Anna Schwartz Gallery is pleased to present an exhibition by acclaimed American artist Taryn Simon. Simon will show her series Contraband, first presented in 2010 in New York and subsequently exhibited in the United States, Europe, Central and East Asia, and the Middle East. This is the first time the series will be shown in Australia.
Contraband comprises 1,075 photographs taken at both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site and the U.S. Postal Service International Mail Facility, both located at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and functioning as liminal spaces between the U.S. and other nations. For one full working week, 24 hours per day, Simon remained on site, photographing items detained or seized from passengers and express mail entering the U.S. from abroad.
The resulting project catalogues the expansive inventory of objects, presenting the collected items alphabetically and underscoring random patterns and connections among them. Using a forensic photographic procedure to document the seized items, and a presentation strategy drawing upon scientific and museological methodologies, Simon removes the confiscated items from all context, and instead positions them as symbols of illicit desire, illegal trade, and government control.
Each item is labelled according to official classifications including ‘abandoned’, ‘illegal’, ‘unlicensed’, and ‘counterfeit’. Simon’s inventory includes pirated movies; counterfeit cashier’s cheques; fat, sausages, deer blood, and duck tongue; counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags and Patek Philippe watches; counterfeit Xanax and erectile dysfunction medication; GBL (a component of date rape drug); and a dead bird intended for use in witchcraft rituals.
Simon’s photographs capture both the strict logistical control of the airport, which adheres to legal restrictions on certain categories of foreign objects, as well as the chaos and disorder that remain despite this control – scrutinising the bizarre, the forgotten, and the banal with a cold, administrative gaze.
With debates around border security and trade agreements occupying a central role in current political discourse, Contraband underscores the routine detention and denial of the passage of objects and people, as well as the deliberate obscuring of the innocent or unknown in a bureaucratic fog.