John Divola

LACMA Wanderings: Time Crunch Edition

I'm sure it isn't hard to believe that one of the first things I wanted to do upon my return to LA was visit LACMA again. Luckily, a friend from college had come up from UC Riverside to the A+D Museum right next door. We agreed to meet for lunch at the food trucks that hang around that area.
As Far as I Could Get, John Divola, 1996 Image Courtesy of LACMA Website
I'm sure it isn't hard to believe I took way too long to get ready, and by the time I got to LACMA I had half an hour before I had to meet her for lunch, then go on to see a play in West LA. Instead of speeding through the entire museum, as I am wont to do, I limited myself to a single gallery of my choosing.
I'm sure it isn't hard to believe I was walking in the direction of the Modern Art wing when an exhibit at the rotating gallery caught my eye. The featured artist was John Divola, a professor at UCR with a focus in photography. Since my friend interned and now works at the California Museum of Photography in Riverside, I decided this was fate and entered a gallery filled with different photographic series.
One was called As Far as I Could Get, where Divola set up his camera on a delay and ran away from the camera as far as he could before the shutter opened. The resulting photographs show the his back as a miniscule part of a pre-set frame that would have been beautiful photos without the person in them. The figure in the photo emphasize the presence of an artist, an artist not content to sit behind the scenes, yearning to push the boundaries of conventional art, his location, and his body.
Untitled, John Divola, 1995 Image courtesy of LACMA Website
Another series called Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit consisted of found photos from the Keystone-Mast collection at the Photography Museum in Riverside. Divola re-printed select photos with burned-out circles around animals in the pictures, ferreting out hidden beings from photos meant as observational tools. Just the few small animals Divola found and emphasized call to mind other hidden elements that could be present. How many other animals are tucked into photos of forests? Even in images taken from the land and hung sterile in a gallery the mystery of the natural world is inescapable. Divola points this out to us in a form we may understand.
Rabbit, John Divola, 1987 Image Courtesy of LACMA Website
Artificial Nature showed documentation photos from old film sets, a variety of goregeous landscapes. Some look stunningly real, some fake and cheap, others with clapperboards or props belying the illusion of nature. This series united the gallery in the message of inadequacies in "the human impulse to dominate nature by creating surrogates for it." As Far as I Could Get and Seven Songbirds and a Rabbit show the necessity of these surrogates, how the natural world will always subvert human attempts to capture it. The last series shows photographs of sculptures Divola created to look like elements of nature, but crudely and loosely.
The introduction to the exhibit (quoted in the earlier paragraph, written by LACMA staff) was thought-provoking and enlightening. Divola presented all different levels of nature imitation, contradictions between them creating a message of inadequacy, yet one vague and ambiguous enough to be open for interpretation. An older man with a group of friends was circling the space, explaining the photographic process to his friends. It evoked an atmosphere of scholarship and thought, and I found myself very pleased to stay in that gallery for the entirety of the time I had (except for the obligatory walk out through the Rodin sculpture garden).