What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

May 6, 2021

Ken Marchionno / Amir Zaki / Eileen Cowin / Golden Hour
Museum of Art & History Lancaster, CA
January 23 – May 9, 2021

Amir Zaki / Eileen Cowin / Ken Marchionno

Ken Marchionno
300-Miles to Wounded Knee: The Oomaka Tokatakiya, Future Generations Ride

Amir Zaki
Empty Vessel Excerpts

Eileen Cowin
What it takes to survive a crisis or the imaginary Richter scale of rage

Golden Hour
Images from the Museum of Art & History's permanent collection

Golden Hour
California Photography from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Photographic images of all kinds now fill the Museum of Art & History (MOAH) in Lancaster, CA. While many of the spaces at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) have been demolished for the new construction, it is fortunate that MOAH opened its space for the presentation of works from LACMA's vast collection. The exhibition, Golden Hour, includes works by more than seventy artists who explore myriad aspects of California, be it the cityscape, landscape, its history or imagined future. Traditional black and white images are juxtaposed with large-scale digital prints in vivid colors. The exhibition spans genres and materials to give viewers an insightful introduction into a wide range of photographic practices. Highlights include Laura Aguliar's Three Eagles Flying (1990), Andrew Freeman's Zegwaard Hall, Saint Vivian Catholic Church, Independence, California and Boy Scout Building, Bishop, California (2005) from his Manzanar Architecture Double Series as well as Edward Weston's Wrecked Car, Crescent Beach, 1939. 

Supplementing the exhibit of LACMA photographs is a small show of works from the MOAH's permanent collection that includes works by Naida Osline, Thomas McGovern, Osceola Refetof, Darryl Curran, Sheila Pinkel and Nancy Webber among others. While the works from LACMA begin to tell a story of one type of photography in California, the works from MOAH illustrate a wealth of different more experimental approaches.

These two survey shows are complemented by three solo shows. Amir Zaki, presents excerpts from his Empty Vessel series. In these images Zaki photographs empty skate parks to emphasize the monumentality of their architecture. Using GigaPan technology Zaki composites thousands of photographs together to create a seamless final scene. The pictures seem "real," yet simultaneously slightly off and unbelievable. In Concrete Vessel 63, Concrete Vessel 89 and Concrete Vessel 53, the concrete architecture appears sculptural. Zaki lets the form undulate allowing the shadows to highlight the discrepancies between shapes. These photographs are juxtaposed with close cropped images of broken pottery— comparing and contrasting the monumental with table-top-sized objects. Also on display is an artist's book Zaki created to accompany this intriguing body of work.

Eileen Cowin tries to make sense of the pandemic in her new work, What it takes to survive a crisis or the imaginary Richter scale of rage, (2020). Her exhibit opens with Time of Useful Consciousness (2014/2020) a photograph of a startled young deer in an urban alleyway at night. Lost perhaps, and definitely out of context. This picture encapsulates how many of us have felt during the last year and in a grid of small images entitled You Good? printed on paper and tacked to the wall, Cowin explores the different ways pandemic isolation has affected her. The grid, which reads like the pages of a book, includes images of masks and hand washing, newspaper headlines and TV news reports in addition to images from television series like Law and Order. Cowin documents the surroundings of her bedroom/office, the books she has read as well as images of spaces that reflect the changing light. Images of loss and longing pervade. She even includes a photograph of a half filled glass of water, which begs the question is the glass half full or half empty— a metaphor for the time spent in isolation, as well as the uncertainty of the times to come. This intimate work gets under your skin as it documents our new reality. Also on view is the short video A Sudden Sense of Dislocation, a fragmented trajectory of an undocumented family living in a trailer at the edge if a wooded area. The video expresses a mother's love for her son and the challenges and uncertainties of border crossings.

From 2004 - 2009, Ken Marchionno participated in a 300 mile horse ride that takes place every December in North and South Dakota. Run by the Lakota Indians the journey begins at the site of Sitting Bull's death and ends at the site of the Wounded Knee massacre. During this yearly journey that takes place every December, Marchionno not only documented the trip, but became part of the ride's extended family. The exhibition, 300 Miles to Wounded Knee: The Oomaka Tokatakiya, Future Generations Ride occupies the main gallery space at MOAH, filling it with photographs and video presenting different aspects of the ride, as well as the people Marchionno encountered. For the artist, it was important not be treated as a tourist or outsider as he rode with the Lakota on this symbolic journey. While at first his role was to take photographs, he later created the Future Generations Teen Photojournalism Project, teaching photography to Reservation teens on the ride and some of their work is incorporated into the exhibition. 

What becomes key in the exhibition is who and what is framed and how a physical journey can be translated into images that display the intensity and intimacy of the trip. Marchionno carefully choreographs the images, letting viewers discover the people, the landscape and different weather conditions of the ride as the photographs unfold across the walls. He includes video to not only provide context but to illustrate the difficulties the group encountered along the way. The images include portraits of participants with their horses, the group riding in all conditions on roads and trails, in sun and in snow. Family moments are included because for the Lakota Indians the ride is also a way to reclaim their history and is an homage to their ancestors. Large photographs are interspersed with grids of smaller images to create a flow along the walls that parallels the journey of the ride. Marchionno is an insightful photographer who is trusted by his subjects and that reciprocity comes through in the exhibition. Not only is 300 Miles to Wounded Knee: The Oomaka Tokatakiya, Future Generations Ride documentation of a special journey, but also a testament to the importance and power of photography.

This review was previously published in the VAS Newsletter, April 10, 2021.