Exhibition runs until April 1st at Carmel by the Green.
Mystery is a Photograph combines work by Jonathan Liu and Victoria Louise Doyle examining the depths to which narrative can inform photography. Each of their works explore distinctively unique storylines with underlying themes that are constantly overlapping, merging and separating out only to come together fundamentally in their deconstruction of photography, narrative, and storytelling.
Jonathan Liu’s series ‘Mystery is a Compass’ follows the steps of young Everett Ruess, a 20-year-old boy who disappeared into the US desert in 1934. Through expansive diary entries and photographs made in the very desert that Ruess was lost to, Liu takes on Ruess’ emotional identity (re)collecting and (re)presenting the feelings that Ruess experienced while on a metaphysical quest for the unknown. Reflecting upon a poetic assertion proposed by Socrates in Plato’s Meno, Liu ultimately questions what it is to search for something when it’s form is utterly unknown.
Victoria Louise Doyle’s ‘The Photograph’ is rooted in literature and draws heavily from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Witches by Roald Dahl, both of which explore and exploit the motif of the ‘magic painting.’ In the first, Dorian Gray becomes the subject of an oil portrait that bares the ‘burden of his shame,’ ageing while Gray remains young after trading his soul for eternal youth. In the second, Sloveg, a young girl vanishes after eating a cursed apple only to reappear as a figure in a painting in the family’s front room. Through these narratives Doyle considers the photographic image not only as a segment of time but also potentially as the taking of a physical space.
Photography is used by both artists as a conduit of thought. The process is key and one that enables direct contact to the subject of investigation. The space of the photograph is put into practice and movement through the image encouraged. A shifting of balance occurs as looking is used as a device for reflecting.
Considering the photographic image as not only a slice of time but potentially as a slice of space, The Photograph is an attempt to open up and examine the possibilities encased within. The body of work comprised of a series of photographs, an audio piece and a sculpture, brings together research, response, and documentation to traverse the line of making and thinking.
The work is rooted in literature and draws heavily from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Witches by Roald Dahl, both of which explore and exploit the motif of the ‘magic painting’. In the first instance, Wilde explains how Dorian Gray (the protagonist) becomes the subject of an oil portrait that bares the ‘burden of his shame’ after proclaiming he would give his soul so that the picture would grow old and in return he could stay young. In the second, Dahl details how Solveg, a young girl, vanishes after eating an apple given to her by a witch, only for her to reappear in the living room only as a part of an old oil painting owned by the family. In both instances the idea of transference reveals the painting as a veiled space. A space that the now animated subject has the capacity to contort from the inside and just as notably from the outside.
Whilst the work in this exhibition meditates upon how the photograph provides a structure which narrative inhabits, it does so by attempting to eliminate narrative itself. Photography is used as a conduit of thought rather than a mode of communication. The photographic process, one that enables direct contact to the subject of investigation. The photograph, determined as a hollow object in which one can hold and be held, is excavated by a desire to produce images that represent structure rather than content. The space of the photograph itself is put into practice through placement and movement through the images encouraged as lines converge dismantling the frame. A shift of balance occurs as looking is used as a device for reflecting, advocating for the recognition of what Wilde so aptly stated; ‘it is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors’.
A key addition to this has been a photographic interrogation of the three-panelled sculpture, which was produced in response to, The Painted Screenby Francis Bacon. Replicating the screen in form, experience is harnessed as a method of relay. On one side the surface is opaque, instilling a separation between viewer and viewed. On the other a reflective surface draws the viewer in, locating them spatially within the picture plane. The images produced echo Bacon’s, ‘space frames’ a device he used to ‘concentrate the image down’. These typically three-dimensional structures are mapped into the space, dissecting and expanding it simultaneously.
This paradox is also held in the sculpture itself, which acts as a framework for the audio piece (an extract from The Witches) and utilizes the sonic qualities created by its form. As the cassette is played the sound ricochets and reconfigures, slowly becoming an aberration of its self. Listening to the tape, I recall the fear of the dark the night would bring, the melting of space into one indiscernible plane and the voice that pierced my ears with the story of The Witches. The sculpture has subsequently vanished and now exists only within the photographs, perhaps this was the only possible outcome, foretold by the tale of little girl locked within the painting, moving through the image, living within.
In Plato’s Meno, a poetic assertion was proposed by Socrates that a Man’s soul has acquired knowledge of all things prior to birth and thus what one perceives to be learning in life is not the acquisition of unknown knowledge, but recollection or recovery of knowledge already known. In response, he was challenged by Meno with a paradox; How does one search for something that is unknown to you when you do not know at all what it is?
Conceivably, there is a mystery to this unknown entity and that this mystery can act as a compass guiding you through the seemingly unknown.
Mystery Is A Compass delves into that theory with the disappearance of 20-year-old Everett Ruess. He was last seen in November 1934 heading into Davis Gulch off Escalante in Utah, USA. A boy utterly consumed by the wild desert landscape while on a metaphysical quest in search of the unknown, rare indeed was his ability to sense beauty so acutely that it bordered on pain. A penniless romantic, he wandered through the terra incognita of the land and proclaimed in his letters to the outside world: “I have seen almost more beauty than I can bear.”