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‘Promising Waters’ at the Haggerty Museum

Mila Teshaieva’s exhibit offers quiet conversations through photos

Jan. 27, 2015
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Mila Teshaieva, The Builder, Archival pigment print, 2011

A local museum is taking on an international flair with two of its new exhibitions. “States of Uncertainty”and “Mila Teshaieva: Promising Waters" have opened at the Haggerty Museum of Art, and a visit to them is like eavesdropping on sophisticated, worldly conversations.

If one thing can be unquestionably, objectively said about “States of Uncertainty" it is that it is a tiny show. Yet each of the four works by three artists (Yael Bartana, Aleksandra Domanović and Shilpa Gupta) confidently speaks on dual channels of our existence in modern society. We wander on the wavelengths of days surrounded by familiar things like paper, tape, signs, trees. Overarching and abstract forms are the geopolitical constructs that shape our habits, economies, alliances and worldviews. Each of the artists uses the vocabulary of the ordinary to open a channel of discussion, piercing the envelope of unseen power structures.

Comparatively speaking, “Mila Teshaieva: Promising Waters" is sprawling and a surprisingly satisfying body of large photographic works. She spent more than four years in the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan making images that use the Caspian Sea and rugged terrain as recurring figures. It is hard to classify her work as documentary, surreal or quietly sympathetic. It is unselfconsciously each of these.

A straight line of birds, like dashes in the sky, flies over a deserted beach at just the right moment. An Asiatic man dressed like one of the Blues Brothers (sans hat but with sunglasses) stands on top of a barren, desolate mountain. His shoes are impeccably clean and he is only slightly windblown, as if catching a mechanical breeze on a subway platform. Teshaieva is in the right place at the right time, the formal construction of her work seamlessly blending with quiet narratives.

While the exhibition text describes the work as questioning aspects of private identity and the political state, the strongest aspects come through Teshaieva’s cool composure. She presents the stoic grandeur and decay of buildings, the reticence of the people opening a polite hand while still aloof and calmly guarded, and the ever-present, eternal sea and land of varied names.

“States of Uncertainty and “Mila Teshaieva: Promising Waters” continue through May 31 at the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University Campus, 530 N. 13th St.

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