What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

November 10, 2022

John Divola
Blue with Exceptions
Louise Alexander Gallery / AF Projects
October 15 - November 30, 2022

John Divola

Since the 1970s, John Divola has traversed Southern California photographing abandoned structures found in the natural landscape, as well as interventions he creates within those structures. He has also worked with appropriated photographs including vintage Hollywood film stills, classifying them by subject — mirrors, hallways, evidence of aggression — and assembling them into large grids. Frequently exhibited series include color photographs from Zuma Beach in the 1970s, where he documented changes he found, as well as created, inside a dilapidated house. In works from the 1990s, such as As Far As I Could Get, he shot black and white photographs that caught him in motion running away from the camera. And, in Dogs Chasing My Car In The Desert he produced a series of grainy black and white photographs depicting dogs chasing his car. More recently, for the series George Air Force Base (2015-2017), he has again documented abandoned buildings, visiting the decommissioned George Air Force Base (GAFB) in Victorville, CA numerous times.

Though the camera is Divola's tool, his work is more conceptually based than traditional photo-documentation. While he does produce photographs that beautifully capture a specific light and time or place, his practice is rooted in the exploration, as well as the creation of an "archive." He states, "I have always considered photographs to be artifacts of a physical, intellectual, technological, and experiential engagement. I have come to consider groups of my photographs produced in this manner as archives, and to consider the archive itself as the core of these projects."

In the exhibition Blue with Exceptions, he presents a grid of small-scale black and white photographs, as well as much larger color works shot on site at George Air Force Base. The focus of the color images is not only the crumbling walls and spray painted, windowless interiors, but more poetically how the combination of light falling on both the ruins and Divola's painted interventions intermingle to form beautiful abstract shapes that relate to colorfield painting. These layered images have sight lines that move from irregular and hastily spray painted shapes on walls in the foreground to views beyond, whether down hallways into other rooms or through glassless window panes to trees and other houses outside. In the diptych Blue with Exceptions 1-6-2020, Divola juxtaposes two photographs of long vertical holes in walls, one tinted blue, the other a pinkish-red. Interior walls with spray painted dripping circles, double the size of light switches, are framed through these jagged gashes. There is an uncanny beauty in Divola's depictions of decay.

Contrasting these vivid color photographs is Enso: 36 Right-Handed Circumference Gestures (2018), a grid of thirty-six (8 x 10 inch) black and white contact prints each containing a large black spray painted circle that marks the circumference of Divola's right arm. Divola speaks of these painted gestures as a trace of his physical being, as well as an index of a place and time. Shot on multiple early morning visits to GAFB between June 7th and August 12th, 2018 in different structures on the site, these images document Divola's intervention, while simultaneously highlighting differing degrees of deterioration. Each imprecisely hand-sprayed circle is centered in the frame of the photograph, separating the composition into two distinct parts — what is contained within and what appears outside this shape.

While the photographs are shot straight on from a similar vantage point and arranged chronologically on the wall, they call attention to sameness and difference. The actual shape of the circle and the conditions of the surrounding walls, as well as the way the morning light illuminates the space, calls attention to the uniqueness of each image. In many instances, Divola encircles a section of torn wall with views into another space within, or even outside the building, as if highlighting the location of the wound. Sometimes his circle frames other circles to create a playful pattern.

Seen together, the thirty-six photographs in Enso: 36 Right-Handed Circumference Gestures reference the minimalist grid, graffiti-like repetitive mark making, action based performance and process art. Collectively, they are also a visual archive of the vandalism (includinghis own) that occurred at GAFB. Like much of Divola's other works, Enso: 36 Right-Handed Circumference Gestures and the other photographs in Blue with Exceptions are ultimately about how photography encapsulates history and time, how it records change and what it means to mark a place by leaving a trace.