Magazine article Artforum International

Erica Baum

Magazine article Artforum International

Erica Baum

Article excerpt

D' AMELIO TERRAS

In her latest show, Erica Baum's approach is almost absurdly simple: She photographs printed words. But the pictures she makes of/with them are enlivened by a sense of linguistic play subtler and more sophisticated than that demonstrated by most entries in the broad category of "text-based art." Baum's contemplations of verbal signification and the visual conditions of reading tease moments of poetry from sober systems of knowledge classification. Similar concerns informed her earlier photographs of card catalogues; the new work constitutes a second chapter, or completes a diptych, with these endeavors.

Hung salon style in plain white frames, the large black-and-white digital prints in Baum's recent show depicted excerpts from the subject indexes of books; uniformly scaled and cropped, the twenty-seven individual pieces felt like a series. Isolated in a sea of white space were a few lines of text--sometimes just a single word--followed by numbers indicating pages: "Ooze, deep-sea, 305." Around these characters floated whatever abstract detritus the processes of copying and enlargement generated: black lines and dots, grids and smudges. The work's appeal derived from the delicate-yet-deadpan mode in which the evocative snippets of language were physicalized as art.

Page after page of black type on white paper is, formally, the structure of a book, and the installation's page-based format drew attention to minute variations in typography that would not ordinarily be noted by a reader scanning the index for data before turning to the body of the text. By reducing that body to an absence, the photographs elevated the unglamorous index--quiet servant of informational riches located elsewhere--to center stage. Simultaneously, however, they equated the "meaningful" markmaking of the entries with the incidental blobs and patterns that surrounded them. …

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