On view from June 29, the grand reopening summer show of Sous Les Etoiles Gallery showcases photography of various styles and media by artists Carolle Benitah, Julie Boserup, Richard Caldicott, Gianfranco Chiavacci, Luuk de Haan, Jean-Pierre Laffont, Andreas Gefeller, Georges Rousse, Marleen Sleeuwits and Harvey Stein. These works contemplate the phenomenological realities of the spatial and temporal dimensions surrounding us, leading viewers to muse upon the multifaceted manners in which the world manifests itself.
Marleen Sleeuwits's Interior #53 (2019) introduces the first half of the exhibition—dealing with spatiality and the ways in which our experience of it can be warped by photography. Here fluorescent tubes illuminate a vacant room patched with a playful palette, creating a liminal space exuding a certain uncanniness: the contradiction between the childlike interplay of colours and the deafening emptiness of the room is apparent, accentuated by the ostentatious and excessive lighting; there is a sense of subtle irony, as if signifying a lost innocence, a place where the child long-gone can seek solace—all this emotionality from the manipulation of a space that couldn't be more common.
Georges Rousse similarly alters spaces, captures them through the lens, and toys with our gaze. In Lyon (2012), a blue square is superimposed onto a room painted black, leading one to focus their attention inside the region: the space becomes the closest to the viewer because it is what we immediately experience, while existentially being the furthest—but then, when this is embodied in photography, is there a material dimensionality to it in the first place? By modifying space, Rousse blurs the line between simulacra and reality—indeed, there is only a hyperreality—between the physical site which Rousse works on, the installation, and the photograph, what is "the real"?
In a monochrome photograph reminiscent of the likes of Mondrian and Malevich, Untitled #15 (2017), Richard Caldicott demonstrates the unpretentious beauty of geometric abstraction. His photography, like Rousse's, defies the conventional photographic purpose of reproducing reality, but in a different way: by moving towards an art that is non-objective, that is, giving no object of focus, eliminating physicality and materiality. It is essentially a modernist piece, deflecting art from the agenda of representation to that of having representation itself as the object of representation. Dimensionality too, then, is destroyed, and therefore what we perceive is a pure colour field.
The second half of the show poses a stark contrast to the first. An oneiric reflection of temporality through collective memories and the annals of societal change, Harvey Stein and Jean-Pierre Laffont's depictions of America captures the unique physiognomy of moments in history.
Harvey Stein's sentimental photography of Coney Island is a glimmer of hope in the age of mechanical duplication and reproduction, where modalities of experience are constrained to that of sameness. The viewer is invited to immerse themselves in the particularity of each shot, as if in a reverie where the moment expands. From the crowds of vacationers on the beach to children on a swing ride, these works emanate the nostalgia of times bygone—we are given an emphatic experience, where we are bonded to the persons in the photos, feeling as though we are present, despite being apart in time; in a sense they return our gaze, exhibiting a subjectivity of their own.
Jean-Pierre Laffront, a French émigré to the US, captures iconic moments in American history and social movements. These photographs include that of an anti-Vietnam War protestor, Martin Luther King Jr's family at his funeral, and gay long-kiss contestants showing their middle fingers. They all tell a story, the ceasing and beginning of an era, but not without reminding the viewer of narratives of injustice and oppression. It is like Paul Klee's Angelus Novus—"his face is turned toward the past, ... the storm [that is progress] irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward," to quote Walter Benjamin. It is not a vision of a future utopia, but memories of downtrodden ancestors that impel us forward; Laffont's work is a captivating memento to us that progress does not come by without a struggle or retrospective contemplation.
The exhibition at Sous Les Etoiles Gallery leads us to question what gaps there could be between existential and experiential reality, while also showcasing the human face that photography could bring out.
Press release courtesy Sous Les Etoiles Gallery.