It was a low-key but engaging evening at The Storefront for Art & Architecture on Thursday at the opening reception for Marina Ballo Charmet’s peculiarly-titled exhibition of photos and a video, At Land: Bodyscape & Cityscape. Trained as a psychoanalyst, Charmet’s work is driven by her self-professed interest in “inattentive, unintentional observation, irrational and without direction.” As you might guess from the exhibition’s title, the works on display range in scale from the extremely intimate to the nearly impersonal, and were culled from four separate series the artist has been compiling since the mid-1990s. Their common denominator, explains curator Jean-Francois Chevrier in the text that accompanies the show, is Charmet’s proclivity to move “at land, to quote the first film by Maya Deren. […] She makes her way as one would sail, through cities and parks, among bodies, giving her pictures an oceanic and kinematic dimension.”
There’s something inherently appealing, sexy even, about just setting the gaze to sweep, and exploring the world by evenly skimming the surface of things, regardless of scale or context. In staging the exhibition, Charmet and Chevrier make great use of Storefront’s distinctive triangular footprint, balancing smaller prints that focus on Charmet’s wide-scope work, namely images taken in some of the greatest parks in Europe and the Americas, with larger prints depicting extreme close-ups of necks and clavicles and stubbly chins. A single video piece, placed on a low pedestal, provides a noisy focal point at the narrow end of the space. The centerpieces, of course, are close-cropped images of the business end of big anonymous buildings that would make both the Smithsons and Darth Vader equally proud—titanic, weather-stained expanses of unyielding concrete, framed at imposing angles.
For all her stated interest in “inattentive, unintentional observation,” Charmet’s photos retain a calculated composition of a kind that’s totally absent from, say, the work of a photographer like Daido Moriyama, whose early Provoke-era photos were so spare and without composition, teetering menacingly between accident and nihilism, that it’s still tremendously influential today. The kind of work Charmet is doing isn’t exactly breaking any new ground, but the juxtaposition of scales and surfaces is very pleasant nonetheless. When she hits the mark, Charmet’s sense of composition recalls the odd, disorienting, and occasionally claustrophobic framings that are the trademark of the Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel, whose films are always beguiling and about as contemporary as you can get. Viewed together, as it is at the Storefront, this seeming hodge podge coalesces into a concrete whole.
At the opening, a small-by-Storefront-standards crowd gathered, though the space’s co-designer Vito Acconci did make an appearance. Chevrier cheerfully welcomed guests and gave a brief, improvised introduction to Charmet’s approach to the photographic process. He pointed out that Charmet’s work has much to do with the gaze (she’s a psychoanalyst after all), and he underscored the unique angle of her work’s photographic perspective (it evokes the view of a dog, or a child crawling). With a casual air redolent of the works on the wall, Chevrier invited those assembled to enjoy the “fritto misto” of Charmet’s works, well-complemented by the wine guests helped themselves to as outside the rain that had threatened all evening finally began in earnest.