Review: Photographic slides a source of nostalgia, scrutiny in exhibit

The obsolescence of old technologies can invite some to lament their disappearance. Audiocassettes, VHS tapes, landlines, vinyl records; their extinction can mean another cultural touchstone vanishing, or the creation of a new opportunity for collectors and those seeking to resurrect and keep a beloved form alive.

Artist Vesna Pavlovic, Serbian-born and now a professor at Vanderbilt, is one of those people waxing contemplative over the now-antiquated slide, those teaching tools and cataloging systems that once defined record keeping and pedagogy in art schools and museums. In the digital age, the slide has gone the way of dinosaurs and rotary dial phones, but Pavlovic taps into the powerful associations that remain and the unique qualities of these slides in capturing and presenting artwork.

Part valentine and part eulogy, her exhibition “Fall and Folds” at Whitespace Gallery feels very much like an homage to this outdated form, in artwork that predominantly consists of photographic slides (sourced from a variety of college art history departments) blown up to 30 x 30 inches or 40 x 40 inches and mounted on metal stands or in wooden frames. Pavlovic captures not just the artwork documented in the slide, but the white slide frame surrounding it. That frame contains its own language and meaning, including the work’s title, artist and date but also information unique to the institution that houses the slide, like the variously colored dots in red, yellow, blue that convey information.

In one photograph, “Color Code,” Pavlovic spotlights only those color-coded dots, a constellation of color against a white background, in which meaning is cut off from its source.

Pavlovic taps into something lost in the transition from slide to digital: a slightly fetishistic and tangible quality in the slides, as though they contain the essence of the art distilled onto these tiny objects.

In addition to putting this outmoded system for documenting slides front and center, Pavlovic’s “Fall and Folds” also homes in on an interesting facet of the oil paintings and sculptures captured in those slides; the folds of clothing and drapery, tablecloths and tapestries. Whether the diaphanous curtain partly hiding a man’s face and body in “R+B:PTG:IT:TITIAN PORT:FILIPPO ARCHINTO” or the painting of Saint Cecilia, her body and face draped in a flowing tunic in “Maderno, Stefano, Saint Cecilia, Front,” those fabrics convey a tactile and sensual dimension to the paintings. It is a tactile property that Pavlovic also seems to find in the slides themselves.

In addition to photographic blow-ups of the slides, Pavlovic has included a Kodak 35 mm self-advancing slide projector in the exhibition, whose periodic, hypnotic click as a new slide is projected onto a white screen in the gallery space and mechanical humming will be a familiar aural memory to those who’ve heard it, and a strange new phenomenon to those who haven’t. Pavlovic conjures up both the look and the sound of these slides in a potent reminder of how intimately our culture can be connected with the technologies we use to document it.

From 6:30-9 p.m. July 28, Pavlovic will offer the public an opportunity to share their own slide shows in a Community Slide Show at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center (535 Means St. N.W., Atlanta) dedicated to the form.

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