A Construct. By Dylan Smith. Other People's Lives. By Hardy Lohse. PhotoAccess at the Manuka Arts Centre. Corner of Manuka Circle and NSW Circle, Griffith, Tuesday to Thursday 10am to 4pm, Friday 10am to 7pm. Weekends noon to 4pm. Until November 5.
Dylan Smith's A Construct is a multi-layered exposition on the question of what do we really "see" when we are presented with the photographic image in a gallery space. It is clever, sophisticated and visually and intellectually stimulating. Viewers are cued into the nature of the artist's explorations in Annika Harding's accompanying text titled Construct within construct within construct within construct. The essay also spells out Smith's processes, information that is essential to full comprehension of the exhibition. Like the exhibition, his ways of making/thinking are layered. The first stage is to photograph various buildings (in his home city of Newcastle). These are rendered into computer and 3D models from which the images that constitute (part of) the exhibition are then made.
We are now several stages removed from the original and are required to consider carefully the six inkjet images dispersed around the gallery walls. Each image is crisp and characteristically filled with a clear light that defines the forms, edges and lines that constitute its "subject". Here though one has to question what the "subject" really is. Because of the processes referred to above we are looking at not an image of a building but an image of a deconstructed and reconstructed version of that building. Smith's proposition raises notions of artifice and reality through a refined and selective vision that requires each viewer to fully embrace process and product. Each of the various "places" displayed has for me the sense of a stage set – a flattened and distorted vision that speaks of a created reality. This is particularly evident when one notes the relationship of the demarcation between street and building. The "street" is clearly an awkward inclusion whose cafe au lait blandness is repeated in each image.
Within the artist's intellectual construct and the visual construct that is the exhibition is a wall with two circular openings. Behind the wall are two of the models made by the artist that form the "subject" of the second phase of his creative process. The models are meticulous and cleverly underscore the plays with reality that are so conspicuous throughout the exhibition. The notion of artifice is further underscored by the absence of people in the images. There is little or no evidence of occupation. The images are essentially linear and the flat abstraction of the forms denies the volumetric character of the original. I really enjoyed this exhibition's interrogative take on the photographic image and the processes that go into producing that image. The idea of what is "original" intrigues.
Hardy Lohse's Other People's Lives is the result of "a documentary project involving people living in public housing in Canberra as Housing ACT undertakes its urban renewal program". It is a moving exploration into the lives and homes of a number of tenants of places that will soon be (or already are) no longer present. While there is a certain objective distance allied to the documentary character of the images, I found many of the images were invested with a poignancy that speaks of the artist's emotional investment with the project and his subjects.
The idiosyncratic nature of the various interiors provided characterful contrast to the bland Modernist exteriors of the buildings destined for removal. I found the honest and overt disclosure of people's private spaces to be somewhat intrusive but this was gently relieved by the obvious pride of the inhabitants. The images in the first room were framed in black and displayed in an odd way around the gallery. In the multimedia room all but one of the images were unframed. The images of Currong Flats in the process of demolition (Catalogues 14, 18, 19) were particularly effective. These were taken from a viewpoint that visually capitalised on the dramatic qualities that attend the destruction of large edifices and the histories contained within. Equally effective were a number of empty interiors, telling in the absence of people and in the presence of the detritus left by itinerant occupiers.
Lohse's images hold a sensitive understanding of his medium. His use of light and texture is beautiful and allied with powerful, compositional assuredness it gives his work a pictorial authority that simultaneously allows his subject matter to be clearly assertive.