Here, from the MOMA webpage for the exhibition is a description of the photographs and text of the exhibition:
This exhibition is the U.S. premiere of Taryn Simon's (b. 1975, New York) photographic project A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII. The work was produced over a four-year period (2008–11), during which the artist travelled around the world researching and documenting bloodlines and their related stories. In each of the 18 “chapters” that make up the work, external forces of territory, power, circumstance, or religion collide with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance. The subjects Simon documents include victims of genocide in Bosnia, test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia, the first woman to hijack an aircraft, and the living dead in India. Her collection is at once cohesive and arbitrary, mapping the relationships among chance, blood, and other components of fate.
Simon's project is divided into 18 chapters, nine of which will be presented at MoMA. Each chapter is comprised of three segments: one of a large portrait series depicting bloodline members (portrait panel); a second featuring text (annotation panel); and a third containing photographic evidence (footnote panel).
I invite you to view the short (8 minutes, approximately) video in which Ms. Simon discusses this work and its evolution that is found on the page just linked.
All of the photographs were powerful, but one set, chapter XVII, I can't get out of my mind. This concerned the residents of an orphanage in Ukraine.
Here from the webpage of an art magazine, Daily Serving is an excerpt that describes this chapter:
Presented in a clinical manner, Simon’s systematic three-panel format provides a structure that counteracts the chaos and pathos of the stories told here. Eighteen chapters present genetics as inescapable and individuals defined by a single blood relative. Children exist in the shadows of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents, or what they did. There is the descendants of the man forced to become the body double of Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday, a set of triplets affected by Thalidomide, Tanzanian albinos poached for their skin, and the bloodlines of Leila Khaled, the first woman to hijack and airplane and Hans Frank, Hitler’s legal advisor.
The portrait panel records their faces, the annotation panel details who they are, and the footnote panel contains the photographic evidence that supports the story. Blank spaces are left for those who could not be photographed for one reason or another, or chose not to participate, as detailed in the notes.
Chapter XVII is the only one in the project that does not actually trace a bloodline, but instead documents the absence of a bloodline. At a Ukrainian orphanage, Simon photographed every child – individuals whose severance from a bloodline defines who they are, as they are absorbed into this alternative family. More often than not, this will largely determine who they become – as is noted, these children, when forced to leave at the age of sixteen, are highly susceptible to drug and sex trafficking, crime and suicide.
The bold is mine.
I can't get these children out of my mind for some reason, although they may not be the unfortunates who have suffered the most and have been catalogued by Ms. Simon: Afterall the exhibition contains a photograph of the exhumed skeleton of a Bosnian victim at Srebrenica.
Still, the photographs date to the early 1990's and one wonders what have become of these children, at least those who have survived.
If you are in New York, and if you want to see art that not only makes you think, but art that makes you feel something about the pain of being human, I recommend this exhibition.
You cannot spend a bad or worthless day in the Museum of Modern Art.
In most of my diaries there is a sarcastic poll, but there won't be any such poll in this diary.
Have a nice holiday tomorrow.