Wednesday, June 29

Related looks in search of an identity | Babelia

In February 2020, a month before covid-19 stopped the world, photographer, writer and filmmaker Moyra Davey (Toronto, Canada, 63 years old) showed her work at the Buchholz gallery in Berlin. His photographs hung on the walls next to those of one of the great paradigms of New York bohemia, Peter Hujar, (New Jersey, 1934-New York, 1987). Although fame and fortune eluded the enigmatic creator during his short but intense life (he died at age 53 in poverty, a victim of pneumonia derived from AIDS), his legacy would be forever intertwined with the portrait of the scene. creative of underground from the seventies and eighties.

'Paul's legs', 1979.

PHOTO GALLERY: Mora Davey and Peter Hujar

Hujar’s recognition was slow in coming. It was not until 2011, after the inclusion of his work in the exhibition Night Vision: Photography After Dark, organized by the Metropolitan Museum, when his work and his tragic figure began to attract the attention of agents in the art market. Today he is an icon at the height of Nan Goldin and Mapplethorpe, Hujar had been photographing his artist friends and lovers for more than a decade, wandering through the sordid stages of the downtown, when Mapplethrorpe took the camera for the first time, and even from Diane Arbus, who, as Davey pointed out, in the text introducing the exhibition, came to “snub him, partly because he thought his work derived from his, and hurt him” .

Among those artists of another generation for whom this artist’s work has been a continual source of inspiration is Davey. “I discovered her work in 1989, while discovering that of her lover, David Wanorowick. My response was immediate. A deep fascination for both emerged. I have been thinking about them for decades, “says the author in a talk organized by the MACK publishing house via videoconference. The British firm has just published the book The Shabbiness of Beauty, in which, as in the exhibition held in Berlin, the Canadian artist maintains a visual dialogue with the American photographer. When Davey was invited to curate the project, she considered it “a risky act, but it was an invitation that I couldn’t resist,” she confesses. They both used the same medium format camera, and many of the images the photographer took in the 1980s were not only black and white, but allowed for a link through their subjects. The photographer visited the Hujar archive kept in Queens. “As I went through the thousands of copies, Stephen Koch, the collection manager, told me stories and anecdotes about the artist,” recalls the author. They both agreed to make use of some of the photographer’s lesser-known images. “I was amazed by Hujar’s personality, especially because of the attitude he adopted towards the art world. He shunned self-hatred. When I traveled to Calcutta I heard about the renunciates; those who at one stage of life renounce everything and live on charity. It is a term that would be applied to Hujar. He was a renouncer of the fruit of fame ”.

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A) Yes, The Shabinnes of Beauty it constitutes a beautiful dialogue between two artists of different generation through time. An intimate conversation that tells us about the importance of references when building an artistic work. How we forge our identity through idolatry and imitation. Some of Davey’s images are imitations of the ill-fated icon, in which two sensibilities overlap, creating a harmony that manages to withstand comparisons. “He wanted to emulate Hujar, learn from him, devour him, regurgitate him … something that he had already done with Jean Genet. But with Hujar I was dominated by a true fascination “, says the artist. “My goal was to get as close as possible to his work, but without copying it. How to achieve it? It was about learning from someone and understanding their behavior. Virginia Woolf always said that one way to understand a novel is to try to access it by copying the same literary style ”. Similarly, the also artist and writer Gregg Bordowitz, maintains during the talk: “The sole author does not exist. We all work together ”.

'Nina Christgau', 1985.
‘Nina Christgau’, 1985.PETER HUJAR

The images of the authors are interspersed throughout the pages of this exquisite publication, without titles or signatures. On the final sheets, two listings reveal the authorship of each image. Animals, water, body parts, New York City, children and portraits, themes with which Hujar shaped his artistic corpus, find their echo in Davey’s. “I had no idea that MACK was going to do without the name of the authors in the book,” says the photographer. “In the exhibition Hujar’s photographs were exhibited framed, while mine hung simply protected by a glass, that way it was clear to whom each one belonged. On the other hand, in the book, and I am not trying to be humble, it is impossible for me to believe that there is someone who cannot differentiate them ”. Something that is really difficult in some images. “It was not my intention, given the esteem that his work deserves. I honestly didn’t really know what to expect when putting the works together. I was afraid that everything was so confusing that it would result in public humiliation, “he adds. “When writing, one allows quotes and allusions, in a way that could not be translated when composing an image. The way of absorbing, adjusting and at the same time doing something different, that belongs to oneself, is more direct with the images, but at the same time more difficult. With writing, due to the layers that it implies, one can be more explicit about the meaning and its intentions ”.

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Davey’s dogs are as surprisingly brooding as the American author’s. Hujar dignified animals by giving them the same attention he gave to humans, and without trying to humanize them. “They are both mysterious, indiscriminately, like organisms,” noted photographer and writer Max Kozloff. “Animals don’t sit still, except for Hujar,” Davey notes. His fondness for the animal world came from his childhood years. From the days he lived on a farm in the company of his Polish grandparents. His mother worked as a waitress in New York. Drunk, she was abandoned by her former father while pregnant, a smuggler. The artist’s empathy for the underprivileged of society came from his earliest experiences.

The book includes a text by the writer Eileen Myles, a reference to the eighties counterculture and LGTBQ activism. Myles admits during the talk that to write the text, he literally spent days living with the images, hanging in his study and on top of his bed. How to animate them through writing? Translate them from one medium to another? He wondered. While suggesting the idea of ​​the underlying ekphrase in the publication. “Something that distinguishes photography is that life and loss coexist in it simultaneously”, emphasizes the writer. “Each image becomes a relic in itself, a piece where time has been frozen. In a surprisingly devotional piece ”. Thus, his text alludes to the inevitable disappearance of those moments of splendor and beauty that will never return. “In some way, the absolute portrait of our time is the abstract sum total of consciousness of all the creatures with whom we live in it.”

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The publication includes the reproduction of a letter that Hujar wrote to Wojnarowicz with the arrival of 1984: “The TV tells me that it is the coldest December in history. It’s cold outside. Did you buy a good coat? […] I hope you are happy and healthy and your feet warm. If you kiss a frog, will it turn into a princess? “

The Shabbiness of Beauty, Moyra Davey & Peter Hujar‘ . Mack Books. 128 pages. 41 euros.

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