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