Photographer Justine Kurland has repurposed basic male works to dazzling impact

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A black-and-white collage that features people, babies, monkeys, houses, cars, a building, and other figures — some easier to make out than others
‘What We Bought: The New World’, 2021, from ‘SCUMB Manifesto’ © Justine Kurland

Justine Kurland will most likely at all times be finest identified for her Girl Pictures (1997-2002), a sequence of shockingly stunning images she staged with bands of minor ladies on the edges of civilisation. Girls rising out of a culvert and strolling collectively right into a meadow. Girls crouched across the metallic skeleton of an deserted junked automotive. The images evoke a dreamy utopian world of adventurous runaways who appear to have established a brand new, secret society that’s, given the exurban presence of energy traces, rail tracks and tunnels, not all that removed from those they fled. Her topics, who largely seem like in any other case well-behaved suburban white ladies, appeared to share intimate psychic exchanges primarily based upon rituals identified solely to them.

In an essay written years later, Kurland remembers cruising Manhattan excessive colleges for potential collaborators after which driving carloads of ladies to “a place where the landscape opens up — a place to plant a garden, build a home, picture a world”. Girl Pictures have been, most of all, evocations of freedom. A quest for freedom, more and more tempered by limits, has knowledgeable all of Kurland’s subsequent work.

When her son Casper was born in 2004, Kurland took the extraordinary measure of subletting her Manhattan residence, shopping for a van and setting off on an epic highway journey in the direction of and thru the American west. These travels would final almost a decade. Often she photographed trains and the neo-hobo tradition that’s grown up across the lengthy container freight trains that snake throughout the agricultural coronary heart of the US. But typically she turned the digicam again onto herself, capturing all of the constrictions of #vanlife in addition to its bucolic bliss.

A girl is helping her friend remove leeches from her body. They are in front of what could be a lake surrounded by grass and foliage
‘Poison Ivy’, 1999 © Justine Kurland
A family seems to be living in a rundown car in the middle of nowhere, with grass all round and two leafless trees
‘Shipwrecked’, 2000 © Justine Kurland
Three girls tossing candy in the air
‘Candy Toss’, 2000 © Justine Kurland

She titled her 2009 present of those images after Woody Guthrie’s basic track “This Train is Bound for Glory”, however few could possibly be extra conscious than Kurland of the ravages that years of deregulation and depopulation had wrought upon the agricultural US. Her “west” is a fragile place of poverty, freedom, glimpses of magnificence and environmental collapse. A shocking 2008 picture, “Untitled (Birds)”, depicts her four-year-old son observing a thick flock of crows alight over a subject someplace on the dry American prairie, close to a clutch of interstate-adjacent motels. It’s an extremely poignant picture, as if magnificence can at all times be snatched someplace, even out of a panorama that, absent the kid and the birds, is totally corporate-banal.

Kurland’s most up-to-date work, SCUMB Manifesto, a set comprising dozens of collages made by the artist between 2019-21, equally proposes modes of resistance and freedom, escape and pleasure (SCUMB stands for “Society for Cutting Up Men’s Books”). But this time, the flights are enacted by the use of decomposition and recomposition. At house in New York, Kurland started questioning her outdated means of working, questioning if there wasn’t one thing deeply colonial about classical images’s image-gathering forays into the world. She turned her consideration as a substitute to the rows of fats picture books on her cabinets, which not surprisingly featured the work of largely white, male photographers, corresponding to Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, Larry Clark, Robert Frank, Martin Parr and Brassai. It occurred to her that quite than add to classical images’s proliferation of picture and delusion, she would possibly reconfigure these pictures and arrive at one thing new, one thing she’d need to personal.

I used to be startled, at first, by how little these new items have in widespread with the remainder of Kurland’s work. Yet this discontinuity is what I like most about her as an artist, this willingness to strive the following factor, no matter it’s, every factor so totally different from the final. I really feel that means about writing too.

A collage of what looks like a scene after a landslide, with a house leaning precariously, a baby in his playpen and another one being carried by an almost-invisible figure. Also visible are the upper part of a car and what look like snowy figures in front of a hazy green mountain beyond
‘American Prospects (Windshield)’, 2021, from ‘SCUMB manifesto’ © Justine Kurland

Kurland’s work is as discontinuous as a human life, and this makes her appear, a minimum of to me, extra like a author. While we compose narratives after the actual fact, actual life is a sequence of impasses, surprises and likelihood connections. None of my books has adopted in any logical means from the one earlier than it: every ebook must be lived, after which discovered. There are some lengthy gaps between the books that I’ve printed, as a result of every time I end a novel I really feel that one thing important wants to vary earlier than starting the following one. Each ebook is its personal world. The one I’m engaged on now loops again a number of years to a time once I was residing part-time on the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. It displays each occasions in my life and a sequence of shockingly violent crimes dedicated by younger individuals underneath the affect of methamphetamine that affected most of the youngsters there.

