Chu YinHua‘s slides on exhibition at The Mews Project Space provide an interesting critique of the built environment and the way the artist feels nomadic, without a home base, which is perhaps in essence critical of a negative impact upon artists caused by immigration laws. Presented on a small-scale in a row of slide viewers, it is difficult to gage reality. We see out of windows from a series of rooms with a very retro style of wallpaper, 1950s perhaps.
It is only by creating a miniature room which she can carry around with her, that Chu is able to feel at home anywhere. In essence this is alike the boxes Georgian servants had as their only private space (mentioned by Amanda Vickers in BBC series At Home with the Georgians).
Whilst the rooms in Chu’s work are miniature, the views are real and include Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square and locations around South London in which Chu feels she would be happy to live. They too are mediated however, through being images on a laptop screen behind the model, some at least extracted from Google Street View. Such mediation allows us to now digitally travel to anywhere of our choosing simply at the click of a mouse. Hence Chu chooses to make her home a virtual place. She could have a party on social networking and chat room websites and even offer someone a slice of cake and a cup of tea. The freedoms of consuming digital travel, however, might be said to lead us to exist in a box and never leave it. Well, we can work from home, order in groceries and takeaway, or even go for a stroll around one of the world’s major art museums with the latest Google project.
Nearby at the Whitechapel Gallery a retrospective of John Stezaker‘s work demonstrates a similar yet different kind of photographic construction. Where Chu constructs the subject scene of her images, Stezaker constructs his images by physically collaging prints of found images, film stills and landscape postcards to create humourous and provocative works.
By joining figure and landscape, we are again led to consider place. Like Google Street View, the postcards Stezaker incorporates into his images are a predecessing media for transmitting images of the landscape. This synergy seems to be suggestive of texture, as a visually impaired person might experience another’s features through touch, translated into a visual image. Similarly the film industry is a mass media image distributor. Through Stezaker’s intervention we are left to imagine the facial expression and consequential action of both characters and actors, and how these might differ.
Like Chu, Manuela Barczewski, who is included in the Salon Photography Prize exhibition, constructs scenes to capture, but on a more human scale, using largely recycled materials. A significant link between the two is use of boldly patterned wallpaper. Through the use of found materials you could perhaps relate Barczewski’s work to that of Tony Cragg, but this is much more undefined and open to interpretation. Maybe a better comparison would be with Anthony Caro‘s sculpture given the combination of large flat surfaces.
Barczweski’s scenes seem to depict an experimental process of interior design, comparing and contrasting colours, materials, patterns and textures. Indeed, perhaps the process of making the work is the focus, the main subject matter, as discussed of Simon Starling‘s work by Alistair Sooke on BBC2′s The Culture Show (Episode 18, 10/02/2011).
Whilst focusing upon construction, there is also a crime scene aesthetic (as discussed by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida) present in the Shifting Around series, where things don’t seem quite as they might be. A blind on the floor, an upside down stepladder, shelves sideways on the floor and a headboard without a bed, whilst one image has one chair on its side and another on its back adjoining different architectural surfaces. Has something violent occurred, or are we in an alien world without gravity, in which multiple directions of horizontal and vertical living are possible?
In essence it seems that the availability of photography today is causing some photographic artists to look beyond the viewfinder and use their imagination to create images physically rather than capture the world around them.
Chu YinHua is being exhibited at The Mews Project Space in an alley off Osborne Street behind the Whitechapel Gallery.
John Stezaker is on show at the Whitechapel Gallery until 18th March.
Manuela Barczewski is included in the Salon Photography Prize exhibition at Matt Roberts Art, Unit 1, 25 Vyner Street until 26th February.