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John Divola
Pomona College Art Museum, Claremont, California
Recommendation by Stacy Davies

John Divola, ''Zuma #25,'' 1978, pigment print on rag paper, 21 x 26''.


Continuing through December 22, 2013


Images of the crumbling shell of a Malibu home from the 1970s might seem just as relevant to the universal human record as Pompeii, AD 79 if we admit that, empirically at least, all human purpose and values are equal. John Divola must have felt some of this when he photographed an abandoned house in Zuma Beach during the early mornings and late evenings back in 1977-1978, for there’s something especially existential about not only witnessing the decay of a human artifact, but contributing to it. For those two years, Divola photographed this shanty-in-progress and lent to it his own devised destruction in the form of graffiti and debris, often tossing and capturing pieces mid-flight within his lens. Other visitors also added design elements, including firefighters who practiced dousing interior blazes and random beachcombers with penchants for shattering windows and beer bottles. Participating in the demise of a dwelling that had a zero prognosis of survival was key to Divola, and he viewed himself as a component of that disintegration process as opposed to remaining an impartial, photographic observer.


The resulting series, some of which can be seen in "As Far as I Could Get," is an engrossing representation of Divola’s desire to intervene into documentary landscape and, as he puts it, “force a negotiation between intention and the actual nature of the world.” For the viewer standing in front of the often large-scale imagery, a portal has been opened up, momentarily allowing us to step into the transitioning past to spy the details of wilting doorways, mangled curtains and corroded chair springs. All of these relics are housed within perishing walls adorned by Divola’s neon red spray painted blocks or silver squiggled rain drops, with the entire lot piled up against backgrounds of blushing sunrises and dusky sunsets that float serenely across pane-less, charred window frames. Divola sees nature’s oceanic elements as regenerative instead of punishing, the exact opposite of how most of us view the destruction of our creations – and he was on to something. Decay is the natural order of things and brings about new life, and while it’s an abhorrent concept to us when coupled with art, flesh, or achievement, it is, in fact, what must occur. Ruination eventually touches everything. Divola's series makes the point that whether one joins that process during inception or epilogue, it’s the participation that counts.


Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2013

Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College

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