In Place of an Index
Presented in conjunction with the 2021 Texas Biennial
September 2–November 13, 2021
Regina Agu, Travis Boyer, Tay Butler, Stephanie Concepcion Ramirez, Ja’Tovia Gary, Ryan Hawk, Autumn Knight, Baseera Khan, Annette Lawrence, Adam Marnie and Aura Rosenberg, Kara Springer
The maintenance of a dominant political and social ideology over time relies on a repeated performance of historical erasure and legitimization by those in power: who mark time as objective reality, who define the boundaries of the social imaginary, who construct a definitive narrative. The past decade has seen a tremendous rise in global debates over civic monuments, histories of oppression levied on BIPOC communities, and conversations surrounding the public archives of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that have become the depositories of evidence for both the oppressed and the empowered. These conversations arise as a moment of cultural reckoning over social and political ideologies undergo essential reimagining due to continued exclusionary practices. Artists, theorists, activists, and empowered communities around the globe have debated ways to intervene in and resist hegemonic efforts by questioning the institutions and apparatuses that perpetuate autocratic narrative histories as a method of directing the future.
In Place of an Index, highlights the work of Texas born and based artists whose practices engage the fungibility of these political and social imaginaries. The exhibition focuses on contemporary strategies of addressing historical narratives from a position of potentiality. Rather than construct or add to a timeline, archive, or index of history and experience, the included artists situate personal and political narratives outside of fixed contexts. Their work suggests that historical narratives are fluid, and can be revisited, rewritten, and reimagined.
The conceptual core of In Place of an Index is a refusal to acknowledge historical conclusions and order. Instead, this exhibition examines artist practices that address historical documentation and narrativization from the perspective of what writer Ariella Aïsha Azoulay calls “potential history” that is, “[the] effort to make history impossible and to engage with the world from a non-progressive approach, to engage with the outcome of imperial violence as if it is taking place here and now.” The title, In Place of an Index, is a response to Azoulay’s notion of potentiality, suggesting an alternative to an index of time, space, and experience that exists in relation to a hegemonic apparatus. To envision potentiality through photography is to withhold data, to forfeit the position of the knowing subject, to resist the temptation to create a system of relations between the cannon, history, and the present, and to reject the notion of neutrality in relation to camera shutters, archives, and historical repositories. Employing disparate methods, each of the featured artists in this exhibition engage in the construction of potential histories through an interrogation of the production of images as they appear in and relate to contemporary media and culture, archives, and colonial institutions.
Artists Travis Boyer, Tay Butler, Autumn Knight, and Ja’Tovia Gary mine mass media/pop-cultural archives, creating collages of text, speech, and image to highlight the ways historical potentiality requires reimagining the past as an ever-evolving subjective document that relies on the agency of the recorded subjects. Annette Lawrence, Adam Marnie and Aura Rosenberg, and Kara Springer examine the routine of marking time from the perspective of the personal narrative: revealing the fragmentary nature of historical time through meditations on fluid forms of recollection such as memory and personal experience. Regina Agu and Ryan Hawk interrogate forms of technological translation in mass/social media such as rhetorical semantics in meme and tattoo culture, image to text services, and algorithmically dependent archives to demonstrate how historical context incorrectly assumes an accurate and unbiased reading of the present. Together, these artists refuse the notion of a dead past; they insist that the past is present and evolving.
In Place of an Index features several new artworks and commissioned projects by the featured artists, including new works by Regina Agu, Travis Boyer, Baseera Khan, Autumn Knight and commissioned projects by Tay Butler, Ryan Hawk, and Adam Marnie and Aura Rosenberg. Artists Stephanie Concepcion Ramirez and Annette Lawrence have adapted their included works as site-specific installations, while the exhibition also marks the Texas-premiere of Ja’Tovia Gary’s landmark film installation The Giverny Suite (2019).
In Place of an Index is curated by Max Fields with Ryan Dennis and Evan Garza and is the eighth and latest in a series of FotoFest exhibitions focused on Texas artists and photographers.
Azoulay, Ariella Aïsha, Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 312.