Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Anna Shteynsleyger has been awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for 2009. This entry was written for the occasion, with reflections on past and recent conversations.
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In 1995, as a first year student at Maryland Institute College of Art, Anna Shteynshleyger produced an onsite work within the school's Annex Building, in which she taped on the walls a simple set of typed instructions, at three locations in the building - for the viewer 'to observe'. On the floor, for each of the three locations, Shteynshleyger also outlined a corresponding 'viewer's platform', from which the viewer could orient their position. These 'platforms' were drawn out with the same 3/4" masking tape that held her haiku-compact instructions to the wall. The whole arrangement provided the viewer with an opportunity to monitor and witness a shifting time of day, from the locus solus of their position and perception, at three 'points-of-view' within the existential cosmology.  Without pretension or specified desire Shteynshleyger had turned the building into a clock inside a camera without the requisite rational mechanisms or chemistry to determine shape, image or form. The continued presence and absence of the unknown observer was the only constant form, and the most indeterminate thing.

Shteynsleyger's use of dialectic time and place from a determined/indeterminate location - where we, as the unknown observer, are just outside the frame - is central to the images and chemistry of her work. A picture is taken from a location, which is outside the frame. Arguably, this is the condition of all photography, as a picture always comes from outside and goes within (the Annex Building). But Shteynsleyger, with her spiritual sense for the indeterminate, consciously avoids overt machinations of photography for the sake of the real. She does not crop-out the picture from the whole. Her images are tangential and contingent to a wider scene - in concept and form.

From a recent email exchange she revealed this point, while describing (without cause or effect) the real specifics of shooting City of Destiny (Devon landscape), below:  

What's important for me is the utter mundaneness of it. While shooting I was standing 
almost under a bridge and at the edge of the parking lot to a small grocery store. 

City of Destiny (Devon Landscape)   Anna Shteynshleyger 2009

Her location and position - of being almost under, at the edge of something - exists in and outside each frame of Shteynsleyger's work. Along with the viewer, the small grocery store sits at the edge of the camera, within the frame of the parking lot, just below and beyond the bridge. This is a cinematographic state of being; to be among and within a set of determined indeterminate points - a wheel inside a wheel. A continuation of her description reads:

It's very unglamorous and ordinary, yet... Also something about how black 
that water is. Scary, somewhat frightening. Winter is important. Absence. 

The "ordinary, yet...", along with her poetic meter and lyric specificity reflects a circumscribed but fluid aesthetic (a determined indeterminate). Included with her descriptions above Shteynsleyger attached two visual references, specific to her Devon landscape.  From Breugel and Tarkovsky:

The Hunters in the Snow    Peiter Bruegel 1565

scene from Andrey Tarkovsky's Mirror  (1974)                                                                

Shteynshleyger points to, with great delight and empathy, Tarkovsky's complete and total reference to Breugel in this scene from Mirror. I will speculate, having not yet inquired, that Shteynshleyger did not seek to fulfill a specific reference to Breugel and Tarkovsky with her Devon landscape, but rather, as it was with Tarkovsky, she remains lyrically disposed to the episodic metaphors around her - and through the connectedness of the ordinary, references are mirrored. 

Shteynshleyger's series City of Destiny, of which (Devon landscape) is but one scene, is an episodic account of the people, places and things that make up the world in which Shteynshleyger lives. It is a regional account that is left unfixed by its own intersecting histories and Shteynshleyger's intentions. The histories are regional by their specific place in time, but are made universal by the common forces of migration, immigration and emigration. The people, the institutions and the world are in episodic motion.

City of Destiny (Boarded House)   Anna Shteynshleyger 2008

City of Destiny (Picnic)  Anna Shteynshleyger 2008

City of Destiny (Portrait with Mordechai)  Anna Shteynshleyger 2003

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Notes & selected links 

1.  The first three images above (b&w) come from my snapshot files of students' work. All three were shot on Nov. 17, 1995. The first image shows Anna Shteynshleyger with Brock Enright and Ed Illades on the second floor of the Annex Building. Ed Illades is in position to observe Part Three of Anna's onsite work. The second and third image show the unoccupied 'viewer's platform' and then Angelo in position to observe Part One of Anna's onsite work, on the first floor of the Annex Building. To Angelo's left, above the handrail, you can see the small white square of paper that held Anna's instructions:

Part One
to be observed 
in the morning hours
at any time between
nine and eleven

2.  link to Anna Shteynshleyger's website:  http://www.shteynshleyger.com/     
3.  link to 8 min. section of Andrey Tarkovsky's Mirrorwww.youtube.com/watch?v=-pu49SYGRnk 
4.  From Sculpting in Time:The Great Russian Filmmaker Discusses His Art by Andrey Tarkovsky; translated from the Russian and © 1987 by Kitty Hunter-Blair; Univ. of Texas Press, Austin     "...pick out and join together the bits of sequential facts, focusing on what lies between them, while revealing what kind of chain holds them togther." 

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