Art Papers (November – December, 2011)
Blue: a blue so intense that we don’t know if we’re looking into a depthless summer sky or an imaginary infinity within. Square: too perfect to be anthropomorphized yet as welcoming to the eye and mind as a calm embrace. Flat: the surface slips away from tactility all the while asserting its material presence by echoing the gallery wall.
These three adjectives – blue, square, flat – force themselves upon us when entering Kendra Wallace’s exhibition Peripheries [403-372 St. Catherine W., August 16 – 20, 2011]. The space is occupied by many squares in various densities of blue, about body sized, frameless, and spaced approximately one inch from the wall (Horizon 1 to 11, 2011). They beckon us to stare into their centers where the blue is ever-so-slightly less dense, obscurity drifting to the images’ (and our eyes’) periphery. Within each square darkness has sunk to the bottom like sediment in water, or perhaps lightness is rising. The lower edges of some of the pictures are the deepest blue-black one can imagine.
The precision and lustre of their surfaces identify these images as photographs yet they come close to failing all pictorial conventions. Only a vague sense of landscape shines through the blue’s intense atmosphere. Indeed, one may detect in some of the pictures traces of landscape, or more accurately, seascape – a typical shoreline with surf and sky over ocean. According to Wallace, “If the image is somewhat elusive and withholds its factual information, some of the pressure to identify the objective world is relieved. What opens in its wake is the space for one to break from the ongoing pre-determined world to the openness of the unforeseeable.”
Here, in a gallery filled with blue haze, the “captured” moment of photography is multiplied into a reproduction of narrative (or a narrative of reproduction). By way of this repetition, the overt subject (a seascape) is displaced by an experiential encounter with uncertainty. What is it we are looking at? Is this an interior or exterior image-world? The luminescent blue is seemingly so distant and ethereal yet feels familiar and intimate. Under close scrutiny, squinting almost, we enter into something almost filmic. The horizon seems to oscillate, or is it our vision?
Other strange tensions ensue: the effect of immersion is abated by the exaggerated flatness of the artistic object. The horizontal axis of the landscape tradition is confounded by the XY exactitude of the square. And the clarity of an absolute color is at odds with what, for everyday seeing, would be an experience of great obscurity. Wallace asks: “our individual and lived worlds are filled with uncertainty and paradox; how could I make a photograph that is not?”
To further explore the inherent paradoxes of photography, Wallace included a second work in a separate room, a diptych (Untitled, 2011). On the left is an image of water, this time in sober shades of black and white. The horizon is off center and so close to the top that it almost falls out of the frame. On the right is an almost-all-white image. On both there appear to be small rips, tears and punctures, traces of the image’s former life as a “lost” snapshot. We can extrapolate that it had been discarded for its lack of documentary value: it wasn’t “good” enough. Wallace draws attention to this double loss (actual and technical) by, first, enlarging it so that the damage becomes part of its image-value and, second, showing both the recto and verso of the “found” snapshot. Set side by side, the two images seem to open a synesthetic space between the photograph’s visual and the tactile being.
Overall, this exhibition balances the transcendental resonance of the blue Horizon series with the immanent facts of material existence. The exhibition’s title, Peripheries, is apt: Wallace’s work proposes that, in the region of peripheral sensory experience, there is more to see and inhabit, not less.