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Book Review: Ad Infinitum


Book Review Ad Infinitum By Kris Vervaeke Reviewed by Adam Bell The lure of immortality is potent. The desire to remain present, even if it is just in a memory, exists for most. Whether the memory is only with one’s family and loved ones or if it extends outward, our eminent demise forces this cruel calculation. Unfortunately, even the most carefully preserved memorials fade — whether they are carved in stone, printed on paper or wired in the electrical synapses of our minds.


Ad Infinitum. By Kris Vervaeke.
Self-Published, 2013.
 
Ad Infinitum
Reviewed by Adam Bell

Ad Infinitum
By Kris Vervaeke

$68.00
Self-Published, 2013. 264 pp., 133 color illustrations, 5½x8".

The lure of immortality is potent. The desire to remain present, even if it is just in a memory, exists for most. Whether the memory is only with one’s family and loved ones or if it extends outward, our eminent demise forces this cruel calculation. Unfortunately, even the most carefully preserved memorials fade — whether they are carved in stone, printed on paper or wired in the electrical synapses of our minds. How we remember is also deeply personal and cultural specific. As such, funerary art takes on many forms — from the baroque mausoleums of tony American suburbs to the fantasy coffins of Ghana. Photographs are less common, but can still be found printed on porcelain or etched in stone throughout the world. Faded and chipped, the rephotographed Chinese memorial photographs that fill Kris Vervaeke’s Ad Infinitum are a striking example of this genre. Collected from a single graveyard in Hong Kong, the images and work are a sobering reminder of the limits of photographic memory and the fragility of memory in both its physical and immaterial forms.

Ad Infinitum. By Kris Vervaeke. Self-Published, 2013.

Carefully cropped, each photograph in Ad Infinitum is an isolated memorial portrait from a single headstone in a Hong Kong cemetery. Empty most of the year, the graves are visited by relatives and loved ones on special occasions to honor the deceased. Anonymous and decontextualized, the porcelain portraits and people they depict in the book are lined up and stretch onwards as the title suggests ad infinitum. Chipped, scored and abraded, they are all exposed, year round, and show various states of decay and age. In some, the face is entirely missing. In others, the abrasions and gaps allow us to glimpse fragments of the face. Eerily, the eyes and glasses seem to be the first to go for many. Their sightless visages unable to stare back at those who’ve memorialized them. Despite their anonymity within the collection, each is riveting in its own way and commands attention. Looking through the book, one is drawn, not only to the variety of anonymous faces, but also to the multiple ways in which they have succumb to time — a veritable typology of forgetting and decay.

Ad Infinitum. By Kris Vervaeke. Self-Published, 2013.
Ad Infinitum. By Kris Vervaeke. Self-Published, 2013.

Modest in size and nicely designed, Ad Infinitum was a recent finalist for the 2013 Aperture First Book Prize, and it seems clear that the thoughtful balance of form and content caught the judge’s eye. Each image is given its own spread with a thin white border and the book’s page edges divide the book into black and white sections. Although it directly doesn’t relate to the sections’ similar content, the division is echoed in a black to white dissolve on the book’s covers and mirrors the images’ own disintegration from black and white to pure white. The center of the book, which also marks the edges’ transition from black to white, contains the book’s primary text­—a brief artist’s statement by Vervaeke that discusses the work.

Ad Infinitum. By Kris Vervaeke. Self-Published, 2013.
Ad Infinitum. By Kris Vervaeke. Self-Published, 2013.

Photographs of the deceased emit a potent and seductive aura, and artists have often used such portraits to great effect. One example that immediately comes to mind would be the work of Christian Boltanski. However, images with such built in associations can often overpower any more nuanced or particular readings. Literally and figuratively, death overwhelms all. While Ad Infinitum is a powerful and beautiful book, the individuals seem to deserve more than their anonymity allows. But this is true for all deceased. Vervaeke left the people anonymous out of respect to the families, and their anonymity certainly adds power to the images, but sometimes appropriation and isolation can only take you so far. Just because the surface is cracked and faded, doesn’t mean you should stop there.—ADAM BELL

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ADAM BELL is a photographer and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts, and his work has been exhibited and published internationally. He is the co-editor and co-author, with Charles H. Traub and Steve Heller, of The Education of a Photographer (Allworth Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Foam Magazine, Afterimage, Lay Flat and Ahorn Magazine. He is currently on staff and faculty at the School of Visual Arts' MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department. His website and blog are adambbell.com and adambellphoto.blogspot.com.

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