"Taryn Simon: The Innocents" at the Guild Hall Museum, East Hampton, New York.
On view June 17 through July 30, 2017.
The exhibition coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that works to reform the criminal justice system.
The work of Taryn Simon results from rigorous research guided by an interest in systems of categorization and the precarious nature of survival. Turning our attention to the margins of power, where control, disruption, and the contours of its constructedness become visible, she reveals the imperceptible space between language and the visual world—a space in which multiple truths and fantasies are constructed, and where translation and disorientation occur. The technical, physical, and aesthetic realization of her projects often reflects the control and authority that are the very subject of her work. Invoking the form of the archive, Simon imposes the illusion of order on the chaotic and indeterminate nature of her subjects.
Simon’s earliest body of work, The Innocents (2002), documents the stories of individuals who served time in prison for violent crimes they did not commit. At issue is the question of photography’s function as a credible eyewitness and arbiter of justice. The primary cause of wrongful conviction is mistaken identification. A victim or eyewitness identifies a suspected perpetrator through law enforcement’s use of photographs and lineups. This procedure relies on the assumption of precise visual memory. But through exposure to composite sketches, mug shots, Polaroids, and lineups, eyewitness memory can change. In the history of these cases, photography offered the criminal-justice system a tool that transformed innocent citizens into criminals. Photographs assisted officers in obtaining eyewitness identifications and aided prosecutors in securing convictions. Simon photographed these men at sites that had particular significance to their illegitimate conviction: the scene of misidentification, the scene of arrest, the scene of the crime, or the scene of the alibi. All of these locations hold contradictory meanings for the subjects. The scene of arrest marks the starting point of a reality based in fiction. The scene of the crime is at once arbitrary and crucial: this place, to which they have never been, changed their lives forever. In these photographs Simon confronts photography’s ability to blur truth and fiction—an ambiguity that can have severe, even lethal, consequences.
The Innocents was produced with the support of a John Simon Guggenheim grant and was first exhibited at MoMA PS1 in New York.
ABOUT TARYN SIMON
Taryn Simon (b. 1975) is a multidisciplinary artist working in photography, text, sculpture and performance. Her works have been the subject of exhibitions at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen (2016–17), The Albertinum, Dresden (2016), Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague (2016), Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2016), Jeu de Paume, Paris (2015), Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing (2013); Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012); Tate Modern, London (2011); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2011); and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007).
Permanent collections include Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, the Guggenheim Museum, Centre Georges Pompidou, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Her work was included in the 56th Venice Biennale (2015). Simon’s installation, An Occupation of Loss (2016) premiered at the Park Avenue Armory in New York and will be re-staged by Artangel at an outdoor location in the UK. Simon is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow. She lives and works in New York.
ABOUT THE INNOCENCE PROJECT
Since 1992, close to 350 people have been exonerated by DNA testing in the United States. The Innocence Project, associated with New York’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, provided direct representation or critical assistance in more than half of the cases and has worked to pass more than one hundred state and federal laws to prevent and address wrongful convictions, including in the area of eyewitness identification. The Innocence Project’s use of DNA technology to uncover wrongful convictions has helped to transform the nation’s approach to criminal justice by revealing systematic defects. Simon’s The Innocents serves as a record of the earliest exonerations through DNA evidence in the United States.
Rear Views, A Star-Forming Nebula, and the Department of Foreign Propaganda
The Works of Taryn Simon