According to Instagram’s statistics page an average 70 million photos are uploaded by its users everyday. Quality and context aside, the photograph is undoubtedly the tool of visual communication but easily overlooked or lost to a billion others. At a time where these images have taken a critical point in directing a vision of a collective reality, Liz Deschenes offers an alternative to photography with a conceptual twist. The resulting work takes place on a physical surface in combination with the architecture and history of the space in mind, the photograph acting as an environmental element that has the power to remain elusive, dynamic and contemporary.
Gallery 7 is an installation comprised of eleven doubled-sided images in freestanding frames. Two of the eleven pieces are pigmented prints on acrylic, a more recent technology of the digital age. The blue hue alludes to blue wool cards used by museum professionals to test the faded colors of artwork. The remaining nine panels are silver-gelatin processed photograms, the exposed photographic paper fixed with toner to create mirror-like surfaces of gold and silver. Like antique mirrors with scratched silver backing, these latter images are not flawless, holding a large amount of indecipherable information from the exposure process. With specks and tonal variations of ambient light to fingerprints, the surface details lend significant weight as the history of the image, the artist and her alchemical process.
Like the idea of the photograph, Deschenes’ photograms are also broken down in elements and processes of paper, light and chemicals. Taken outside in long-term exposures, the nocturnal process is reminiscent but in strange contradiction of the darkroom process without camera, negative or designated room. Additional variables in the final images include the temperature and humidity of the atmosphere during the exposure process and continual oxidization with time, light and temperature in the gallery. The shifting sunlight or reflections from the snow on the Walker Art Center roof also alter the photographic surface from minute to minute and day to day.
Deschenes has been deconstructing photography for nearly three decades, working in contrast to the inevitable growth and marginalization of the photographic image while also expanding significantly on the medium. She has taken photography back to a pure definition and essence. Here, the image is composed simply of time, space and light – as an Platonic idea. By removing the medium from its traditional function, etching a moment of time, the artist has allowed for a much greater dialogue to exist with the surface of the print and the architecture of the exhibition space with natural elements of light and time as they happen. The photographic objects combine the two-dimensional planes of a photo with the dimensions of time and space to record every second.
Gallery 7 is a literal reflection of space and the act of seeing. The mirrored surfaces allow for viewer interaction with light, space and the photograph as an object within a physical and metaphorical space to be explored at any time but always present. While lacking in nostalgic qualities of traditional photographs are also disassociated with most of the techniques and images of photographic history for that of a less convoluted existence, a sense of nostalgia in itself for something that simply is and must be experienced to better understand.
By Jake Weigel
Gallery 7 is a year-long exhibit from November 22, 2014 until November 22, 2015.