David Maisel’s History’s Shadow (on exhibition at Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, April 3 – May 10, 2014) studies the interior of ancient pots and sculpture. This is not to show us what they contain, but rather by peering inside their ceramic walls, we can see moments of touch, hesitation, flaws and repairs; glazes are shown in a new context.
Maisel’s source material are X-rays of art objects that date from antiquity through just prior to the invention of photography. The X-rays have been culled from museum conservation archives, re-photographed and re-worked. Through the x-ray process, the artworks of origin become de-contextualized, yet acutely alive and renewed. The series concerns the dual processes and intertwined themes of memory and excavation.
Rendering three dimensional objects into two is the heart of this photographic process. With the X-ray, this sense is compounded, since it maps both the inner and outer surfaces of its subject. The mysterious images that result encompass both an inner and an outer world, as the two-dimensional photographs bring us into a realm of indeterminate space, depth, and scale.
The X-ray historically has been used for the structural examination of art and artifacts, much as physicians examine bones and internal organs; it reveals losses, replacements, methods of construction, and internal trauma that may not be visible to the naked eye. The resulting prints of History’s Shadow make the invisible visible, and express through photographic means the shape-shifting nature of time itself and the continuous presence of the past contained within us.
The work is also collected in a book of the same title. The resulting photographs seem like transmissions from the distant past, both spanning and collapsing time. They express – through feeling and art, as well as science and reason – the shape-shifting nature of time itself, and the continuous presence of the past. The book contains an original short story by Jonathan Lethem that was inspired by Maisel’s images. The book is available through Nazraeli Press, linked below.
Above image: David Maisel, History’s Shadow AV3, 2010. Photograph courtesy of the artist.
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