Melissa Catanese


The Lottery
Hells Hollow Fallen Monarch
Dive Dark Dream Slow

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122 pages, paperback, 5.25" x 7.5"
67 photographs
The Ice Plant, October 2018

available here & here

Where do our minds go when we read books, magazines, and letters? Do we seek an escape, a portal to another world? A secret, a truth, a pleasant distraction? Voyagers, edited by Melissa Catanese, consists almost entirely of anonymous black & white snapshots of people in various postures of reading — in living rooms, on beds, at the beach, eating breakfast. We can’t see what these readers are thinking, but Catanese occasionally breaks the hypnotic typological rhythm to reveal a new photographic element — a pyramid, a starry night, sunlight glowing through a window — giving us brief glimpses of the readers’ potential narrative journeys. A wordless book with the size and feel of a vintage paperback found at a flea market, Voyagers reminds us of the power and intimacy of our relationship to ‘reading devices,’ and evokes an exotic nostalgia for our recent pre-digital culture. As with Catanese’s prior books, the images were judiciously selected from the collection of Peter J. Cohen, a celebrated trove of more than 20,000 vernacular photographs from the early- to mid-twentieth century.


Melissa Catanese compiles anonymous black-and-white found photographs of people lost in that liminal space between this world and a fictional one. Their bodies are left behind, vulnerable to our gaze, while their minds travel to places we cannot imagine. - The Paris Review

Alan Huck for C4 Journal

Talking in the Library with Kim Beil and Tabitha Soren

The images in Voyagers can certainly be appreciated as a beatific window into the past, but to do so belies the depth of Catanese’s investigation. And while I admire the meta facet of Voyagers, to consider the book solely in the realm of conceptual art does not concede its hopefulness and lyricism. A key aim of Catanese’s practice is to, “build elliptical narratives.” Such an aim implies a high level of intentionality and an invitation to participate, to construct meaning, to read. Voyagers contains a multifaceted call and through reading, I respond again and again. - Lisa McCarty for Lenscratch

MetroSource NY

The Heavy Collective

Voyagers video installation at Musée des beaux-arts le Locle from the exhibition Le plaisir de texte curated by the museum’s director, Federica Chiocchetti 

© 2023, Musée des beaux-arts le Locle. Photo : Lucas Olivet. Tous droits réservés.

Here, Catanese uses pages from Voyagers as raw material, combining still images with ephemeral vignettes and textural performances with objects found in the artist’s studio as the subject matter for her intertextual non-narrative video.  

Rephtographed pages of the book fixate on details of the readers’ bodies and the architectural spaces surrounding them. Pictorial elements appear and dissipate. The edges of a wall, mirror, or radiator conform to the same sensual ambiguity of the dismembered figure – the downward head, the bent elbow or flexed foot. 

Animate page turns suspend our attention from the sharp collision of stills as a reader’s head comes forward and recedes, bending into a montage of abrasions made from light and inverted imagery on the surface of the page. Within these edge states, the reader drifts, pivots, and loses herself in a process of Unbecoming, eventually seized by short ephemeral vignettes – a spider in its web, an erupting volcano, moonbeam on water.

Inspired by the idea of bliss as being something which both comforts and disturbs, Catanese’s Voyagers is at once cogent and obscure, composed and unrecognizable – an enigmatic invitation for the reader/spectator to both reject and dissolve into these contradictions as an active participant in the text.