Samira Yamin

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What Is My Work About? 

At the core of my practice is an investigation into how we structure, represent and narrate the world to ourselves, whether through newsmagazines, mathematical formulas or the arts. How, in other words, does information become knowledge? Does truth exist, and, if so, can it be approached, let alone represented? What are the limits and potentials of representation as a device? As a medium? To this end, my work almost exclusively begins with appropriated sources – war photography, TIME Magazine, negatives that once belonged to my grandfather ? that are then dissected, reorganized, and often obliterated according to disparate systems ? sacred geometry, neurological visual distortions, Modernist experiments in geometric abstraction. At its best, the work results in the collision of representation and abstraction, and the confusion of objectivity and subjectivity, in an attempt to sustain, though not necessarily reward, looking for something that these sources might individually conceal.


Artist Statement

Generally speaking, my work is project-based, is not medium specific, and centers around a critique or meditation on representation, specifically the potential and pitfalls of its relationship to information and knowledge. I privilege photography for its ubiquity, its uses ranging from science to advertising to art, and in that it is culturally assigned a sense of objectivity that the arts have long decried. I also find this to be an interesting moment for photography, where questions of authenticity and ownership associated with the so-called digital revolution, alongside awe inspiring advances in the field of science photography, have thrown it into a sort of identity crisis, not unlike painting in the face of modernity. The work began as a mistrust of photojournalism, grew into a full indictment of contemporary war photography, settled into an interest in how documentary photography functions as visual information in the construction of history and knowledge, and has arrived, more recently, at an investigation into technology and visuality. These are all ongoing as each new concern stems from questions arrising from previous work and goes on to inform the others.

I approach representation from various facets – visual, textual, material, procedural – to explore the nuanced relationships between the many players in this narrative. I use beauty, symmetry, pattern and obsessive, neurotic, techniques to draw the viewer in, and to imbue source images with a sense of awe and wonderment not usually associated with news media. My goal is to conflate representation and abstraction in such a way that they are not only inseparable, but that the experience of each informs the other, in turn prolonging looking at images one might otherwise turn the page on.

In Geometries I do this by not rewarding looking with information, but rather by using the reductive technique of cutting to bypass information altogether and instead open the image to other forms of reception, such as intuition or the imagination. Geometries is a series produced by mapping Islamic sacred geometries onto TIME Magazine using a system of constrained parameters. In Islam, sacred geometries are visual representations of the 99 names of God – The Infinite, The Just, The Creater of Order, etc – but in this context also suggest an ornamental, read Orientalist, image of Islam and of the Islamic world. In other words, both the magazine and the patterns are at once systemmatic ways of organizing and knowing the world, as well as the gaze that mediates a view, and an understanding, both the images in question and the wars themselves. Cutting through the photographs also brings the two sides of the page together, allowing for a reading of one page through another, flattening the object into its underlying system. The resulting collision of image and pattern begins to unfold the magazine’s own internal architecture, revealing how narratives are constructed,

pointing instead, to the intricate symmetries of the magazine itself and, furthermore, to the systematic construction of truth and knowledge.

Geometries began alongside an untitled mural project that echos the repetition and ornamentation in the cut outs, but at a larger scale. These site-specific, wall to wall murals appear at first to be a decorative pattern reminiscent of the interior of a mosque dome, and have the aesthetic of an architectural ruin, bringing the viewer in through a curiosity that is at once soured by the recognition of the source image as two soldiers dragging a dead body faced down, repeated several thousand times. The scale of the work is such that it falls back into pattern as one steps back.

In Charlie, I use this same image, but expand, instead, on it’s caption (“Troops from Charlie Company remove a dead Iraqi somehwere in the northern outskirts of Baghdad, April 2003”) through a series of short fiction. Each narrative contains the moment of the taking of this photograph, a tank, a dead Iraqi, three soldiers and a photographer, but explores various ways of arriving there. Each soldier, however, is named Charlie, wearing the name as a uniform, so that each must be identified by personalities drawn from canonical representations of soldiers in popular culture:

Charlie and Charlie roger that and over and out. Maybe Charlie slinks back, thinking the same ill thoughts about other Charlies who’ve gone home as dead Americans, imagines his mother’s reaction, refusing to open the door as Charlies come to her stoop in pairs. Charlie’s steps get a little slower, a little shorter. His blood empties first from his fingers and toes, and then slowly his arms and legs begin to numb until they’ve disappeared altogether. He’s breathing, but only in. His eyes blur, water and dart from Charlie to the dead Iraqi, across the landscape and back to Charlie who seems to always be three steps ahead. Charlie is far from here. Right now, he’s standing on his mother’s stoop, somewhere in Connecticut, looking, horrified, into her face just before she muffles a wail into Charlie’s chest. He’s so far from here he doesn’t even notice the smell.

Scotoma plays on the similarities between the human eye and the camera lens, and their mutual relationship to light, and to representation. Scotoma takes its name from a neurological condition that I experience, where my vision is distorted in advance of a migraine. Note that during a scintillating scotoma the eye itself is unaffected; the distortion occurs entirely in the brain on the level of reception. Here, I use geometric patterns to distort old photographs printed from negatives that belonged to my grandfather. The resulting kaleidoscopic images hinder recognition of, or connection to, the subjects, and speak to the complexities of gleaning information from photographs distorted by nostalgia, memory, time, and distance.