Magazine article Artforum International

Inaki Bonillas

Magazine article Artforum International

Inaki Bonillas

Article excerpt

IN 1998, INAKI BONILLAS was a young assistant at a Mexico City photography studio when he began a series of projects that would come to he collectively titled Photographic Works. A dry label, certainly, but that factual tone accurately captures the deadpan delivery of the entire body of work: Each project aimed to document a particular aspect of photographic technology or procedure, from camera to film to developing lab and so on. Having shot through a complete roll of film, for example, Bonillas had each print developed at a different lab for Documenting Thirty-Six Photography Labs, 1998, while Documenting the Vivitar 2000 Camera's Eighty-Four Possible Exposure Settings, 1998, methodically analyzed the subtle distinctions of light levels between blown-out highlights and crushed blacks. The systematic approach and neutral exploration of all possible variants within a delimited field clearly signals a debt to Conceptual practices of the late 1960s and early '70s, as does the mode of presentation: Photographic Works consists of the relevant prints and technical information contained within simple office binders and arranged on a table, recalling the display techniques of Mel Bochner or On Kawara. Critical response to these projects has tended to emphasize their rigorously experimental approach to photography as material practice, their devaluation of the artistic subject, and their eschewal of the medium's documentary role in favor of abstraction. Bonillas's work would subsequently depart from this austere investigation of photography's first principles, growing ever more richly referential; yet his most basic subject--the search for origins, whether technical, aesthetic, narrative, or even familial--has remained constant, underpinning a practice that has addressed the place of photographic multiplication and reduplication with uncommon poetry.

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Some critics have noted a fetishization of the textural processes and qualities of these images, a kind of technological involution that stamps them as products of their belated relation to the medium; but Bonillas's art seems notably free of that sense of romantic melancholy pervading the work of today's surveyors of the obsolescent. His documents do not mourn a narrowing of photographic possibilities but rather disclose an inherent multiplicity within the analog: Each brand of film has its distinctive characteristics, each lab its particular methods--and all aspects of the photographic process are witness to the virtually infinite alternatives possible within "the" medium of photography. Their reflexivity discloses not the singular nature of their means but what we might call their manifold origins--dispersed across a range of apparatuses and technical supports.

One origin of photography is, of course, light, and it is perhaps unsurprising that after completing Photographic Works Bonillas undertook a similar documentary catalogue of this aspect of the photographic process. In 1999, he was invited by artist Fernando Ortega to produce a piece for the alternative space Ortega ran out of his Mexico City home; the result was Lighting, also titled Twenty Lightbulbs Documented Photographically, for which Bonillas used a screen to block the window of a large white room and proceeded to make photographs of different lightbulbs illuminating the space. These images were developed as slides that were then projected onto the screen, creating what the artist has called "a photographic 'view' of color and light." Each bulb cast a glow of different intensity and hue, producing an array of cool and warm light that simultaneously represented previous moments and instantiated that variegated light in the present. Light Rooms, 2000/2003--a group of freestanding cells, each of which can hold a few people, and each illuminated by a different lightbulb--moved further toward an immaterial archive of artificial light. This work could be understood as a species of cameraless photography, and as a literalization of the medium's origins in the camera lucida. …

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