Hands II, artwork by Sara Cwynar, represent the central elements of her research such as the process of dealing with archival images and of questioning the photographic language in its traditional exception. The original matrix of this work are photographs from the seventies that the artist found while walking around the streets of New York. Hands II is part of a series in which the artist focuses on the gesture of male hands which, entering the shooting field from different directions, move or open a case of beers positioned on what appears to be a photographic set for an advertisement. Cwynar starting from these black and white photographs begins a process of repeating and layering: after destroying and recomposing the hands of the subject become three and their actions are framed by a strong red graphic intervention that recalls the practice of composing an image used by Victor Burgin. This first step is followed by a subsequent one: the original black and white image after being cut, repeated and recomposed is re-shot again by the artist using an analog process: this, almost a photographic tromp-L’oeil, makes the image questions itself and its status as a photography and in doing so it also generate a new false encyclopedia where the creative reflection of the artist operates on the historical materials.

In this use of archives the counts never add up: the hands have multiplied, the plans no longer follow a traditional perspective and red lines cut the image cleanly. The observer’s gaze, perhaps stunned by these multiple interventions, is thus lost in the gestures of the human body, a focus that Hands II shares with other works by Cwynar: the gesture of the hands become the subject though which the artist interrogates the gaze. The duality of the movements of this picture creates a sense of doubt and mystery about the narration hidden inside this image. This possibility of narration is also what the artists wants to underline in order to reflect on the capitalist dynamics of production and consumption, starting from the from advertising campaigns of the 70s. The multiplication and accumulation of objects and their representation in our daily life were already present, in germinal form, decades ago, now we are spectators of a further re-elaboration of those actions. Hands II underline this repetition also suggesting its sensuality and mystery.

Hands II, a large-format photograph printed on glossy paper, imposes itself in front of the observer’s gaze and pours out the critical issues which represents: photography is no longer able to give a certainty but rather a further approximation. Yet another attempt of representation which failed and to which is added a delicate nostalgic veil of a past in which is impossible to find an access. Hands II reflects on the image and gaze that are part of a past and present culture; this reflection, however, is proposed in a subtle way, breaking down the temporal plans and the traditional codes of production and use of the image, proposing a new approach to vision and attention to our present.


Sara Cwynar, Hands II, 2019, Courtesy of the artist and Cooper Cole, Toronto
09 March 2022