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Berlin
20111103201640-jp__sumiko__2009_004986-gts
JOÃO PENALVA
Galerie Thomas Schulte
Charlottenstraße 24, D-10117 Berlin, Germany
November 19, 2011 - January 28, 2012


JOÃO PENALVA
by Devon Caranicas


Portugese artist João Penalva has filled the Galerie Thomas Schulte's store front window with a handsome installation of dramatically lit stacked kitchen chairs. Hanging on the wall behind the chairs sits a large photograph depicting a similar off-balanced sculptural arrangement. This chair-on-chair presentation instantly calls to mind Kosuth's One and Three Chairs, the well known piece from 1965 of a chair, a photograph of a chair and wall text definition of the word chair, an installation famous for its questioning of concept and mode of representation. However Penalva's interpretation, titled Harlequin and Shadow [Unique], takes on a whimsical narrative that quickly dismisses the flat-footed conceptual tone that would otherwise be assigned to the object/image display.

João Penalva, installation view of exhibition at Galerie Thomas Schulte, 2011; Photo: Detlev Schneider / Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin

The interior of the gallery is dim; pale brown walls, warm lighting, and generously oak-framed photographs gives the space an air of librarian scholarship rather than contemporary art. This seems fitting for a show that so heavily relies on story telling. Narrative is key for Penalva and throughout the gallery the artist has coupled object-based photographs with text or projection in an effort to organize complex narratives. While the objects themselves are lackluster - a photograph enlarger, display stands, string on paper - each item has been situated in a web of external facts that almost excuses their banality. The lack of visual information allows the mind to wander, while the text leads it in a specific direction.

João Penalva, installation view of exhibition at Galerie Thomas Schulte, 2011; Photo: Detlev Schneider / Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin

This is most clearly articulated in two black-and-white photographs of Japanese hair models that hang alone on the far wall of the gallery. Sumiko and As If She Could, both from 2009, each contain the closely cropped backs of the respective model's head.  Mounted below each image is a paragraph of text ascribing the girl's physical and emotional characteristics by way of a narrative excerpt. As explained in the text, Sumiko has a thin scar on her chin making the otherwise beautiful girl insufficient for anything besides faceless modeling, thus cultivating an emotional relationship with an otherwise subjectless image. You find yourself sympathizing with a picture of hair.

When thinking of narrative in relation to photography, the mind first jumps to images of reportage or to Bresson and the decisive moment. This is not disputed by Penalva, but instead moved into a more abstract way of thinking about story telling and the photographic image.  As Penalva shows, there is an inherent context for an photographic object. Regardless of it being fact or fiction, a chair is never just a chair, hair is never just hair, and the photograph can never exist independently from the outside world from which we approach it.

~Devon Caranicas

(Image at top: JOÃO PENALVA, Sumiko [Ed. 2/3 + 1 AP], 2009 , Piezo pigment auf Dibond, Eichenrahmen, Museumsglas, 128 x 81 cm;  Courtesy of the artist & Galerie Thomas Schulte)



Posted by Devon Caranicas on 12/25/11 | tags: digital photography

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