Taryn Simon at Galerie Rudolfinum

A photographer looks at how we catalog and organize virtually everything

The new exhibition at the Galerie Rudolfinum is a bit atypical. New York-based artist Taryn Simon has made her career by meticulously cataloging various aspects of culture.

The exhibition, simply called Taryn Simon, runs to July 10 daily except Mondays.

The exhibition covers six projects she created between 2007 and 2014. The first one, named Field to Birds of the West Indies, aims at identifying, photographing and classifying every bird that appears within 24 films of the James Bond franchise.

This crazy idea comes from the guidebook Birds of the West Indies, written by an American ornithologist named James Bond in 1936. Yes, to create his fictional character, Ian Fleming, the author of the series of spy novels, was inspired himself by an ornithologist of the same name.

The famous spy took the identity of the actual James Bond to the point that we no longer remember the ornithologist.

Taryn Simon decided to right this wrong by classifying the 331 birds appearing in the James bond movies. She classified them according to the time code of their appearances, along with the location and the year.

In the second part of the exhibition you can see a selection from a series of 1,075 photographs taken at the U.S Customs and Border Protection Federal inspection Site and at the U.S Postal Service International Mail Facility at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

This project is called Contraband and shows various items confiscated from passengers who wanted to enter the United States on Nov. 16–20, 2009. All kinds of items are photographed, from drugs and guns to really unexpected things like Russian stacking dolls and knock-off shoes.

The third part is dedicated to Picture Collection. It is a kind of Google search done by hand, organizing all the pictures in the collection of the Mid-Manhattan Library on Fifth Avenue using a complex system of over 12,000 subject headings.

Copies of all of the contents of individual folders are put into large frames. Some supporting documentation of letters and image requests are also shown in a case.

Sometimes the result is funny, showing the different meaning we can put behind a same topic such as “accident.” Pictures of crime scenes and traffic deaths are next to a picture of a little boy who dropped his jelly-covered bread on the floor.

As with the internet, cats were a popular topic and one folder is nothing but cute cat pictures.

An American index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar shows us an inventory of what is unseen in various archives in the United States.

For instance, you can see cannabis legally cultivated by the National Center for Natural Products Research, as well as a bottle of HIV, the Death Star from the Lucasfilm archives, art from the CIA's private collection and more stray oddities. This is sort of a collection of collections.

Taryn Simon, with the help of programmer Aaron Swartz, also created Image Atlas which is an algorithm indexing top images results of 57 different countries. The same search terms yield different results in different countries.

To close the exhibition, there is a video interview for a Russian TV station showing Simon sitting in silence and looking at the journalists for several minutes. The result is quite perplexing.

Each project reveals some of what makes Taryn Simon unique on the international art scene.

“Simon has a special talent to fill simple things like a list of paper or a mosquito with significance, make them appear fatal or forbidding, often evoking the atmosphere of McCarthyism and the Cold War,” curator Michal Nanoru said.

“The government, security, science, and entertainment institutions that she surveyed in An American Index know such techniques all too well as they are all invested in covering their operations and are rich sources for myth creation and multiple truths,” he added.

The artwork of Taryn Simon involves years of research and investigation. Through her work, she tries to investigate the modes of representation in a time when everything can be defined materially.

While generally considered a photographer, she counts writing, graphic design, performance, sculpture, and film as her media in her exploration of the fine line between order and chaos.

For more information visit: www.galerierudolfinum.cz

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