“readings” of the framed images hanging on
the walls, which ultimately are protagonists in
an unending play: time.
Perhaps the complex structural buildup for
each show reflects Wagner’s ongoing preoccupations: architecture and culture. Home and Other
Stories, shown in 1993 at LACMA, consisted of
triptych images of the domestic environments
of strangers. In her essay in the book, Mavlian
suggests the triptychs also present a sanitized
version of life, as tightly edited Facebook or
social media posts do today.
Wagner’s catchy titles are also like the tips of
icebergs filled with content.
One set of images of books written in Braille
was titled trans/literate to indicate what the artist
“Braille publishing was going away because
of technology and blind people had to rely
on audiobooks. Reading is the foundation of
how we construct ideas — even abstract ideas,”
Wagner says. “By documenting this I wanted
to talk about the politics of how knowledge
Another set of images depicting the history
of medical splints presumably for wounded
soldiers was poignantly called Reparations. The
accidental jumble of crated artworks and furni-
ture when the de Young museum was moving
from its old building to make room for its new
one was photographed for a 2005 exhibition
called Re-Classifying History.
At the Baltimore Museum of Industry,
Wagner found a collection of vintage light bulbs
and used them to create a series of Morandi-esque still-lifes titled A Narrative History of the
Light Bulb. In the series, one image dubbed
Lamps of 1900 was of bulbs from that period;
another grouping called Utopia deliberately
mixed bulbs from different periods; blue
bulbs titled Ode to Yves honored the artist Yves
Klein. “I made different narratives from these
installations,” Wagner explains. The narratives
loosely tracked the invention and the history
of the light bulb, but the bulbs also served as
metaphors for parallel histories of that time.
Coming full circle, Archaeology in Reverse,
Wagner’s most recent exhibition at Mills
College in Oakland, where she has taught photography for three decades, was a collaborative
site-specific installation with architects Nicholas
de Monchaux and Kathryn Moll as well as choreographer Molissa Fenley, her colleague and a
professor of dance at Mills.
“It cut into new territory yet cycled back to
my earliest engagement with architecture and
construction at Moscone. At the Mills College
Art Museum, photography interfaced with
existing architecture,” Wagner says.
For the exhibition, she exposed the museum’s
usually concealed glass-roofed skylight with the
use of periscopes that reveal hidden elements
within the rafters. Photographs of repaired or
altered sections of the building and views from
doors and loading docks that had been covered
over for half a century form “apertures” to the
Top: Wagner’s 2013 series trans/literate includes
images of Braille books including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Tropic of Cancer by
Henry Miller that are being replaced by audiobooks.
Bottom: Another still life from A Narrative History of
the Light Bulb.