Vesna Pavlović
Illuminated Archive
May 22–Sept 28, 2014

“Expanding the photographic image beyond its frame, traditional format, and narrative is central to my artistic strategies,” claims Vesna Pavlović, a Serbian-born, Nashville-based artist. Her Intersections project, Illuminated Archive, created specifically for the Phillips, attests to her words. It includes a 35-foot translucent curtain with digitally manipulated archival images that hangs over the three-story window in the museum’s Sant Building stairwell, along with three related c-prints displayed on each floor of the space.

By engaging with the Phillips’s archives and the photo-documentation of past exhibitions, Pavlović delves into the history of the exhibition display as a window into the museum experience that lingers between private and public, subjective and socially and culturally constructed categories. In addition, by working with large 8-x-10-inch archival negatives and overlaying them during the process of scanning, the artist creates opaque and ghostly images that explore the idea of transparency, photographic, historic, and symbolic. “I use transparency as a connecting element to tie together history, museum collection, and documentation, and the representation of the photographic medium itself,” says Pavlović. “For my Intersections project, I looked for ways to connect the museum’s archive with its architectural space, addressing the collection beyond the traditional archival format.”
In her photographic work produced in the Former Yugoslavia in the early 2000s, Pavlović focused on capturing the effects of socialism on the modernist design of public spaces, most notably hotel interiors as principal spaces for political summits (two such photographs are in the Phillips’s permanent collection). Her recent projects are mostly photo-based installations that represent social groups, collective memories, and places that are historically and politically charged. In here the images are projected to expand the viewer’s experience of photography beyond the frame and into space. Illuminated Archive combines both of these approaches to the photographic medium—as a form of archival documentation and as a new digital technology that creates a spatial installation.

Pavlović looked specifically into the photographs of the Phillips from the 1960s—including exhibitions featuring Alberto Giacometti and Marc Tobey’s work—that reveal the museum’s penchant for modernist design: the glass façade of the Goh Annex (renovated to its current state in the mid-1980s); Mies van der Rohe furniture in the galleries; and the use of curtains as a design element. “This sparked the idea of using the curtain for my own project,” explains the artist, choosing a sheer, translucent fabric not only to “break” the image over the curtain’s folds but also to allude to the transparency of historic material. “It was a natural choice to present my project in the Sant stairwell,” she continues, “where I could also utilize the window as a light box where the digitally printed image is perceived as a continuous flow that spans three floors of the museum.”

While the curtain’s translucent, flickering imagery accentuates the height or verticality of the stairwell, providing an alternative view of the sculpture courtyard outside and creating a play of light inside, the individual photographic works interconnect the three floors and frame the installation as a whole, architecturally and conceptually. In this sense, Illuminated Archive functions not only as a physical or embodied space but also as a place for rethinking the archive as omnipresent, transient, and contextual.

Vesela Sretenović, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art