Read

The Practices and Politics of Looking: Responses to Peter Hujar

Nalani Stolz and Nick Larsen

Mon, Mar 11, 2019

Students in Assistant Professor Gina Osterloh’s graduate seminar, The Practices and Politics of Looking, immersed themselves early in Peter Hujar: Speed of Life. The class will develop a public program held during one of its final meetings on Wednesday, April 17, at 7 PM at the Wex. Look out for more information under Talks and More and see other student responses on the Wex’s social media through April.

"Blanket in the Famous Chair"—Nalani Stolz, first-year MFA, The Ohio State University Department of Art

Blanket in the Famous Chair

Blanket in the Famous Chair, 1983
Gelatin silver print
Dimensions: 14 x 11 in.
Framed Dimensions: 17 3/8 x 14 3/8 in.
Collection of Dianne Benson
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“We feel a slight disgust when sitting down in a chair warmed by a stranger, as well as a slight pleasure in sitting down in a chair that we ourselves have warmed.”—Susan Stewart, Poetry and the Fate of the Senses

Do two absences make a whole? Or just more emptiness? I feel the need to separate these two objects. I think about Christo, hiding items under blankets. I have the urge to wrap the blanket in rope, to tie it down, allowing us to see the chair more clearly.

I grew up with kitchen chairs like this one: dark wood and straight lines. When we tried to get rid of them, my brother threw his small body across them, crying until we gave up.
We learned to throw things away while he was sleeping. It’s strange to think he lives in an empty room now. Perhaps the only way to live with this affinity to objects is to have none.

One leg of the chair is sitting on the blanket. Did the photographer lift up the chair to place the blanket just so? This corner makes the folds feel staged; it no longer resembles the discarded blankets in my own living room.

Plain white walls and a scratched-up floor. There are so many scratches, you can barely make out the individual tiles. This chair must have lived here a long time. Pushed and dragged across the floor.

Looking at this blanket in Hujar’s studio, I think about the one in my own studio. “Lightweight, Winter” written in my mom’s faded handwriting; a note from my childhood. When I am lost, I trace the countless stains. How were they made? Was it my parents’ bodies?
My own? I make up the stories I want to believe.
What stains and stories does Peter’s blanket have to tell?
The card talks about a fashion shoot; a close friend, wrapped in it, laid across the photographer’s bed. I wonder about his body touching the blanket. Was he clothed or was his bare skin against it? I imagine it touching my own skin. The wooly texture looks scratchy. Does his scent and warmth still linger?

nalanistolz.com

 

"Above Snakes"—Nick Larsen, third-year MFA, The Ohio State University Department of Art

Snake on a Branch, Germantown, New York

Snake on a Branch, Germantown, New York, 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in. (37.5 x 37.5 cm)
Sheet: 20 x 16 in. (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
Framed Dimensions: 24 3/8 x 20 3/8 in.
Peter Hujar Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund, 2013
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

I needed to get my belly off the ground, the sun 
in my guts, before dark (I can’t tell time when it’s overcast)
            I am not on the attack or on the run

I was a snack this time last year

I’ve gone warm black and dirty white, flatter now 
            thirty-four years on
            seven ears of corn stacked and tapered on both ends

From any distance, this field turns charcoal
            the window, the neighbor’s house, and me 

            the highlights

            the erasures

Safe to say I need my space; I’m upstate 
for a reason if not by choice

           the exhaustion (to my eyes; I don’t mean to project)

on all sides of me—

          top/bottom
          front/back
          spine/stomach

 —kids from the city, under the weather but

          above the snakes

cargocollective.com/nick-larsen

 

Lead image:
Susan Sontag, 1975
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.
Purchased on The Charina Endowment Fund, The Morgan Library & Museum, 2013.108.8.2310
© Peter Hujar Archive, LLC, courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco