Taryn Simon

Chapter V


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Not on display

Taryn Simon born 1975
Photographs, digital prints on paper and transfer lettering on paper on board
Displayed: 2135 × 3028 mm
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of Jane and Michael Wilson 2016


Taryn Simon’s A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters 2011 is a photographic installation comprising eighteen ‘chapters’, each of which consists of three or more framed panels displaying photographs and text. The chapters are numbered consecutively using Roman numerals from I to XVIII. Each chapter takes the form of a triptych of varying size and layout – one or more panels containing a group of portraits on the left; a text panel in the centre; and a group of images connected to the subject of the portraits on the right. In each chapter, the portraits relate to a different bloodline the artist has researched and recorded. The blank portrait squares in these panels represent members of the families who could not be photographed. The text panel traces the central narrative, usually a particular event or external situation and its impact on the descendants of a key member of the family. Finally, in the right-hand panel, described by Simon as the ‘footnote’ panel, she presents ‘photographic fragments of the story in a more intuitive, abstract and disordered form’ (Simon in Museum of Modern Art 2012, accessed 28 August 2018). The panels that make up each chapter are in constant dialogue with one another, forming and changing the narrative with each reading. A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters is displayed either as a complete installation or with the individual chapters shown singly or in smaller groups.

For the project, Simon travelled all over the world, from Europe to Latin America, North America, Africa, Australia, Asia and the Middle East in order to document the bloodlines and their stories. The result is a wildly disparate range of subjects, including: the first Palestinian woman to hijack an aircraft (Chapter IX 2011, Tate P14616); victims of genocide in Bosnia (Chapter VII 2011, Tate P14614); the body double of Saddam Hussein’s son (Chapter IV 2011, Tate P14611); test rabbits infected with a lethal disease in Australia (Chapter VI 2011, Tate P14613); and two warring families in north-east Brazil (Chapter XII 2011, Tate P14619). Chapter I 2011 (Tate P14608) gives the project its name, exploring the story of four men in Uttar Pradesh, India, who were registered dead by members of their own family so that they could be cheated out of their ancestral farmland. In each case, despite their geographical diversity, Simon has adopted the same approach in order to explore the relationship between the unalterable influence of heredity and the impact of socio-political events and circumstances on people’s lives.

In this work, as in previous series such as An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar 2007 (Tate P79735P79740), Simon explores the potential of photography to reveal, conceal or produce knowledge. The work is constructed as a kind of archive, an apparent effort to understand a story based on the materials and information at hand. As Simon makes clear, however, the material does not illustrate the story, but rather raises questions about our perception of knowledge: ‘There is something we want to remember, understand and record, but it’s not necessarily clear in whatever language we know and whatever documentation we’ve collected. It’s in the space in between all of it. So if anything I want it to lead to a certain “disorientation” and further questioning.’ (Simon in Museum of Modern Art 2012.)

Further reading
Taryn Simon, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters, London and Berlin 2011.
‘Taryn Simon: A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII’, artist interview, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImX648BEVig, accessed 28 August 2018.

Arthur Goodwin
October 2018

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