On a typically snowy January morning in Vienna, I visited the famed Secession to see an exhibition by New York–based artist Liz Deschenes. For many years her work has articulated a materialist stance; rather than taking pictures of things in the world, Deschenes usually works sans camera, turning to the inner life of photography and proposing discursive questions about its philosophical, scientific, and experimental possibilities. Deschenes has recently called her approach “stereographic,” a term originally coined in the 1850s for two nearly identical prints that are paired and viewed through a stereoscope to produce a 3-D illusion of a single image. Deschenes employs this operation of doubling and dividing to give the viewer a chance to actively participate in her work, and it also places an emphasis on the constantly changing nature of her recent photographs.
As soon as I stripped off my coat and sweater at the museum, I learned that I needed to exit, since Deschenes had chosen a rarely used side door outside the building as the entrance to her show. Bringing my attention even more crisply to the Secession’s unique architecture, this unusual parcours led to a so-called “viewfinder,” a small empty hallway before two other rooms that (stereographically) forked to the left and right. Inside these chambers Deschenes had installed a series of moonlight-exposed photograms—Stereograph #1–#16, 2012—long and lean silver-toned planks, which she coupled to form four sets in each room. The energetic spaces formed within these brackets reframed and isolated—as one does when taking a picture—the spaces, and they offered an atmosphere for contemplation and concentration. In turn, the photograms themselves were still developing—oxidizing in situ and already bearing the traces of their time spent in the Secession’s lower gallery. Read More