The most important exhibit of the summer (for me) is Taryn Simon’s A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters 1-XVIII. (At MOMA until September 3). It’s about bloodlines and their stories. (Or stories and their bloodlines…) The story sequences have a lot to do with inheritance and chance (or fate, if you will). One story traces an Indian man’s family who was declared dead so that other relatives could seize (inherit) their ancestral farmland.
Another story depicts the bloodline of the first woman to highjack an aircraft. Another story tells of the descendants of Hans Frank, the Nazi governor of Poland.
Another shows the faces of the children at an orphanage in the Ukraine who will inevitably become victims of human trafficking once they reach the age of 16.
One of the most chilling aspects of the exhibit is the interruptions in the story sequences. At times, a panel in a sequence stares back vacantly. The individual could not be photographed due to religious reasons. Or chose not to out of fear. Or shame. Some individuals sent their clothes to be photographed in their stead.
Viewing, I noticed how the story was different for each viewer, depending on the their choices, their attention span, how they chose to navigate through the image, text and footnote panels (or not).
Viewing, I noticed how our own stories are affected by chance, bloodlines, and circumstance, too. What would our own stories look like, cataloged, curated, made visible, up there on the wall? I think of my friends of American Indian ancestry and their stories. And my neighbor’s stories. I think of my adopted friends and their stories. And my new friends, TEDx organizers from around the globe.
The exhibit is complex, absolute, devastating, human, stunning, beautiful. I’ve known this for some time…Taryn Simon is among the most important artists of our time. And I would really like to meet her. Saying this, I know… the wheel is now in motion.