There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Taryn Simon has taken photos of some truly messed-up stuff. Her 2007 series, “An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar,” featured images of cryogenically frozen bodies; a knock-kneed, mentally retarded albino tiger; and top-drawer works of modern art on exhibit inside the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va. These documentary images are mostly cool and methodically, frontally composed—yet they seduce the viewer with sights unavailable to citizens lacking the requisite money, power, or security clearance. Simon’s newest project, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII,” comes to the Corcoran this November from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The project explores narratives surrounding the bloodlines of families in Kenya, India, and Israel—narratives that hinge on polygamy, human trafficking, and genocide. Like her “Index,” this, too, serves as a meditation on political power and exclusion. Each “chapter” consists of grids of dry, yearbook-style photos of family members sitting in front of neutral backdrops; panels of explanatory text; and additional found images or documentary evidence. The narratives presented range from the surreal, to the disturbing, to the downright heartbreaking. Simon deftly combines powerful subject matter—stories from the margins of society and geography that expose corruption, abuses of power, and unintended consequences—with the dry aesthetic sensibility of the archive. Ultimately, though, the artist’s willful distance from her subjects is as creepy and disturbing as the stories they share.