Another Kind of Life Exhibition at The Barbican

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Our chief book wrangler, Paddy Butler, from Libreria on Another Kind of Life Exhibition at The Barbican.

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 breakdown. 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 associated with scientific and institutional modernity, whilst his is an uncanny punk aesthetic which lures to blindside any notion of what ‘romantic’ or ‘punk’ might be.

Teresa Margolles’ portraits of transgender sex workers located in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juárez, again play on map politics and territory; off the grid lives which get ground through the gears of global political economy. The background derelict husks bringing this into sharp relief.

In one image–a reminder of Borges’s map-territory relation–a transgender sex worker is depicted standing on the dance floor of a demolished club. The proud body of trans is here a towering eiffel, defiantly marginal to the state body politic.

It would be too neat and narrow, glib even, to say that circumstances are invariably determined by location, to which you are geographically bound. But it is not trite to call out the panglossian assertion of traditional western historiography – persistently in thrall to the lodestar of economic progress and centralisation.

If the long-held criticism is that this documentary practice is contradictory and parasitic in its nature–the recording of marginal lives to satisfy, say, privileged scopophilic tendencies: for a consumer art-world driven on novelty and making it “strange”–well this exhibition shows the importance of the endeavour, regardless.

And through excellent curation, it shows that the long-term commitment these artists have devoted to their respective subjects, is of overarching importance–the marginal heart of a pretty heartless world–or in Paula Rabinovitz’s idiomatic inversion of Marx ‘They must be represented’.