In Search of the Miraculous, an exhibition of photography and video opening Saturday, Feb. 21st at the Camera Club of New York Gallery in midtown, brings together the New York-based photographers Ian Baguskas and the collaborative team Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher, with San Francisco-based video artist Laura Calhoun. Russian curator Yulia Tikhanova looks at how various documentary approaches inquire into the spiritual practices of communities existing outside of mainstream western experience, in India, South Korea, and Brazil.
Bezzubov and Sucher, collaborating since 2002, have created several projects that explore the politics of tourism and pilgrimage. In 2006, they spent a year in India on a Fulbright Scholarship Award for their project The Searchers. In the Camera Club exhibition, their classically composed, environmental portraits depict Western converts to eastern religions, and in a large-scale group portrait, an assortment of mostly western devotees sit meditating in an airy, light-filled temple. (Bezzubov’s recent solo landscape work, made in places after natural disasters, will be published in 2009 by Nazraeli Press as his first monograph, Wildfire.)
Ian Baguskas’s portraits made in South Korea of local mountain hikers depict the intersection of recreation and spiritual communion with nature. His project Sansaram from 2005, meaning “people of the mountain”, combines landscape views with documentary portraits of native visitors to the Sobaek mountains, encountered on hiking trails. The popularity of this activity can be attributed to the indigenous religion, which is centered on the worship of nature and mountain spirits, and has come to be fused with Buddhism. (Baguskas was named in 2008 to the PDN 30, a selection of outstanding emerging photographers, and is represented by Jen Bekman Gallery.)
Laura Calhoun’s video The Rope documents the biggest religious event in Brazil, a festival in Belem at the mouth of the Amazon, which fuses elements of Christianity and local religions. On every second Sunday of October, around 4am, a rope is stretched by religious guards and, within minutes, is held by devotees who have been waiting to begin a vigorous tug-of-war. Calhoun moved with her family to Belem when she was 10 and studied art and dance in Brazil before moving back to California as an adult. Since then, she has also lived in Alaska, Japan, Germany, and New York, but now lives in San Francisco. The Rope was shown previously at Cuchifritos in New York in 2008.
Curator Yulia Tikhonova has lived in Russia, New Zealand and more recently, New York, where she has worked at the Museum of the International Center of Photography and is currently pursuing an MA in Curatorial Studies at Bard College. She has worked on several curatorial projects between Russia and the U.S., including a group exhibition of political portraiture for the 7th Graphic Biennale of Novosibirsk and video projects with Jesper Just at the Winzavod Contemporary Art Center and Alfredo Jaar at the National Center for Contemporary Art, Moscow.
The exhibition’s title appropriates a book title by the Russian mystic P.D. Ouspensky, whose In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching from 1947 is a guide to the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian spiritual teacher with whom he studied. The reference to the book is an ironic nod to the zest and dedication of Ouspensky’s mission.