Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Andres Serrano – The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Posted in Reviews by mingjiuntsai on March 13, 2009

Photography captures a certain moment in movements, records a specific image of events, people or scenery, and provides a frame of exposing precise emphasis. In Andres Serrano’s solo exhibition ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ at Yvon Lambert in London, the early series The Morgue (1992) particularly creates a profound impression in relation to both the aspect of photography and this exhibition.

Different from people staging or objects in other Serrano’s works, the subjects in The Morgue have an ambiguous definition. How do we see corpses? What is in the photographer’s mind when taking the photograph for each corpse? We call the corpse ‘it’ in English, but somehow, there is no way for the viewer to appreciate the image as an object as seeing Serrano’s splendid Shit (2008). They were people. The close-up shooting of faces, figures, fingers, ear, feet and genitals of bodies reduces the sensation of life in this image that one encounters. The viewer is attracted and moves closer and closer to the image. There is a power in the photograph that catches your whole attention to every detail on the body. You might want to move your eyes away, but you can’t. The breathless sensation occupies you, due to realizing that those objects of these amazing images were people just like you. The bizarre reaction takes places one by one from your face to feet while looking at those body parts of a human in the photograph.

From Barthes’ point of view in Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (1980), photography transforms the subject in the image into an object, especially the portrait photography. The distance that photography provides the viewer makes the reality becomes ambiguous and de-familiarizes the familiar. In The Morgue, the close-up shooting in a way leads the subject into an object more easily and blurs the sense of a corpse as a dead human as a whole. This is exactly the reason that the viewer being attracted and approaching to the works. However, it is also what reverses the image from the object to a subject. The unfamiliar sensation becomes familiar as soon as the viewer relies the death of the subject. The paths of one’s reception and the reaction towards the image move gradually from visual, mental to physical and then go back from physical, mental to visual, which eventually drive your eyes away. At this moment, the object is already turns into a subject, and the unfamiliar becomes familiar.

The solo show exhibits Serrano’s photographs dealing with the concern of religious, taboos, violence and sex. However, The Morgue plays an important and irreplaceable role in it, for death is the issue which relates to everyone and always is the most difficult task that one learns during the whole lifetime. The objects wouldn’t become the most unbearable lightness of being unless they turn into the subjects and punches on your heart.


Andres Serrano – The Unbearable Lightness of Being

February 03 – March 28, 2009

Yvon Lambert, London


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