What's in the Bag?

What's in the Bag?

Manhattan-based photographer Robin Blackwood’s two-part exhibition, Unattended Bags and More Songs About Buildings and Shoes, is as thought provoking as it is beautiful. This is not a conventional art show, but then neither is the space, Splashlight Photographic and Digital Studios, in which it is on view thru Jan. 3.

Initially, Blackwood’s photographs strike one as “pretty” pictures of fancy women’s shoes and designer handbags (by Louis Vuitton and Betsey Johnson, among others), set against striking architecture or in gentle landscapes, and executed with a painterly quality akin to watercolor. The 30 unframed images—pigment on archival cotton media—are uniform in size: Whether horizontal or vertical, each sheet measures 32 inches by 41.4 inches; each is held in place on the wall by eight white pushpins.

Blackwood, however, is not a fashion photojournalist. Fashion interests her, and she may even be a fashionista (as a child, she liked to dress up in her mother’s clothes), but informing her work is 9/11 and its consequences: the constant threat of terrorism and the heightened security that are now facts of modern life. Left unattended in public places like Grand Central Terminal, pretty handbags containing lethal weapons can do harm. After the Shoe Bomber, platform pumps are suspect. An elegant high heel (right, "Outside the System") posed in the New York subway beneath the sign “However, Passengers with Uninspected Items Are Not Permitted to Enter the System & Are Subject to Arrest If They Attempt to Do So” is a sobering image: This shoe was made for walking, only not here. Is Blackwood commenting on the loss of personal freedom post-9/11 or is she making the point that accessories expressive of character and personality can also destroy the very bodies they are meant to adorn and serve? Like the proverbial shoe, perhaps both interpretations fit.

Splashlight (ironically this is where Macy’s and fashion brands shoot campaigns) is on the third floor of an office building where SoHo meets TriBeCa at Canal St. To gain access to the third floor, visitors must present a photo ID at the lobby desk. The guard then hands over a sticky access label to be worn in a prominent spot. It was in the elevator going up that I noticed mine had fallen off. Nor was it on the floor. Without it, would I be hauled off as a potential terrorist? That thought stayed with me as I toured the exhibition. A half hour later, I was back on the street. Safe, until I saw an unattended bag curbside. The exhibition had unnerved me in more ways than one.

>> Splashlight, 75 Varick St., at Canal St., 212.268.7247. Open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Free.



"Hudson River Line, Grand Central Station," "Outside the System" and "Meeting, Manhattan" © 2010-2013 Robin Blackwood