Working From Photographs is a body of work of sculpture, photography, and a virtual reality environment, dealing with images of the Levant (the Middle East) from 2000 BCE to 0 and the Americas from 400 to 1400 CE. While these locations and time periods are distant from each other in every way, they are part of the vast, exotic, “non-western”, “pre-historic,” “pre-Columbian” categories of history. How we have preserved and viewed the artefacts and histories of these regions and how we relate to them is culturally specific and is determined by current events and popular culture. In general, we view the Levant, which is the subject of most of the work in the Denny Gallery exhibition, as a highly volatile region that governs (either through religion, history or energy policy) a great deal of world politics, yet culturally we group the Mesopotamians, Assyrians, Aztecs, Mayans, and other so-call primitive peoples in the same category, ignoring significant differences in time, place, and culture. We also ignore the unquantifiable contributions of cultures considered to be primitive, which in the case of the Levant include the birth of writing, mathematics, literature, the wheel, astronomy, banking, and a code of laws. Given both the iconoclasm of extremist groups and the contention between local governments and Western states regarding the possession of their cultural inheritance, the work from the Levant is especially poignant.
The title of the exhibition, “Working From Photographs,” refers both to Tate’s background as an artist who has primarily worked in the medium of photography and to the photographic origins of much of our experience and knowledge of the subjects of the exhibition. Tate’s works include photographs of objects and objects based on photographs, ancient artefacts as well as modern day tourist photography, and thus he makes deliberately ambiguous the relationship between the artwork constructed by the artist in a studio and the appropriated image mined from vast, heterogeneous sources.