“I want to make work about biography, but I don’t want to talk about myself,” Anna Shteynshleyger explained when asked about the apparent emotional disjunction of the biographical work currently on exhibition at the Renaissance Society. Twenty large photographs (most forty by fifty inches), portraits and landscapes from the series “City of Destiny,” examine the artist’s relationship to the orthodox Jewish community and landscape in which she has grown to be a part.
Spiritual allusions are embedded in each image allowing the photographs to be “read,” in a manner similar to religious allegories. In “Father and Son,” a father holds a sapling while his son is looking out into the woods though a video camera, symbolically “learning” to see the world from his own perspective, he is awaiting the tree that will one day become material for his house.
“Portrait With Mordechai” nods to the biblical story of Esther and Mordechai, with Shteynshleyger herself cast as the pregnant Esther, looking emotionlessly at the camera. Although biographical in nature, her identity seems inseparable from the intricate social and religious web she weaves into the composition of her photographs. Shteynshleyger is not interested in depicting individual experience, but rather a collective, even spiritual engagement
Shteynshleyger’s portraits focus on couples, youths, families and vacant-if-not-abandoned slumbering landscapes that document the vanishing vestige of human presence. The exhibition paints an emotionally alienated world that to outsiders (maybe even more specifically, non-believers) is bound by laws that are difficult to access, but easily assumed to be isolating or oppressive. (Beatrice Smigasiewicz)
Through February 14 at the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 5811 South Ellis.