Galerie Raum mit Licht




Opening: Wednesday 03 March 2010, 19:00
Exhibition: 04 March - 22 April 2010

Where digital photography invades an established analogue territory, where the contents of a photograph are deemed more important than the physical means by which they are delivered, and where much of the production process is 'contracted out' to professional laboratories, a 'hands off' attitude to the medium may emerge as a normative condition. By contrast, the work of the four artists in this exhibition stems from a much more 'hands on' approach. There is no moral judgement implied in this distinction (indeed, some of them may also resort to digital strategies as part of an overall process), simply an acknowledgement of four practices in which some aspect of the artist's bodily behaviour intersects directly with the innate properties of photographic film and paper in the production of an artwork.

Perhaps this interaction has its most extreme manifestation in the work of Lindsay Seers, where the camera body is displaced by the artist's own body, and the lens by her mouth. The proposition of the body as a vessel, with both internal space and external features, was manifested as a reflected self-image in Seers' earliest photographic and film works, so that the more complete conflation of artist and camera, recorded subject and recording instrument, comes as a logical step. In her Auto-Portraits such reflexivity is optimised. First diving into a large, light-proof black bag, she places a sheet of paper or film into the back of her mouth, then positions a gum-shield at the front to seal off all the light except where it is pricked by a pinhole, which she blocks with a piece of tape or with a hand before she emerges to take a picture. She now holds up a mirror to reflect her face, briefly removes hand or tape to make an exposure, then returns to the bag to empty her mouth, storing the exposed photographic material for subsequent development. The resulting images are infused with traces of the process. The face is distorted by the optics of the pinhole, yet the surrounding distance is clearly rendered because of a deep focus. Each picture is 'framed' by the artist's teeth, and, when in colour, is saturated with red because of light-penetration through her capillary-laced cheeks. The body as both viewing device and viewed subject is articulated through an emphatic act of interior/exterior self-consciousness, and presented as a lucid image of subject/object dualism.

A performative relationship between instrument and body is also observable in the work of Laura Medler, where the continuous progression of film through her specially adjusted camera has a correlation with the behaviour of her moving subjects. Like Lindsay Seers, she has sometimes doubled as her own subject (in which case a camera operator works under her instruction), but otherwise she is behind the camera, directing events on both sides of the lens. There are, in fact, three intersecting actions. An entire roll of medium-format film is driven through a motorised camera (mounted on a tripod) in a single thirty-second exposure, its lateral movement simultaneously accompanied by horizontal or vertical camera pans: back-and-forth, up-and-down, at variable speeds and in various arcs. The subject, meanwhile, is also in motion - rotating on a turntable, performing a specified action from a stationary position, or sailing through the air on a swing. From this triple interplay of movements by film, camera and subject, fabulous transformations ensue. Sometimes displayed vertically, sometimes horizontally, a single figure is distorted, extruded, fragmented and repeated along all or part of the film's length. It may become fat or thin, young or old, beautiful or grotesque, with the backgrounds similarly transfigured, so that a garden becomes a jungle or an apartment a mansion. Controlled, pre-planned transformation is at the heart of this work, but it is further inflected by the unpredictable consequences of a frenetic procedure that stems from an acknowledgement of time, light and motion as a basis of photography (always under the added influence of the camera operator's own perambulations).

Such physical connection between camera and photographer may be paralleled by an equally physical relationship with any subsequent films or prints. Indeed, in the work of Aliki Braine, the origins of her images, usually landscapes, are quite orthodox: it is what follows that breaks with the conventionally respectful 'hands off' treatment accorded to negatives and finished prints. In fact, the hand, in this case, is used to effect an intervention, to introduce additional pictorial elements through alarmingly intrusive acts of post-production. She removes segments of her films with a hole-punch, or obliterates areas through the smearing of inks onto the delicate surface. Immaculate prints are defaced with adhesive stickers, perforated with pinpricks, or turned to face the wall like naughty children. In their first phase, these actions may be construed as anarchic and damaging attacks on her favoured medium of choice - but such punishment is only in the interests of improvement. As a trained art-historian, Braine consciously references various old-master paintings and drawings, both formally and iconographically, and seeks to invest her images of skies, trees and water with narrative order and topological adjustment. A tranquil copse becomes bleakly doom-laden, or an isolated winter tree seemingly bleached by a thick and stifling coat of ice. These works recognise the physical features of analogue photography (film and paper) and deploy frankly materialist strategies to establish the oppositions of positive and negative, transparency and opacity. Yet the most enduring consequence of this overt medium-specificity is the introduction of enhanced imaginary readings of otherwise 'innocent' pictures.

This route from unadorned fact to subjective interpretation through the originating aegis of the hand is also symptomatic of Anna Mossman's work. Over a number of years she has doggedly conspired to use photography to relay information deemed beyond its normal capability. Her camera has previously been directed towards smells and sounds in an attempt to detect the perfume of a flower or to record a spoken confession. More recently, she has applied the rules of photography to drawing and writing, proposing the acts of copying and repetition as a common feature. For example, having made a dot at the centre of a large sheet of paper, she draws round it, attempting to mimic its circularity. Around that circle she now draws another, and so on, until much of the paper has been filled. In fact, the hand-drawn attempts are imperfect, and each imperfection is repeated and amplified as the concentric 'circles' grow in number. The finished drawing is then photographed onto 10" x 8" transparency film, so that the resultant print appears as a negative. The linear image is reconfigured as a delicate white pattern on a dark ground, now full of associative possibility, yet also peculiarly like a photogram. In establishing this confusion between indexical fact and speculative fiction, a set of photographic values has now displaced the graphic originals, which can be seen in retrospect as merely a necessary means to another end. The preciously unique drawing has been wilfully discarded in favour of a medium more usually associated with the ephemeral and the repeatable.

Mossman also uses photography as a tool to translate texts, changing a passage of Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho from positive to negative by inverting words to their opposite meaning, and then printing the re-written text as a negative image to complete the topsy-turvy transcription. This declarative and insistent use of photography as a medium, exhibiting its physical specificity, complemented by pronounced bodily interventions, variously involving the mouth (Lindsay Seers), the hand (Anna Mossman and Aliki Braine), or more energetic gymnastics (Laura Medler), is the characterising feature of all the work in the exhibition. It denies the presumed 'transparency' of the medium, explicitly acknowledges the active presence of the photographer, and, from the platform of this critical self-consciousness, like all good art, then surprises you by delivering something 'extra'.

John Hilliard 2009