Toronto

The Disappeared at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography

In The Disappeared, artists Tatiana Grigorenko and Zoë Heyn-Jones rewrite history through still and moving images. In the current exhibition at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography, Grigorenko and Heyn-Jones negotiate their relationships with their ancestors and origins through altered photographs and Super 8 film. With disarming honesty, they interrogate the ways in which their private memories and personal realities overlap and diverge. This fissure between the real and the imagined is further nuanced through their interventions, as they question the veracity of the photographic image and the camera’s ability to translate an authentic representation of reality.

Tatiana Grigorenko. Swimming, 2014; archival ink-jet print on Hahemühle cotton rag paper and collage; 16.5 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Tatiana Grigorenko. Swimming, 2014; archival ink-jet print on Hahnemühle cotton rag paper and collage; 16 1/2 x 11 4/5 in. Courtesy the Artist and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.

The artists’ processes are foregrounded in this exhibition, as both Grigorenko and Heyn-Jones perform acts of historical revisionism by dealing with materiality and form. Grigorenko modifies images unearthed from her family archive by the use of paint or collage. With clinical accuracy, she excises herself from these relics, carefully covering up the evidence of her existence by replacing herself with blank space. These works are grouped on the gallery wall much in the same way as a family photo collection, and intimacy is evoked by this familiar arrangement. Between the collaged images hang Grigorenko’s school portraits (School Portrait #1#9 [2014]), her youthful face blackened out with paint. The organization of the work allows the viewer to gaze at a girl who is simultaneously coming of age while being denied her full identity.

Tatiana Grigorenko. Grand Canyon, 2014; archival ink-jet print on Hahnemühle cotton rag paper and collage; 16 1/2 x 11 4/5 in. Courtesy the Artist and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.

In Grigorenko’s Swimming (2014), a single man (presumably her father) appears amidst a vast lake. His arms are raised. A conspicuous square covers the space where Grigorenko was once pictured; without her there, the man seems unsettled. He gazes not at her but into the blank water that surrounds him, creating a listless and haunting effect. Each work in the collection exhibits this methodical practice, the subtle rearrangement of domestic life with backdrops that range from a Russian grocery store (Russian Grocery Store [2014]), vacations at the Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon [2014]), and dance recitals (Ballet [2014]), each combining the fastidiousness of a family photograph with the intentionality of its deconstruction.

Tatiana Grigorenko. Bridge to USA, 2014; archival ink-jet print on Hahemühle cotton rag paper and collage; 16.5 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Tatiana Grigorenko. Bridge to USA, 2014; archival ink-jet print on Hahnemühle cotton rag paper and collage; 16 1/2 x 11 4/5 in. Courtesy the Artist and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.

While working on this exhibition, Grigorenko discovered a photograph in her family’s collection that eerily recalls the formal nuances of her artistic practice. In a splendid act of serendipity, the picture she found shows the artist as a child, in the arms of her grandmother. Her grandfather, a famous Soviet Army commander, also stands in the frame; along with her uncle, born with Down Syndrome, who looks off into the distance away from the camera. In a version of the photo reproduced for Grigorenko’s grandfather’s biography, her uncle had been violently and anonymously removed. The image, in both its original and altered form, has been reproduced for the exhibition and welcomes visitors as they enter the space.

Zoë Heyn-Jones. Atitlán 1 (Feliz Viaje), 2014; ink-jet print on celluloid; 36 x 150 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Zoë Heyn-Jones. Atitlán 1 (Feliz Viaje), 2014; ink-jet print on celluloid; 36 x 150 in. Courtesy the Artist and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.

Zoë Heyn-Jones also grapples with the hidden truths that define her former home. In Guatemala City to Santiago Atitlán (2014), a 16mm film transferred from hand-processed Super 8, the artist documents her recent journey traveling between the two cities of the film’s title. Taken as still frames and edited together, the black-and-white film is jerky and disorienting as the images that quickly cross the screen go in and out of focus. Fleeting glimpses of clouds, mountainous landscapes, hand-painted signs, barbed-wire fencing, palm trees, and city buses provide little explanation of the surroundings. Marked by the scratches and imperfections typical of Super 8 film, the film portrays a dreamscape that remains forever just out of reach; the fragmented and wistful images of her journey belie the country’s horrific past—in a war that lasted from 1960 to 1996, over forty-five thousand Guatemalan civilians were forcibly “disappeared.” Heyn-Jones, remaining always behind the camera, is rendered tenuously invisible. Guatemala City to Santiago Atitlán is supplemented with six film stills, presented in light boxes at the rear of the room. The stills, removed from the context of the frenetic loop, appear cold and less affecting than the moving film from which they are drawn. One large-scale panorama, titled Atitlán 1 (2014), leads the viewer from one room to the other and provides the transition between the two artists’ bodies of work. The image, seemingly a composite of several film stills, contains a hazy view of an unnamed horizon, treetops, a boat, and one legible phrase, written in Spanish: Feliz Viaje, which translates to happy journey.

Both Grigorenko and Heyn-Jones challenge the indexicality of the photographic image and the camera’s ability to show memory, the past, and personal histories. Their images, though representational, always point to something less tangible and often menacing beneath the surface. No matter how much each artist tries to disappear from her work, residues remain. Traces are left in their attempts to vanish, manifesting as shadows, scratches, and empty space.

The Disappeared is on view at Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography through February 21, 2015.

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