These 1,075 photographs were taken at both the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Site, and the U.S. Postal Service International Mail Facility, at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York. From November 16 through November 20, 2009, Taryn Simon remained on site at JFK and continuously photographed all items detained or seized from passengers and express mail entering the United States from abroad. This is the first exhibition of this new series of photographs.
Taryn Simon's photographs chronicle contradictory aspects of the American identity while exposing the veiled mechanisms of society. This latest work, CONTRABAND, expands on her earlier series, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007), that explored the divide between private and public.
For five days in November 2009, Simon remained on site at John F. Kennedy International Airport, which processes more international passengers than any other airport in the United States. The exhaustive pace at which she photographed paralleled the twenty-four hour rhythm by which goods move across borders and time zones. Simon used a labor intensive, forensic photographic procedure to document a broad array of forbidden items including the active ingredient found in Botox, counterfeit clothes and accessories (including designer hand bags), heroin, jewelry, over-proof Jamaican rum, items made from endangered species, pharmaceuticals, Cuban cigars, animal parts, pirated DVDs, gold dust, potatoes, GBL (a date-rape drug concealed as house cleaner), cow manure, tooth powder, and illegal steroids. In cataloguing an enormous amount of material in a limited amount of time, emerging patterns reveal a comprehensive cross- section of international commerce, exposing the desires and demands that drive the international economy as well as the local economies that produce them. Removed from the individual passenger's belongings, each item loses its distinguishing personal associations and is transformed into an artifact of the larger global network. Contraband raises questions about what is officially considered to be a threat to authority and security in contemporary American society.
Taryn Simon was born in New York in 1975. Her most recent work, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, reveals that which is integral to America's foundation, mythology and daily functioning, but remains inaccessible or unknown to a public audience. Her earlier work, The Innocents, documents cases of wrongful conviction in the United States and investigates photography's role in that process. Simon's photographs have been exhibited nationally and internationally, including solo shows at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum Fur ModerneKunst, Frankfurt; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Kunst- Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin. Permanent collections include: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. She is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow. Steidl recently published An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar and Simon's book Contraband was released in September 2010. Additionally, Simon is currently working on a global project that will be exhibited and published in Spring 2011 at the Tate Modem, London and the Neue Nationale Galerie, Berlin. Simon will be exhibiting a new work at the 2011 Venice Biennale.
Richard D. Marshall, Curator
1,075 color photographs, each 6 1/4 x 6 1/4 inches, mounted on archival paper and presented in 16 plexiglass frames, each 95 x 71 inches