Doug Hall: In Silence

hallway library of old books

State Archive at Sant' lvo alla Sapienza, Rome II, 48" x 60 1/2". photo / Doug Hall

This exhibition brings together excerpts from four different bodies of Doug Hall's work spanning more than 20 years and exploring the theme of archives through their quintessential medium — photography. The earliest work is from The Archive Project (1995–96), created while Hall was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome. These photographs of ancient archives in Naples and Rome reveal a humanist need to order that is being replaced and made widely available through the internet, furthering a process of democratization Hall characterizes as "devour[ing] epistemological palpability, its aura as well as its vain will to order."

Remembrance of Things Past (Marcel Proust) and Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Ludwig Wittgenstein), both from 2001, are portraits of books that, for Hall, act as palimpsests of inquiry and thought just as if these worn pages had absorbed the act of having been read by generations of readers and thinkers. Bill Reading at Home and Diane Reading in Her Studio (both 2014) are attempts to create portraiture with less of — if impossible to be without — a self-conscious awareness of the camera. Hall writes, "I wanted to see if I could capture people looking inward; private and absorbed, arrested in their own thoughts, seemingly uninterested in the camera or the world beyond the boundaries of their own imaginations."

The most recent work, In Silence, is from Letters in the Dark (2016), an installation of photographs and video about an epistolary affair between Franz Kafka and Milena Jesenská. The lone book with its empty pages echoes the restraint and command in the photographs of the archives, which refuse to comply with a decorative intent as the shelves containing the wrapped receipts and manuscripts function more like strata than display. For Hall, "[these] photographs radiate a quiet interiority by referencing those places where we read, wonder, think, and which ultimately lead us to zones deep within ourselves where the exterior world falls away, and silence prevails."

Doug Hall has worked for more than 40 years in a wide range of media, including performance, installation, video, and large format photography. In the 1970s he became prominent for his collaborative work with the media art collective T. R. Uthco, which led to, among many other works, the 1976 video and installation titled The Eternal Frame (in collaboration with Ant Farm), a reenactment of the Kennedy assassination that was filmed in Dealey Plaza, Dallas. Public collections include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; the Contemporary Art Museum, Chicago; the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin; Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, California; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Vienna; the San Jose Museum of Art, California; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City. He has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, the Fulbright Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. Hall is the coeditor (with Sally Jo Fifer) of Illuminating Video (Aperture Books, 1991). Hall is represented by Benrubi Gallery in New York City and Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco. He is professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute.

This exhibition was curated by Maria Park, associate professor in the Department of Art and director of AAP Exhibitions.

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