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Art review: Graciela Iturbide at Rose

August 6, 2010 |  9:14 am

300.iturbide_23_defunctcloc Graciela Iturbide’s new book of photographs, “Asor,” contains no descriptive or interpretive text. Its 100 black and white images are accompanied by a CD of electroacoustic compositions by the artist’s son, Manuel Rocha Iturbide. The combination is telling, and it makes for a beautiful sort of parallel play. Both the photographs and the music have one foot in this world, drawing upon partially recognizable sights and sounds, and one foot elsewhere, not on the solid ground of material reality but in the vast, amorphous, sensory space that constitutes the rest of lived experience.

A selection of 40 pictures from “Asor,” now at Rose, doesn’t benefit from the book’s score or sequencing but stands well on its own as a stirring collection of loosely related visual moments. Unlike much of Iturbide’s work over the last 30 years, made in her native Mexico and around the world, people are scarce in these images. The only ones seen directly (rather than in shadow or by implication) are three small children on a dirt path in the wilderness. Viewed from behind, the children become our surrogates for the journey these pictures represent — an open-ended exploration, steeped in the wonder of fresh eyes.

300.turbide_69_coveredpalms Many of the images are akin to those remembered from a dream, clearly defined but disconnected from the logic of a cohesive narrative, or even any kind of internal logic: an ostrich stands, somewhat confrontationally, in a parking lot; a large, constructed crescent moon rests on a scrubby field at the edge of a town; a pair of signs, each shaped like a giant hand, comes together at the fingers as if to clap, pray or point.

Like Gulliver or Alice, we encounter strange distortions of scale. Two giant statuary heads dwarf a Jeep parked beside them. We come across ruins, and structures not yet completed but abandoned. Discontinuity and concealment, strategies of surrealism that Iturbide absorbed from her mentor, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, prevail and lend the whole a sense of the oblique and elusive. A girl in a white dress pauses among leafless bushes, covering her face with a hand-held paper mask. A doll placed on a bed assumes an odd, ominous presence — as if a captive or a patient — seen through a gauzy veil. The tops of two prickly-trunked trees are wrapped in black cloth like the heads of hostages; they seem to be trying to squirm out of their predicament.

Certain images are complete poems in themselves, like the view up a tree trunk hung with several clocks, all missing one or both of their hands. Some are simply stunning beauties, such as the first picture in the door, of a cloudy sky speckled with birds. The densities of the atmosphere and the flock reinforce one another, as if the birds are darkening the cloud, or mutate into each other, the cloud splitting apart into a flurry of black flakes.
 
The photographs, gathered (according to the press material) from Iturbide’s personal archive, are undated and untitled. They conjure time’s passage, the generation and recall of memories, perhaps even a bit of wistfulness or melancholy. When and where they were made matters less than the slight dislocation they invoke. Joined synergistically, these fragments resonate with the rich mystery of the real. Their audible counterpart is a mesmerizing weave of murmured voices, lowing chants, distant bells, the buzzing of insects and electronics, the rising and falling hum of everything.

-- Leah Ollman

RoseGallery, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 264-8440, through Sept. 18. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.rosegallery.net

Images: They are both untitled, from Graciela Iturbide's series "Asor." Courtesy of Rose Gallery.

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