Except for an anachronistic car, bus, or bike, “Facing East: Photographs From Cairo, Luxor & Aswan” a show of 19 photographs by Kay Erickson at Utopia Restaurant presents us with a Rip Van Winkle proposition in reverse: what if we woke up 200 years prior to when we fell asleep?
No joy of sects here. Erickson suggests we overlook the sound byte association we have of the Middle East – tribal violence, civil strife, terrorism – to acknowledge the poetry of the world of day-in and day-out happenstance. With these images the world is a little smaller, a little more intimate, and a lot less intimidating.
Timeless and timely, gentle and animated, she points out the simple things that slip under the radar of history.
As a group the work affords us a rectangular porthole glimpse into a world far removed from our traffic-jammed, construction-pocked streets.
Erickson shows us images whose implied time does not follow a clock. People go about their business. They have all the time in the world. Two young girls smile. A street vendor peddles his wares. A motorcycle leans against seven oil drums. People walk to work. Someone prays.
What you see is not what you get. Sepia-toned, her photographs belie their texture of wall and road. The pictorial space glows like a sunrise after a sandstorm: the sky is brown and yellow, not plum and pink. This world is mature and wise, not hung over and spent. The ruts of the road echo the routines and rituals of life that goes on below the surface of headlines and has done so for thousands of years.
Each piece tempts like a wedge of baklava. Each implies a journey whose destination is not important because the road is the thing. Irrespective of the means of locomotion, timeless or else rooted in the Here and Now, these people are on the move. Like figures on a Greek vase, they continue their daily rounds.
As a whole the show reminds me of stills taken from an aged black and white silent movie with some of the frames removed. We walk near these men, children, and burqa-ed women, then a bus or a truck passes before out eyes, and the cinematic thread of our vision is interrupted and then resumed as we look at something else.
Erickson provides a cost-benefit analysis to foreign travel: we may have the financial and physical means to travel but at what cost if we don’t seek to understand other people, other cultures, other climes? Think Visigoth British soccer hooligans marauding across Europe.
Erickson’s theme? Cultural subjectivity. It’s an ironic take. A global village in which it’s neighbors don’t know each other? Better instead call them global hermitages. Or global retreats. How about global bunkers?
Her starting point? A little learning makes the whole world kin. Nice.