The Reflecting Surface exhibition questions how we conceive of and master the milieu that surrounds us. The Reflecting Surface engages in exploring this relationship through six different strategies that transform space into place through an anthropology of “home and elsewhere.” Presented are six artists from two countries. It will be shown in different locations (in Finland, Sweden, Austria and England). Each of the artistic practices approaches the viewer and their own sense of locality by questioning place and identity.
At Home or Elsewhere?
There is something in the way we define ourselves that cannot be separated from a notion of locality. Our personal development is closely related to the world around us. In order to elevate a particular place from nowhere to somewhere, it must be inscribed on the map of experience. To overcome the everyday, it is important that we are aware of the relationship between ourselves and the milieu that surrounds us. For it is difficult to understand our visual culture without considering how the milieu in which we live influences our ways of seeing.
Like the fingerprint or the bullet fired from a gun, the photograph is an indexing sign that cannot be separated from the physical presence of what it seeks to signify or represent. When we look at a photograph, we understand it as much in terms of what we do not see as what is revealed to us. Far from being an objective witness, the photograph is mediated by a web of contextual information. In this play of presence and absence, the understanding of the photographic image is conditioned by the image itself and the viewer’s point of view.
Anna Brag, for example, uses her continuously evolving work Prototype to build a community whose members are identifiable by their distinct physical appearance. Wherever the work is shown, six women are invited to have their hair cut and dyed in a very specific way. Documentation and pinpointing of geography thwart attempts to connect the divisive differences that occur in this community, despite outward similarities, to anything other than personal place of residence. Something similar occurs in the paintings shown by Clifton Steinberg. His objects and images focus on how we try to present ourselves in public. Whether it is through our own appearance, or the way we stake out our possessions. Across from the gallery window is strung a series of plastic key chains. These key holders are designed to hold a personal photograph – something reminiscent of a home. These images of homes reveal how individuals reshape their surroundings in order to appropriate them.
Shizuka Yokomizo is also concerned with how individuals mark their possessions. But here the fixed gaze of the camera and the viewer meets the controlled stare of the person who calls this place home. In the series Strangers, Yokomizo comes into contact with people she will never meet in person by photographing them as they look out the windows of their own homes onto the street. By taking these photographs in the various locations where The Reflecting Surface has been shown, a sense of the territorial is mingled with the voyeuristic content of the images. The power of the fixed gaze combines intimately with what transforms the fixed camera gaze into a controlled portrait. These moments of self-reflection are also visible in Martyn Simpson‘s cut outs: as well as us trying to make sense of what we see, Simpson’s images shift from lunar landscape to domestic threshold. These abstract forms reflect a moment of complete self-absorption, the moment of staring into space and contemplating the materiality of the surrounding building. Far from abstraction, these are very concrete images of the walls of the contemplative cells in Le Corbusier’s La Tourette monastery. In many ways, photography will always be a self-portrait of the image’s author, as it is a representation of a subjective and partial view of reality. Although Per Hüttner appears in his own images, the series he shoots at the main sites of the consumer movement draw as much attention to the surrounding urban space as to the recurring incongruous figure. Dressed in the latest “sportswear,” Hüttner is one hurrying from place to place in an endless marathon: like the Bechers’ anthropology of industrial capital and Steinberg’s cataloging of domestic facades, Hüttner’s shopping malls seem to focus more on the diversity of details than on the concordance that is apparent at first glance. Dislocation and dislocation are fundamental to forming a concept of home: To recognize the here and for self-identification, we must recognize the elsewhere. What is essential here is how certain places – be it home or elsewhere – are presented to us again. This subjective view is a product of broad cultural concerns that are constantly changing in response to the zeitgeist.
Bengt Olof Johansson‘s work mediates on representational structures that form both the codes of artistic practice and the way we understand our environment. Utopian landscape representation and transitions between home and elsewhere are composed in such a way as to make exhibition visitors aware of how indispensable their own presence is to the completion of the artworks that surround them. Johansson’s work sums up the concerns of The Reflecting Surface: It questions how we conceive of and master the milieu that surrounds us.
Lisa Le Feuvre