Visual artists are inclined to work with fewer concepts than writers, typically elaborating a single idea or gesture throughout a complete profession. While writers have themes that recur throughout their work — Kathy Acker reprises her father’s abandonment again and again; the French creator Colette’s dazzling physique of labor repeatedly returns to descriptions of the pure world — the scope of a ebook is extra discrete than a piece of visible artwork. Vanessa Beecroft’s performances, carried out over 20 years, are gildings of the very first confrontation she staged between an artwork world viewers and idealised partially clothed younger ladies. Since the late Nineties, the artist Henry Taylor’s prodigious physique of labor has centred round depictions of household historical past and portraits of individuals he is aware of. But to me, Kurland’s work displays an evolution of consciousness, and following it means being led down a brand new, open highway.

A collage of an actual female and two abstract female figures, reclining on beds. There is also a set of stairs, a broken highchair and a fallen column/pillar
‘Cape Light’, 2021 © Justine Kurland
A collage of diamond tiaras, lambs’ heads, stripper legs, trained seals and silicone tits
‘Exhibit A’, 2020 © Justine Kurland

All Kurland’s images previous to SCUMB Manifesto, each documentary and staged, are triumphs of composition. The place of the digicam, the choices about what to permit contained in the body, give her works weight. And so it appeared like a really radical transfer to desert the cinematic phantasm her images weave, and as a substitute manipulate all of those fragments of visible tradition to conjure the key messages pulsing slightly below the floor of issues.

Because that’s what collage has at all times accomplished finest. More than a celebration of the uncanny, collage succeeds most brilliantly when it rips out a picture’s subtext and thrusts it into the viewer’s face. At the Beat Hotel within the late Nineteen Fifties, Brion Gysin and William S Burroughs folded newspaper pages into themselves to disclose secret, subliminal messages contained within the information. Boris Lurie’s 1959 “Railroad” collage, the juxtaposition of a pin-up lady ripped out of a soft-porn journal and glued on prime of a railcar of Holocaust corpses, nonetheless has the facility to shock, as a result of Lurie was proper: the amnesiac lull of postwar consumerist tradition had supplanted all reminiscence of very latest atrocities with lightning pace.

Kurland’s SCUMB Manifesto is a phrase play on radical feminist Valerie Solanas’ 1967 SCUM [Society for Cutting Up Men] Manifesto, an impassioned rant in opposition to all that comprised the American then-status quo. In her essay that concludes the ebook, Kurland describes her youthful fascination with Warhol famous person Edie Sedgwick, a recent of Solanas’, who, coincidentally, ended up in the identical state hospital for the criminally insane. And weren’t Solanas’ rage and Sedgwick’s despair simply reverse ends of a spectrum of responses to a deeply patriarchal tradition that excluded them?

Written and self-published a yr earlier than she shot Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto would turn into an ur-text of second wave feminism, although the feminist motion may by no means totally embrace it. To Solanas, SCUM wasn’t merely a matter of gender. “The conflict,” she wrote, “is not between females and males, but between SCUM — dominant, secure, self-confident, nasty, violent, selfish, independent, proud, thrill-seeking, free-wheeling arrogant females . . . and nice, passive, accepting, ‘cultivated’, polite, dignified, subdued, dependent, scared, mindless, insecure, approval-seeking Daddy’s Girls . . . ”

Justine Kurland spells her name out in repurposed tree branches
‘Cottonwoods (Justine)’, 2020 © Justine Kurland
A collage featuring cutout pieces that form the figure of a woman in what looks like an abandoned building
‘Los Alamos Revisited’, 2021 © Justine Kurland

Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto wasn’t a lot a feminist textual content as an exorcism. While Kurland started her venture pondering that slicing issues up can be a supreme act of revenge and destruction, she quickly discovered that the recomposition of all these males’s pictures would turn into a reparative work.

Kurland’s collages are extremely diverse. They vary from spare and stylish shimmering black-and-white compositions paying homage to early Dada to troubling mélanges of mid-century American suburbia. In “Cottonwoods (Justine)”, she spells her identify out in repurposed tree branches, simply as one of many ladies featured in Girl Pictures may need accomplished. Pillaging works made by Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton, Kurland reconfigures their nude feminine our bodies into ecstatic and pulsating machines manufactured from flesh. The viewer dives into an phantasm of infinite dimensions. Sometimes, although, pleasure is all on the floor: easy, flat items whose only a few parts mix into startling juxtapositions. “Exhibit A” is a superb concoction of diamond tiaras, lambs’ heads, stripper legs, educated seals and silicone tits.

Animals emerge from the darkness as spirits
‘Twilight’, 2021 from ‘SCUMB manifesto’ © Justine Kurland

Kurland’s collages are extremely achieved. At their finest, they reanimate the stale imagery of Twentieth-century movie and media tradition into superb new worlds. In “Twilight”, animals emerge from the darkness as spirits that hang-out and survey home interiors ripped from outdated horror movies.

Kurland’s SCUMB collages suggest a brand new form of escape, piercing the seductive attract of classical images’s pictures to disclose the repressive methods that they assist. Although, for now, Kurland has stopped images’s “colonial” pursuit and seize of pictures, her pursuit of freedom stays fierce.

© Chris Kraus 2022. Kraus is the creator of novels together with ‘I Love Dick’ and the biography ‘After Kathy Acker’. Justine Kurland’s “SCUMB Manifesto” is printed by Mack

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