Thomas McEvilley

Heraclitus: Nature Loves to Hide

It was night. Rivka Rinn and a friend stood in her studio in Prato, holding up a large canvas with a photographic image on it. There were three orange streaks across the canvas.I asked what it  was called."Pianoro"Rinn told me," The name of a town on the train route between Milan and Florence, a town I have never visited, but I have seen named on a sign from a rushing train."I liked this way of approaching Pianoro,Not the Grim novelistic or journalistic attempt to penetrate into the drama and psychodrama of a community. Just a gray blurred glimpse from a rushing train. With three orange streaks.

Rinn's work has evolved in the last few years from paintings with added sculptural elements to conceptual photographs exhibited in multi-paneled arrangements sometimes involving rectangles monochrome colors. Understandably she calls herself " An artist who uses the camera" rather than a photographer": her works do not involve a puristic obsession with a single medium so much as an investigation of the interfaces of media.

 When Walter Benjamin predicted that the advent of photography would render the painting obsolete, he did not foresee that efforts would be made to forestall this by bringing photography closer to painting.

Some photographers, for example, make an only print, attach the cut-in-half negative in an envelope to back,and present the photograph to the world as a one-of-a-kind original like a painting. The large Polaroid is another one-of-a-kind original.Mapplethorpe and others (including Rinn)who exhibit in the galleries which usually show painting rather than the specialized ghetto of the photography galleries, when they combine photographic panels with panels of monochrome colored fabric, ambiguously refer both to the modernist cult of the abstract sublime and to the post-Modern convention of the multi-coded diptych or triptych, Rinn's "Voyager Scape,1989,") blue renders the sublime in cosmic (Kleinian) blue next to the vacuum of outer space as seen from a rushing Satellite rather than a rushing train.

Rinn's work focuses on post-Modern hybridization and the mixing of genres. Sculptural aspects carried over from paintings of 1987 show up.for example,in the separation of elements in the multi-paneled installation, Bologna I,1989, there is a performative element in her particular exercise of the camera, photographing from the high-speed trains and from automobiles of highways. Like cinema, her works are less representations than encapsulations, captures, as if were, of the trace of a moment in space-time. Her images of velocity relate to the classic experiments of Muybridge and Marey,but even more to Stan Brakhag's "swish pan",a blurred color streak produced by moving the camera more quickly than the equipment can resolve- smearing of space-time into one unit, as in an action painter brushstroke. The relation to painting resides not only the inclusion of monochrome panels but also in effects that refer to abstract expressionism,as in Pianoro, where the orange streaks lie lightly on the canvas, seemingly almost detached from or floating in front of it, like effects of scumbled paint. The monochrome motif and the swish pan concept are combined,as in some of John Baldessari's work, such as the pieces in which he photographed monochrome color panels that had just been hurled from a high window.

The primary conceptual element in the complex yet straightforward-seeming mix is choice. The substitution of the act of choosing for the act of making was the essence of Marcel Duchamp's process of the Readymade,the equivalent of the expressionist's existentialist hours in the studio is Duchamp's hours of strolling through hardware stores in the process of choosing a Readymade. Baldessari's piece about choosing rhubarb is related, as is James Lee Byars' piece of selecting the roundest whitest egg from a hundred each day. In Rinn's work, the choice is among many partially random exposures: each image that is exhibited is chosen from hundreds. The esthetic input is less the act of shooting(which, under the prescribed conditions, must involve a lot of random of uncontrollable factors) and more the act of choosing from what randomness has offered up to the eye. First, the mind, or its will constricts possibility to a focused, quasi-scientific experimental framework, shooting snapshots of signs from rushing trains:next the chemical does its mysterious work. Conflating molecule into an image; finally, the finger of the artist comes down and points at this one or that one. There is a focus on the limitedness of options. In such a finite web, culture works on nature-choice becomes the central creative intervention in a mass of what is essentially found material.

In this work, the representational ability of the camera, which was supposedly its great strength,is determined for both abstract and conceptual purposes. The artist seems to accept Rudolf Arnheim's seminal thesis,in Film as Art,1928, that the film-maker (or photographer) must precisely strive against the inherent realistic bias of the device.

Yet from an only slightly shifted viewpoint the work obviously has strong reality. The rushing Heraclitean moment is strapped and exhibited like a butterfly pinned.The brushstroke moves like fog or cloud across the sky. The mind blurs at the rush of experience. The shutter clicks

From The Catalogue: Rivka Rinn,Salama Caro Gallery 1990