generational histories

06Jul11

Currently on display at the Tate Modern is Taryn Simon‘s exhibition, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII. Consisting solely of photographs and text descriptions, the exhibition documents 18 family generational histories – each with an intriguing family circumstance. For example, one chapter depicts the family of the body double for Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, while another shows children (identities withheld) of a Ukrainian orphanage. The American-based artist apparently has no geographical limitations, as the histories span all over the world. Space was not an issue in the Tate either; many of the chapters easily stretched across 15-20 ft of the gallery walls. I sensed that my (and other viewers’) patience to read every history all the way through was largely due to Taryn’s presentation in the gallery setting. The underlying grid layout and systematic organization was a stunning foreground to the study of these families – something that invites attention arguably more so the most well-written article. Gagosian Gallery explains: “Simon’s presentation explores the struggle to determine patterns embedded in the narratives she documents.” Indeed, the nature of the presentation does hint that some underlying pattern or arrangement (other than the blood-line) might be present; our efforts to find such pattern draws us into the work even more.


A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters is on display at the Tate Modern up until November 6, 2011. I would recommend this exhibition to everyone, really…though I suppose it caters to anyone with any level of interest in history, anthropology, sociology, photography, or art.

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