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    LYNNE ROBERTS ― GOODWIN

Essay by Uros Cvoro

THE CHOICE OF RANDOM ACTS 

Random Acts Exhibition Catalogue, 2007

 by Uros Cvoro 

Looking at the panoramic images and portraits from Western Asia in Lynne Roberts-Goodwin’s exhibition, Random Acts, is a guilty pleasure. Thousands of years of history unfold before our eyes, as if our attention had been momentarily averted and the seductive landscapes had been there all along but we simply could not see them. The photographs spring out towards us in an irreversible moment of revelation that exposes a different way of looking and thinking about this part of the world.

Roberts-Goodwin’s perception relates to the undoing of spatial order in the movement — the act of drifting — through spatial zones. Both series of images in Random Acts, ‘Call it Home’ and ‘Out There’, create a contrast between the purpose of drifting through spaces and the possibility of recreating this movement through photographic representation. ‘Out There’ suggests that the city as ‘place’ is undone through urban nomadism, where movement does not follow a set spatial narrative. Yet, if the significance of these open spaces is as much about encounters while drifting as it is about the act of drifting itself, then the almost complete absence of people (other than traces) severely limits this possibility when offset against the images of the falconers in the open air.

There is something of a democratic spirit in Roberts-Goodwin’s aesthetic, especially in the photographs of the falconers. Despite their monumental size and presence, these images possess a welcoming openness. Yet they also resist our reading, always hiding something, one step ahead of us. This is because in Random Acts, the act of looking, and the audience’s relation to the visual, can never be neutral. The work is less concerned with preconceptions about photography than with our own cultural prejudices. It is impossible to look at these images and not be aware of the gentle unease they produce in us. Though constructed as random, the images disguise the artist’s deep fascination with her subject. Roberts-Goodwin is not interested in the history of photography but in the closed historical universe of her representational sphere. Her images are not historical in the documentary or archival sense; rather, they present an aesthetic of archaeology where interest resides only in the peeling away of inherent layers of meaning.

The exhibition Random Acts occupies a space between the particular and the universal. The loaded content of the images, much like the spatial zones landscapes and people of Western Asia — and the general, for instance, the relation of the West to the recent history of the region. In suggesting such relationships in these photographs, Roberts-Goodwin addresses the question of how meaning becomes possible when we bridge the gap between the familiar iconography (of documentary photography, media and cinematography) and its wider context. In their sheer monumentality, the images insist that there is no easy transfer of meaning from the external factors that have a bearing on the present to the intimate picture that they present.

While Random Acts is not a political exhibition, it speaks volumes about the ethics of political choices. For, in presenting us with images that are non- didactic yet exist in a space shot through with contemporary global politics, Roberts-Goodwin mirrors the paradox of ‘free choice’ between global postmodern capitalism and pre-modern societies. On the one hand, adopting an attitude to the images that takes into consideration the (implicit) racial and trans-cultural politics risks ignoring their rich aesthetic and documentary appeal. On the other hand, choosing to ignore the images’ socio-historical and political coordinates would also deny their power in expressing a truly idiosyncratic picture of the(ir) world.

Random Acts may be a product of the accidental encounter between the artist and the environment, yet there is nothing random in our own encounter with them. These images present us with a choice that simultaneously defines and is defined by the conditions of the choice itself.[1] It is only when we openly struggle with the difficulty of their meaning that we choose. To remain silent is to ignore and ‘tolerate’ in the worst fashion of neo-liberal political correctness. This is why Random Acts demands a (public) reaction in terms of both the risk of misunderstanding and, more importantly, the (increasingly rare) act of speaking out.

 — Uros Cvoro 

[1] Slavoj Zizek, Thanks, But We’ll Do It Ourselves: Against Enlightened Administration, available at http://www.lacan.com/zizekamish.htm

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