Justin Barski
Oct 19, 2014 7:07PM

My proposed exhibition seeks to make new connections between the collage and combine work of Robert Rauschenberg and the discipline of photography and photomontage as a source of dialectic reasoning and exploration. By looking at photography not as a method of coercive “capturing,” but instead as a receptive practice as recently theorised by Dr. Kaja Silverman who views photography as “the world's primary way of showing itself to us,” this exhibition will seek to establish Rauschenberg as a compiler of dialectic material with unique insight into the times in which they were created. In this framework, Rauschenberg's combines can implicitly be seen as photographs themselves in terms of their receptive nature and how elements gradually accumulate until a decision is made to finalise the composition.

Similar to how Walter Benjamin scoured a vast array of sources for his Arcades Project before compiling them into themed “convolutes” this exhibition will examine the combine work of Rauschenberg and respond to their thematic elements which look to, and receive the cultural zeitgeist of midcentury America with themes such as space, athletics, popular culture, and celebrity.

Walter Benjamin's background in literary criticism heavily influenced the sources he looked to, such as Baudelaire and Balzac, to capture the spirit of 19th century Paris. Rauschenberg's training at Black Mountain college, and the influence of theorists like Josef Albers, caused him to instead take an interest in visual sources for inspiration in his practice. Looking to popular periodicals such as Life, Look, and Sports Illustrated, Rauschenberg assembled images like an intuitive puzzle which thematically look at issues of concern to the popular conscious in midcentury America. Walter Benjamin himself makes many allusions to the methodological approach of the Arcades Project, discussing in convolute “N [Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]” that “This work has to develop to the highest degree the art of citing without quotation marks. Its theory is intimately related to that of montage.” Benjamin routinely makes photographic metaphors to communicate with an aura that does not exist in textual language alone but exposes how we consciously see very little of what is seen until it is developed later with language.

Using this Benjaminian framework, this exhibition will reproduce select images from the combines and examine them in context to their time and the combine itself. However this exhibition does not look to heighten the aesthetic relevance of these images per se or view them as elements of a “code.” As Graham Smith pointed out in his article “Contemplating Photography in Rauschenberg's Early Work,” a “vernacular glance” is the prescribed approach to Rauschenberg and Rauschenberg himself disavowed symbolic readings of his work. Nonetheless Smith demonstrates that sustained viewing can be a beneficial compliment to a more immediate aesthetic experience of Rauschenberg's work. This exhibition will show that Rauschenberg, like Benjamin, can be understood as a compiler of diverse dialectic material culture which exposes a “world of secret affinities” constituting an image of the epoch.

Justin Barski
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019