Inessential views of art and photography.
Reconstructions @ Belfast Exposed
OK, let’s be clear from the start that I really don’t know anything about architecture or architectural photography. I’m no Aaron Betsky. But the more I’m exposed to it the more I like architectural photography, and like it a lot. For me artistic photographs of the built environment ties into old Modernist ideals of purity in form and of the found object, and into Postmodern notions of robbing and reappropriating someone else’s painstaking work (the planning and construction of a millions-of-pounds concrete structure can only be described as painstaking, even if it is a Tesco.) And great architectural photography just looks cool. See the Becher’s, Lewis Baltz, or any of the other New Topographics photographers from the 1970s, and their stuff was small scale.
More than once I’ve found myself trawling through WEX’s website looking at tilt-shift lenses I can’t afford, trying to weigh up whether putting myself into debt would be worth the slim possibility of getting images like Iwan Baan or Andreas Gursky. Also, all photography deals with time and space by virtue of the medium, but architectural photography is of time and space, as an almost primary subject matter. Specifically, through much architectural imagery the promise of the future is made real and tangible in the present, in this very structure, at this particular moment in time. It’s so shiny you can almost touch it, which I love, failed idealist I am.
It was with framework in my head that I visited Belfast Exposed last week to see Reconstructions, a small exhibition of four series of works by Espen Dietrichson, Jan McCullough, Taylo Onarato & Nico Krebs, and Nina Fischer & Maroan el Sani. The work was great, and greatly contemporary.
Dietrichson’s digitally-manipulated images of exploded-out exteriors, hovering ominously over their original structures, are incredibly playful and bring to mind immediate questions about the dynamics of the medium: artistic vision versus reality, the original versus the simulacra. Their black and white graininess, and the ghostly floating forms of their panels, also comes across as quite dark, a vision of the future that is at once as sinister as it is wondrous. The shiny future I mentioned is still seen, just through a darker lens.
McCullough and Fischer & el Sani’s work I found visually arresting if slightly less grabbing. The formal beauty of the latter was particularly powerful, being images of the now-empty Communist Party Headquarters in Paris. But Onorato and Krebs’ 2D – or were they 3D? – images were the most fascinating to view in the whole show. Their concept was deceptively simple (as the best ideas always are, damnit.) By overlaying background images of everyday office and apartment buildings in Berlin with foreground frames made up by hammering together cheap timber and nails, they play with our notions of what is constructed and what is real via a sort of doubly-built environment. Similar to Dietrichson’s work, they create a doppelgänger effect, surrealist in the true Modernist sense. They are great, part optical illusion, part elliptical allusion.
Belfast Exposed’s Reconstructions: A Response
Also of much interest was Belfast Exposed’s Reconstructions: A Response, an exhibition by ten of BX’s volunteer workers, very talented art photographers in their own right, in creative reply to the larger Reconstructions work. If you haven’t figured out by now, two of Patri’s own images were included in the exhibition, so I’m a bit predisposed towards enjoying the work but I’m also intensely critical when it comes to local artists as much as any others – I cut no slack, as a good image is a good image and vice versa. The majority of the work on display was good. I particularly enjoyed the work by Eilish McQuillan and Jill Quigley. The former for being beautifully lit, textured, minimal and really quite elegant. The latter for being just weird and wonderful, and probably for keeping most with the themes of the larger exhibition, especially Dietrichson. Quigley’s image of six brightly coloured drain pipes, the building they are anchored to being completely blackened out, is singularly fantastic, as is the other work on her website.
And of course I loved Patri’s images. Her collages each mash together the various homes that two of her rather nomadic Spanish acquaintances have lived in over the past few years in Galway. It is work that is close to her own heart as Patri herself has lived a similarly nomadic existence since she moved away from home at 18, first in Spain, then Germany, and now in Ireland. Formally, I think the images work great, the colors, textures and scale especially. They are subtley put together in such a way as to fool you into thinking they are complete images form a distance, but upon looking more closely (and they do draw you in), to reveal their absolute and slightly humorous construction. I liken them to the fragments of memory of all of the different places we live in our lives, especially in our childhood and early adult years, and how we patch these together into senses of places and times in our past, an emotional patchwork of physical places. I really liked it.