Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Glob Life: Photographs by Peter Lambropoulos

Escape to another dimension

For the world to be interesting, you have to be manipulating it all the time.― Brian Eno

You want to see the Wizard? But nobody can see the Great Oz. Even I have never seen him.― “Wizard of Oz”

Peter Lambropoulos’s photographic images function as an immaculate disguise for their genesis. In his works we behold a world unto itself, celestial spaces seemingly free of the imposition of human signification ― an escape into another dimension. And yet, in observing these otherworldy landscapes and the strange forms that inhabit them, the urge to anthropomorphise is irresistible. His images play on our need to identify, to contextualise, just as they take us somewhere limitless and unknowable.

If you are ever privileged enough to see Peter Lambropoulos’s ‘studio’, you will be directed to a tiny section of the wardrobe in the artist’s bedroom. He describes a perverse enjoyment of his low-tech operation: a jerry-built affair of makeshift lights, cellophane filters and cardboard backdrops that belies the technical precision of the resulting images we see hung on the gallery wall. Here is where the artist plays with his miniature theatre ― performing, as he puts it, a “dance between me, my subject and the camera” ― to create an image that will play with our minds.

Like the Wizard of Oz, secretly manipulating his levers and contraptions to generate his grand optical illusions, Lambropoulos is a trickster-photographer, weaving his magic in his tiny cupboard-studio. The objects crafted by the artist to populate his compositions include teensy glass sculptures; amorphous shapes cast in gelatine, ice or silicone; translucent crystals that cling to sticks or wire; and the occasional found object.

But photographed, these diminutive subjects cease to represent themselves in their actuality. Instead they are transformed into active life-forms, like animals caught in the headlights, exploring their vast, enigmatic dreamscapes. Fantastical vegetation and unearthly creatures emerge from their garish terrain, reaching out into limitless space. Deliberately contrived, the artwork becomes a perfect disguise for all the fiddly human manipulation that has gone on behind the scenes.

Lambropoulos says he wants to create a “visual conundrum” with his works, exploiting our instinctive desire to resolve any image that we can’t immediately pin down. Through his use of semi-abstraction and spatial distortion, the images become suggestive of familiar forms, but we are never given the satisfaction of making sense of their scale or their relationship to the real world. 

Viewers are inclined to make swift interpretations, only to come up against another set of questions: “Is it macro? Micro? Galactic?” the artist teases. “You don’t know what you’re looking at or what the context is, so there’s lots of room for the imagination to play.”

At first sight, the worlds Lambropoulos constructs appear beautiful in the purist sense. Objects sparkle with reflected light, a rainbow spectrum bouncing off their surfaces. The terrain blurs, collapsing into blackness or merging with gradations of pure colour. But the longer we look, the more the visceral impact of the image takes hold: the colours a bit too lurid, the organisms vaguely grotesque. Though not shy of the cute, or the humorous, or even the pretty, nothing is ever quite so straightforward. Always, in his images, Lambropoulos is toying with that abject space between repulsion and fascination.

No matter how hard we try to figure these curious images out, our capacity to grasp the perspective is confounded. Optical illusions reign. Is that a vast, black lake stretched between two mountain ranges, or just an infinite void? Is that an arctic peak rising out of its glacial landscape, or merely the blue opening at the centre of a ring of ice, suspended in its unknowable cosmos? If that is the eye of a creature gliding through green water, why is there something too thin and stumpy where its fin should be? There is something acutely disturbing in a landscape we can’t comprehend; in a creature that seems to embody energy but has no features with which to see or hear. 

As human viewers, we can’t help but look at two glass blobs leaning toward each other and perceive a communication between them; we look at a spindly tendril tentatively reaching into space and detect a yearning. No matter how aware of the artifice at play, we find ourselves strangely moved.

There is a lush intimacy to Lambropoulos’s photographs, which invite us to admire his timeless fantasy world in magnified detail. Like the soundscapes created in electronic music, the human element has become indiscernible, and we are left with something pure and immaculate ― the concept realised, the illusion complete: the artist’s utopian vision. We might like to go there, but this is a pristine world which could only exist in our imaginations. 

We can look, but we can’t touch.

― Rachel Power, 2011

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Michael Graf's Greenwood Street Projects

by chickenfootdesigns
I met Michael Graf back in about 1984 (although he will probably correct me on this as he has a very precise memory for dates, even other people’s dates).  And talking about  precision leads very conveniently to the topic of this post – Michael’s current exhibition,  The Greenwood Street Projects. 
Michael Graf paintings 31st July 2011

The Greenwood Street Projects, Room 1
It was a one day only affair, this Sunday just gone,  hung in two rooms - horizontal continuous panels folding around the three sided spaces.  Michael’s work has for some time now focused on painting pages of photocopies from books.  Usually the photocopies are skewed, often with the blackened edge showing where the book had slipped partially out of position on the photocopier.  He paints repetitive series which take the same page and move the image around on the photocopier, resulting in different composition.  From a distance  his paintings can look like digital images – literally photocopies mounted on a canvas board.  On closer inspection however, it becomes evident that it is a painting that it has been meticulously and lovingly painted.  There is, therefore, that moment of wonder when the discovery is made - a work of art, which only moments ago was just a throw away photocopy.

The Greenwood Street Projects, Room 1 and Room 2
In this current series, there is an overlying grid of pencil lines; the artist’s cartoon gridlines, traditionally used on large paintings or frescoes to ensure that the original drawing was accurately transferred to the wall.  I like the idea that this traditional grid also reflects the lines found on a photocopier.  In the first room, there is a series of images which focus on four pages placed one on top of the another.  Each consecutive painting then takes the top page and places in underneath.  It is a never ending circular series which starts back at the place it began.
Michael Graf exhibition, Greenwood Street Projects 2011

Detail from Bernstein with Mitropoulos panels
Knowing that Michael works in a library has me thinking of those piles of discarded photocopy sheets one finds to the right hand side of photocopiers.  The sheet is discarded because the original was not precisely placed in position on the photocopier.  I picture Michael gathering these sheets, (especially the ones where it has taken the user five tries before they succeed in finding the correct position).  What stated out as sloppy and lacking in precision -a result of impatience and a hurried way of life, is then transformed slowly and meticulously into a work of art.  It almost makes up for the forests destroyed by impatience. 
Michael Graf exhibition Greenwood Street Projects, 2011

Left: detail from Bernstein with Mitropoulos. Right: Michael Graf, Jennie Hinwood and Ann Lau
A couple of months ago, I had a lovely evening meal at Michael’s flat.  The Bernstein with Mitropoulospanels were propped against the wall on the other side of the room as we ate.  Over the course of the evening, I observed the paintings, comparing each to the other, marvelling at the precise detailing of the Pied-de-poule fabric just visible beneath Mitropoulos’ jacket.  Towards the end of the evening, it was the differences between the images that were most apparent, not the similarities.  My eye had adjusted to the detail and noted that there were in fact each unique,  individual works of art and not identical at all.  There’s a whole layering of concentration  that these paintings ask of the viewer, which involves giving them time and patience.  I love that paintings which are all about precision will always be lacking in perfection because of the human hand, no matter how skilled and patient it is.
Imagine a world where there was only the photocopier, and our impatience.
For more photgraphs of this exhibition, see Julia Ritson’s website gallery