Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Uta Barth

Uta Barth, "Ground #30", 1994. Sies + Höke Galerie.

This blurry photograph from the "Ground" series by Uta Barth gives us just enough information to see the corner of a room. It is photography on the brink of complete abstraction. And it shows very clearly that photographs are created by light. The light that falls from the window high up to the left, and the shadows that are formed as the light's negation, build space.

I see painterly qualities in this photograph that remind me of Harald Fenn's paintings. But the most obvious reference is "The Milkmaid" by Vermeer.

Uta Barth, "Ground #42", 1994. Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.

It is as if these "Ground" series photographs could be backgrounds for portraits where the sitter would be in sharp focus. And the feeling of vacancy or void that is left by the missing subject is particularly apparent in this "Ground #42". The small reproductions towards the upper left look like they just happened to be included as a background for a sitter that simply is not there. And compositionally they are balanced by whatever it is that has snuck into the image from the right.

If you look more closely at the top left "painting", you can see that it may very well be a reproduction of the Vermeer I mentioned above...

And if you would like to depart from the more or less literal references these photographs induce, you could try to see them as representations of fleeting thoughts or vague memories...

Uta Barth, invitation card from exhibition at Sies + Höke Galerie, 2008. (Sundial series)

Then there is this image from the "Sundial" series. It is sharply focused, but it has the same vacant center as the photo above. My attention is drawn towards the yellow coach because it almost looks like it is slipping out of the picture, but for some reason it is the shadow that marks the transition between wall and ceiling I end up looking at. Maybe because this is yet another photo that is mostly about light, - about how the light changes through the day (in Barth's own home).

As Lyra Kilston points out in ArtReview:

Barth has long followed the Zen notion of what she calls a ‘choice of no choice’: she refrains from intentionally seeking out photographic subjects and instead turns her camera towards what is already around her – the sundial of her home. Through this disciplined practice, her work highlights the act of seeing as an autonomous undertaking. She does not seek out things in order to make a photograph, she makes photographs of what she happens to see.

Uta Barth, "... to walk without destination and to see only to see (Untitled 10.8)", 2010.
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery.

The Quote above is from a review of Uta Barth's exhibition at 1301PE in Los Angeles in May/June this year. And the title of that show was "Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees". A similar approach to the act of seeing is evident in the title of the diptych above: " walk without destination and to see only to see".

Having said that, I will encourage you to look again at all these photos, while trying to forget what you have just read... - Try to see them only to see...

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