Far From Paradise

Originally, we humans are really all alike and should be living in harmony with nature, but civilization has led us down another path. Bias, discrimination and violence make us turn inward, make us fragile.

Two strategies for coping with reality

As curator of the exhibition “Snapshots of a Generation,” Tina Wentrup invited six photographers of diverse backgrounds to look for an answer to the woes of the contemporary individual. Two strategies for coping with reality emerged for her: the political and the escapist.

In other words: You can either practice social criticism and seek an appropriate confrontation with reality or you can run away from reality, which is often the easier response.

Wentrup puts Mohamed Bourouissa’s photographs in the first camp. They explore moments of violence and escalation in the French banlieues. Zanele Muholi draws attention to discrimination against lesbians in South Africa by ironically contextualising her body in stylized beauty pageants. 

Anna Gaskell belongs in the second camp. She immerses the viewer in a dream-like children’s world. Hannah Starkey’s photographs depict women in self-reflexive seclusion. Ryan McGinley can be put in this group as well. He returns his human subjects to their primal nakedness and affinity with nature – back to paradise, as it were.

The allusion to the endangerment and vulnerability of the individual comes across most clearly in Angela Strassheim’s self-portrait. In it she is displayed nude in an open, exposed trailer with a bullet-ridden windowpane. Paradoxically the space seems both unprotected and safe, an almost sacred refuge.

Angela Strassheim selfportrait
Photo: Angela Strassheim, “Untitled” (Self Portrait on the Bus), 2006, Courtesy of Gallery Wentrup

Which strategy to choose?

It may be no coincidence that there are more examples of the escapist method than of the political one. Although it might cause fewer conflicts, is it a more effective choice? Our task is probably to find a healthy mix between withdrawal and action. Ultimately, this is always a subjective decision.

What’s also subjective – and particularly small – is the selection of works and artists in this exhibition. They can’t speak for an entire generation, of course, but they definitely succeed in capturing a part of the predicament of the contemporary individual. And in the end it’s like this: Whatever we decide – whether to act or to withdraw – this exhibition gives us the feeling that we’re not alone in this.

Maybe paradise really isn’t so far away.

  • Galerie Wentrup, “Snapshots of a Generation”, 18 November – 30 December 2011, Tuesday – Saturday 11 – 6 pm.

Works by: Mohamed BourouissaAnna GaskellRyan McGinley,  Zanele MuholiHannah StarkeyAngela Strassheim.