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Lisa Oppenheim
Postdamer Strasse 93, 10785 Berlin, Germany
November 10, 2012 - December 21, 2012

Photography for the end of the world
by Parker Tilghman

Lisa Oppenheim’s Vapours and Veils at Klosterfelde in Berlin ends on December 21st, the alleged day of our planet’s untimely demise. Coincidence? Probably not. There is something a little bit apocalyptic about Oppenheim’s work with its analog inquisitions in these digital times. The exhibition appears to feature three distinct and seemingly separate bodies of work linked by the artist’s ongoing fascination with the inner workings of the Photograph, its ability (read: inability) to produce truth in description, and the production of unique works through the reproductive photographic process. In a time where conferences are being held on the “death of photography”, Oppenheim’s vision is pointed and poignant without being heavy-handed. She returns to the alchemical roots of the medium’s past while maintaining a steady gaze in carrying tradition to the present.

The first gallery contains a series of images that are more appropriately viewed as objects: silver-tinged surfaces of photographic paper slightly curl and buckle behind the hermetic protection of a simple frame. A repeated image of the passage of the moon glowing brilliantly between a line of trees fills the space with a ghastly Victorian air. These works have been silver-toned, an antediluvian process in which the exposed and developed print is treated with a silver solution that produces a metallic sheen in the paper’s highlights. This is not an easy procedure and it showcases the artist’s deft knowledge of her craft. The prints seem delicate in the way one packed away safely since the turn of the 20th century would.

Lisa Oppenheim, installation view Vapours and Veils at Klosterfelde, 2012; Photo: Eric Tschernow. Courtesy of the artist and Klosterfelde, Berlin.


The quality of these works as well-made and beautiful “things” is their most captivating aspect. It might seem like a simple pleasure, but I find myself slightly disappointed upon reading the press release detailing the mechanical underpinnings of the projects. For me, the material choice and aesthetic acuity already extant in this work supercedes the necessity for process-based explanations. Such detailed explanation limits the abstract nature and interpretation of the work and places priority on the concrete process, rather than the apparent gesture. I am more engaged with the mystery that is present here—with the history of the materials—rather than the removal of the proverbial veil. This is a minor complaint, if anything, as the aesthetic and technical mastery of the work shines on its own.

The next gallery showcases a series of brightly hued photograms, or one-of-a-kind prints created by directly exposing light-sensitive paper without the use of a camera or negative. The moiré-like patterns on display are dazzling, and offer a dizzying break from the contemplative viewing demanded in the other galleries. Reminiscent of earlier work by Liz Deschenes, these images produce a trompe l’oeil as well as a trompe l’esprit. Each work is serially titled Fish Scale, Véritable Hollandais and does, in fact, look like negative reproductions of fish scales. Yet, as we should come to expect by now, they are not actual fish scales and the viewer is led to question the veracity of the static images presented here. These unique prints call to mind a psychedelic static signal or airwave transmission—an urgent calling for the end of times. 

Lisa Oppenheim, installation view Vapours and Veils at Klosterfelde, 2012; Photo:  Eric Tschernow. Courtesy of the artist and Klosterfelde, Berlin.


This visual confusion is an exciting twist in the exhibition that culminates with an ongoing series of works in which the artist pieces together bromide prints like mismatched puzzles. The immediately disorienting nature of these works is compounded by their embedded sense of catastrophe. Images of puffs of smoke, or clouds, or vapours have been solarized, evoking scenes from Don DeLillo’s White Noise or the final pages of The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. Solarization, a process accidentally rediscovered and perfected by pioneering female photographer Lee Miller (in collaboration with Man Ray), is a smart choice for Oppenheim. Without relying too heavily on gimmick, it continues a dialogue with the historical aspects of the medium, calling back to the analog images and material processes demonstrated elsewhere in the exhibition.

Vapours and Veils offers a lovely visual accompaniment to the end of the world, or at least the end of the year. As Oppenheim’s works are best viewed in situ, I would highly recommend taking a stroll down Potsdamer Straße before the show (and perhaps the world) ends.


Parker Tilghman


(Image: Lisa Oppenheim, detail Fish Scale, Véritable Hollandais, 2012; Courtesy of the artist and Klosterfelde.)

Posted by Parker Tilghman on 12/11/12 | tags: installation digital photography

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