Linger’s romantic images have sinister undertones

Vivid image: Artist David Linger’s provocative scenes of Russia

On the one hand, works in David Linger’s “Narratives in Porcelain” on view at Meridian Gallery evoke a vision of Russia that is straight David Lean — all bare birch trees, troikas, fur hats and snow-swept promenades.

The fuzzy black-and-white underglaze prints on translucent porcelain, made from photographs Linger took on a trip to Moscow in 1969, depict the romantic, melancholic vision of the Slavic world embraced in poetry, song and historically whitewashed cinema.

On the other hand, Linger manipulates the images, repeating them in varying degrees of sharpness, homing in on an unsuspecting face, stamping the images with Cyrillic letters like in some bureaucratic code (but which is in fact gibberish).

This complicates the effect: as a result of the manipulations, otherwise quaint scenes take on the more sinister tone of surveillance records.

The people captured in the midst of their random tasks suddenly appear to be the subjects of secret monitoring, and their neutral facial expressions, to be hiding something.

Several panels are embossed with text, which is actually a fictional story written in English.

One can regard the images straight-on without ever noticing the words, which are struck in such low-relief as to be barely visible, and then only when examined up close and at a slight angle, so the electric gallery lights create thin shadows along the grooves of the letters.

While the stories are available on the author’s website, their power lay not in the narrative, which is more young-adult-fiction than Solzhenitsyn.

Given what is known of the Soviet government’s tactics during that era, the fact that people were being watched, and closely, by a government willing to annihilate both citizens and any printed trace of them, the effect is chilling.

But the revelation is in the vantage point from which we consider the images, artful simulacra of an older, analog version of something increasingly troubling in recent years.

Society is ever more “plugged in”; in many major cities, little public space escapes security cameras. More and more of what people do online is watched, recorded and interpreted by entities who use the information in ways people cannot control except by opting out entirely — which, in this age of social networking, may seem like a willing exit into nonpersonhood.

That may seem like a new phenomenon, and perhaps the technological apparatus is new. But what “Narratives in Porcelain” recalls is that the phenomenon itself is as old as the knowledge that to watch, unwatched, is to have power over those you’re watching — whether the instruments are cutting-edge digital technology or blurry black-and-white photos and a paintbrush.

IF YOU GO

Narratives in Porcelain

Where: Meridian Gallery, 535 Powell St., San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes Nov. 26
Contact: (415) 398-7229, www.meridiangallery.org

Just Posted

Central Subway project projected to run $55 million over budget

San Francisco’s $1.6 billion Central Subway is roughly $55 million in the… Continue reading

HUD secretary calls for increased deregulation after tour of Potrero Hill public housing

Carson calls for greater ‘cooperation’ between local, federal officials but offers no additional funds

Suspect in high-profile waterfront attack ordered to stand trial

Judge adds charge against Austin James Vincent for alleged criminal threats

SF increases public funding to help those running for mayor, supervisor

Those running for the Board of Supervisors or mayor will have access… Continue reading

SF supervisors call on health department to ‘pause’ planned relocation of mental health patients

Tensions high as protest by over closure of long-term beds shuts down Health Commission meeting

Most Read