Tuesday 17 April 2012

Losing My Focus: Thomas Ruff's ma.r.s photographs

The geometric serenity of Ben Nicholson’s white 3D sculpture pictures have been haunting me since I saw them yesterday lunchtime. The clever formation of shadowed curves and lines in his pieces are subtle and ever changing depending on the direction of the light. We constantly have a need for perceptions to be challenged, viewpoints shifted and the unexpected to be just around the curve, hidden from sight. 

Therefore I’ve returned to my notes on an exhibition that I have seen a couple of times now at the Gagosian, near Kings Cross. A gallery of vast white light and angular space containing an exhibition of Thomas Ruff's ma.r.s photographs  providing a trip to another – make believe - world for a short spell. 

The main room contained immense photographic images which the artist has manipulated so that the real and unreal has been enhanced to a state where the abstract landscapes move dreamily from one state into another. 

Their overwhelming proportions lack any scale whilst the fine colouring juxtapose dreamy blues and greys, and dramatic leopardlike yellow/black spots. The quiet pictures have a dignity and grandeur with the obvious abstracts working very well. They have a depth and contemplative nature reminiscent of abstract expressionism and the soft oranges and yellows of a storm in a planetary atmosphere are definitely Rothkoesque. On my second visit I paid more attention to a different piece nearby where the texture of the planet appeared to be so dimpled in the photograph that it was more akin to plaster or raised lizard scales: a clever effect in a flat picture. 

Flatness had been addressed by the artist with 3D renditions of photographs. Gloriously childish ooos and ahhs as dramatic pitted and cratered mountainous landscapes emerged from behind the glasses provided. Mountain peaks and vertiginous drops appeared and moved into view, for once giving a sense of scale of these massive planetscapes. We are very familiar with extra terrestrial landscapes and I think these images offer a fresh view of them.

The adjacent room is utterly different in that the images are definitely earthbound, however they are optically playful. The most intriguing one is the huge image of a blossom tree. This is a picture taken looking up at the sky through the branches, shows the soft wooliness of the blooms and the dappled light in blues, greens and white. However the artist plays with our perception; the closer to the image you get, the less able your eyes are to take in the whole with each pixelated square becoming visible. Like standing too close to a screen, all you see is a collection of coloured squares, losing the whole picture. Retreat and the image returns. 

My favourite piece of the show is the industrial landscape. It’s a horrible picture of a polluted stretch of water, with pylons reflected stagnantly. However get up close to the image and magically the pylons disappear, the green slime dissolves and purple, green, blue and brown pixels appear leaving the eyes baffled. Walk away and the pollution re-emerges. 

The psychedelic pictures I can’t get very excited about after the playful pixels. They are certainly colourful and perhaps suggest a chemically heightened state of awareness which blurs reality. An interesting link to the 1960s culture of drugs and space travel, perhaps. 

A pleasant way to retreat into one’s own fantasy world. Blossom tree picture is all mine just because...

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