Telling stories: Daniel Heyman and Ditta Baron Hoeber

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Daniel Heyman
Disco Mosul, Amman series, drypoint, 22x 27

Two exhibits at the Print Center are not the sort of thing you can glance at and breeze through. They are work by two artists intent on telling stories, so you need to slow down and listen.

Daniel Heyman’s stories are notable for their grip on reality, for their political juice, and for the method of installation. They are part of Daniel Heyman’s Abu Ghraib prisoner interviews. Heyman witnessed the interviews with former detainees of Abu Ghraib when he traveled to Amman, Jordan this year as part of a team pursuing a class action suit on behalf of these prisoners. We saw a portion of the results last summer at the Ice Box, in Heyman’s Clean Up America Instllation.

This installation at the Print Center, the Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project, gets some of its visceral juice from the words stenciled on the floor–excerpts from the interviews arranged in a house-like shape, but this house is not a home. Trampling the words at the same time as reading them is harsh and difficult, and the words are so loaded with horror that even small tidbits of them have impact.

Daniel Heyman
Floor detail of Daniel Heyman’s installation at the Print Center

This is how Heyman did the portraits (from a press release to the previous show at the Ice Box):

Heyman traveled to Amman at the invitation of Philadelphia law firm Burke Pyle LLC to participate in interviews that the firm, along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Detroit law firm Akeel and Valentine PLC, were conducting as they gathered evidence for a class action lawsuit on behalf of former detainees at Abu Ghraib. All of the Iraqi clients were tortured by their American captors and/or the translators working with the Americans, and none of the clients were ever formally accused of any crime. They have all been released.

Heyman was invited to witness the interviews in a visual medium. He created portraits of the Iraqis, and in cases when the clients feared to be identified, their interviewers. Working quickly by hand in the drypoint technique on copper plates used in printmaking, Heyman not only made portraits but transcribed parts of the translated testimonies by writing backwards on the plate. When he ran out of copper plates, Heyman switched to watercolor as his medium for the portraits.

Daniel Heyman
Installation shot

The portrait subjects, some missing limbs, others of men just telling their tales, come across in all their humanity and dignity, but ultimately this is an exhibit about the stories they have to tell–and of our nation’s human rights failures and of all of our failures to take care of eachother. So slow down and take a look, especially if you haven’t seen his other exhibit of this work. This iteration is quite simple and straightforward in its approach, and the end result is quite moving.

Ditta Baron Hoeber
Installation shot of some of Hoeber’s books on pedestals with cradles to keep the books from lying flat.

Also at the Print Center are a group of artist’s books by Ditta Baron Hoeber. Hoeber’s installation of her books of photographic stories is pristine and elegant; the pedestals and the books atop them have a monumentality that made me think of stele and Oscars all at once. The exhibit also includes a book of self-portrait drawings.

Ditta Baron Hoeber
A page of Story, by Ditta Baron Hoeber

Hoeber, a photographer and artist, uses photographic books to tell double tales–actors acting or rehearsing scenes. But we are separated from the scripts; only Hoeber’s sequential photographs remain, with actors interacting with others outside the frame. The result is a bit mysterious and distanced, leaving room for us to imagine what’s going on within the frame, outside the frame, and between the frames.

A bit of gossip–Hoeber’s books include Hoeber’s L.A. art-meteor son, Julian Hoeber, filming. And I should add that Ditta’s a friend.

Of the photographic books, my favorites were Story, Movie and Begin, Begin Again.

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daniel heyman, ditta baron hoeber

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