Currently at The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art – UCCA in Beijing, China is “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII,” a major body of work by American artist, Taryn Simon. For four years (2008-2011), the artist crossed the globe researching bloodlines and their related stories. In each of the work’s eighteen chapters, the external forces of territory, power, circumstance, or religion collide with the internal forces of psychological and physical inheritance. Simon’s subjects span a wide range of topics and social relations: the titular Indian man whose relatives had him declared dead in official records to inherit his father’s land; victims of the Bosnian Genocide, represented by the bones used to identify them; a group of Ukrainian orphans, united by their lack of discernible bloodline; and laboratory-bred rabbits in Australia used to test the efficacy of a virus designed to eliminate their invasive presence.
Each of the work’s chapters contains three parts: on the left, a portrait panel, an ordered set of portraits of every living relative of the “point person” central to each chapter; in the center, an annotation panel, a written description of the events that inspired Simon’s research into the bloodline; and on the right, a footnote panel, documentary images related to the narrative events.
The unique format offers three distinct modes of engaging with the often dramatic events depicted in each chapter. In the portrait panel, the unsmiling figures in front of identical white backgrounds compose a strictly ordered archive, the artist restricting her creative input to the unsparing application of this clinical format across a range of contexts. The annotation panel provides a straightforward textual description, elaborating on the socio-historical background of each narrative. By contrast, the footnote panel offers a more intuitive, visual foothold into the issues surrounding the central dynamic of each bloodline.
For more information on the exhibition “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII” visit The Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, China.