Alias
KRAKOW PHOTOMONTH
Bunkier Sztuki Contemporary Art Gallery
May 13–June 12
by Chris Wiley for Artforum

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The central exhibition of “Alias,” the ninth annual installment of Kraków Photomonth, curated this year by photographers Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, is something of a hall of mirrors. Inspired by the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa’s penchant for inventing semiautonomous fictional “heteronyms” through which he could write in a variety of styles and express a range of often conflicting opinions, the show brings together an array of practitioners (artistic and otherwise) who have similarly fashioned alternate personas for themselves, creating an incomplete encyclopedia of creative identity play. As one might imagine, the terrain mapped out here is both fertile and variegated—the carnivalesque digital pageantry of Ryan Trecartin mingles with the political poetics of the Atlas Group; video interviews with notorious literary hoaxer JT Leroy coexist with the work of the artist John Dogg, rumored to be the creation of Colin de Land and Richard Prince; and a portrait of serial child impersonator Frédéric “The Chameleon” Bourdin hangs near the work of Peter “Blinky Palermo” Schwarze. Some of this work, of course, strays quite a bit beyond the pale of the exhibition’s stated medium-specific focus. However, Broomberg and Chanarin have devised an ingenious work-around to pull the scattershot array of practices back into photography’s orbit: Rather than exhibiting original works, the curators have assembled a show made up almost entirely of copies. Except for the videos and a small number of framed photographic prints, the works on view are all life-size adhesive vinyl reproductions of installation shots. It is a novel exhibition strategy, one that speaks to photography’s role in the increasing primacy of exhibition documentation in our globalized art context, while concomitantly jiving with the once-removed nature of the artists’ personas that “Alias” showcases.

In addition to this central show, Broomberg and Chanarin have also commissioned twenty-three collaborative pairings between artists and writers: The curators asked each writer to produce a text that would create a heteronymic persona for his or her chosen artist, which the artist then attempted to embody. The list of artists involved includes a large number of recognizable names, but in keeping with the show’s overarching conceit, the works exhibited are attributed only to the writers’ heteronyms. It is up to viewers to play detective–if they so choose.