Another Kind of Life exhibition at the Barbican

Daniel Avery © Mike Massaro/London in Stereo
Daniel Avery © Mike Massaro / London in Stereo
Another Kind of Life 28 Feb

Family of Human
This exhibition demands time. It is: absorbing, surprising and emotionally exhausting. It has some of the big hitters, Arbus, Goldberg, Davidson and some lesser known talents (at least for me); including Daido Moriyama, Danny Lyons, Igor Palmin and Teresa Margolles.
When I eventually got to Jim Goldberg I thought I was going to have a break down. I had never properly seen a concentrated assemblage of his work and I have to say it is suffocatingly in-your-face stuff. It is forceful and extremely upsetting, relentless in its unnerving scrutiny of these young street worn lives.
Goldberg’s technique pointedly crosses boundaries and mediums, thus co-framing form and function with text (mainly scribed by the individuals he has befriended) and collaged maps. Such appropriation of cartography hints at possible failures of scientific and institutional modernity, whilst his is an uncanny punk aesthetic which lures to blindside any notion of what ‘romantic’ might be.
Teresa Margolles portraits of sex workers in a Mexican border town again play on map politics and territory; off the grid lives which get ground through the gears of global political economy. The background concrete derelict husks echo the point. It is a probability, a throw of the dice, that your life is determined more by where you are, geographically; again calling out the hubristic assertion of western historiography, in thrall to the lodestar of economic pragmatism and centralisation.
If, say, the long-held criticism is that this documentary practice is contradictory and parasitic in its nature–the recording of marginal lives to satisfy privileged scopophilic tendencies: for an art-world driven on novelty and making it “strange”–well this exhibition shows the importance of the endeavour, ipso facto. And through excellent curation, it shows that the long-term commitment these artists have devoted to their respective subjects, is of overarching importance in the heart of a pretty heartless world – or in Paula Rabinovitz’s idiomatic inversion of Marx ‘They must be represented’.          

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