and the recognition of African American life and death in the United States. For his series Sunrise/Sunset, Thomas pictures the production and frequent appearance of custom-made T-shirts commemorating individual lives lost to gun violence in Miami. Many say “Sleep in Peace” and mark dates of birth and death with the words “Sunrise” and “Sunset.” Screen-printed with vibrant pictures and worn by family members and friends, the T-shirts become, as Thomas notes, “an act of protest against the ways in which African American lives are often misrepresented and, sometimes, entirely forgotten.”
The rise and fall of Detroit has been treated as a bellwether for politicians and a metaphor for artists, especially since the recession of 2008. But Sally Tosti’s recent photographs of the city and its streetscapes, with their clarity and open-ended, nonjudgmental tone, move away from the spectacle of decay toward an evolving archive-in-the-making that allows buildings, as she says, “to speak volumes about the lives lived in and around them.” Since 2014, Tosti has photographed Detroit, assembling her images into photobooks that become miniature exhibitions. This book, the fourth on Detroit and the latest addition to her ongoing project Distressed Cities of America, examines how redevelopment initiatives attempt to improve the city. Tosti photographed in multiple locations, including Eastern Market, Seven Mile, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. She found abandoned houses, but also colorful murals—signs of life and small gestures that signal a form of commitment to the place. “When I return to a city that I have previously photographed, I look for changes since my last visit,” she says. “By photographing these neighborhoods, I strive to bring attention to their plight and hope this attention will initiate change.
Is every destination now just a backdrop for an Instagram post? The photographs in Shelli Weiler’s series, ENJOY house present escapist amusements as settings for enacting bizarre performances and what she calls “readymade fantasies selling the idea of immersive art experiences.” For these high-gloss images, Weiler photographed dogs and slides, children and balloons, boxers posing for a fight and stairways to nowhere. Lifted was taken at the Museum of Pizza in the William Vale hotel in Brooklyn, as a boy rises into Pizza Heaven—another photo-op. Balloon Wishes, taken inside the Color Factory in SoHo, centers on a girl being scolded for deflating balloons emblazoned with children’s dreams. These made-for-Instagram “selfie factories,” meant both for “influencers” and common citizens (sometimes at a cost upward of $38), act as “film sets devoid of narrative.” Such environments, Weiler says, “codify the semblance of perfection through symbols and mass, and yet remain a sort of semantic desert.” By imposing an illusion of objectivity, Weiler turns the impulse of documentary fact-finding on its head, creating portals for new, perhaps futuristic experiences in the social-media hall of mirrors.
In 2015, while at a residency in the Indian city of Pune, Yana Wernicke was working on two projects centered on women, when she kept hearing about young people moving to India’s film capital. “Mumbai has a magnetic pull on young men and women who are moving there from all over the country to become actors or directors or work in the film industry,” she says. Three years later, she began photographing aspiring actors in Mumbai, mostly women “doing smaller jobs—like regional Marathi TV, commercials, theater, and online productions.” Wernicke collaborates with the actors in their often-spare apartments to allow for a more intimate exchange. As a young woman herself, Wernicke can relate to the challenges they face. “The idea of taking a risk and trying to work in a creative business environment has some strong parallels to the photography world.”
An Art Deco tumbler, adorned with lilies, sits in the corner of green velvet upholstery, perhaps the arm of a plush chair or sofa. Two pale hands grasp each other behind a pinstriped suit. A leather checkbook, complete with an antiquated calculator, lies on a wooden desk next to a gold pen. Each of these photographs speaks to Hal Wilsdon’s reckoning with authority, with traditional ideas of success: the marble lobby, the executive suite. “This ‘path to success’ doesn’t really exist for me, or for a lot of people,” says Wilsdon. “Whether it’s because of their gender, age, race, or class, this hypermasculine power trip of big business is effectively inaccessible.” For these photographs, marked by their clarity and geometric precision, Wilsdon sought out archetypal settings of corporate life: board rooms of major corporations, country clubs, courthouses, and horse-racing tracks. Wilsdon thought she would find lavish design, an alluring world of important people doing important things. But it was just a trove of fool’s gold: “I forced my way in to see what I missed, and there wasn’t much there.”
The 2019 Aperture Summer Open is on view at Aperture Gallery through August 29, 2018.
Delirious Cities is curated by Brendan Embser, managing editor, Aperture magazine; Matthew Leifheit, artist and editor of MATTE magazine; Chiara Bardelli Nonino, photo editor, Vogue Italia and L’Uomo Vogue; Azu Nwagbogu, director of African Artists’ Foundation and LagosPhoto; and Guadalupe Rosales, artist and founder of Veteranas & Rucas and Map Pointz.
Collect works from Aperture’s Summer Open artists today. Proceeds from the sale of prints directly support the participating artists in addition to Aperture’s publications, public programs, and exhibitions. Click here for more information, or contact [email protected].