X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly

Playtime, by Susanna Newbury, X-TRA  Summer 2016, Volume 18, Number 4

Lately, Barbara Kasten’s photographs have been extolled as precedents for a new generation of artists fascinated with photomaterialist processes. Often considered as a prehistory for contemporary discussions of analogic truth and sleights of indexicality, her works also famously engage styles of postmodernism: its architecture, its fascination with citation, and even its aesthetic form as graphic design treading on the commercial. The playfully staged objects in her pictures—glass bricks, wavy lines, spiky pyramids and stuccoed balls—assume vivid status through color and reflection, beaming marigold into a cooler world of orchids, blues, and greens, which in turn extend into space as dissipating shadows. The majority of her prints are large. Three feet high, and nearly as wide, they approximate the size and proportions of historical paintings rhetorically framed as windows onto a purported world. Except the world Kasten’s photographs seem to glimpse smacks of early graphics editing software, hypertopologies where geometry is continuously deformed through aspect and perspective, where images stage a slippage between two- and three-dimensions. But Kasten’s scenes are actually shot “straight,” meticulously positioned and lit so that objects hover above grounds and colors press improbably into depth. It’s often hard to discern real from replicant, material analogue from digital fiction. Index seems beyond the point. Kasten’s photographs crystallize the 1980s as image and as thought.

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