Olivier Richon’s Anima(l) is a bit like internet dating. At first it’s offsetting; what exactly is happening here, you wonder. Is this modern and progressive, or just weird? Yet for some reason you’re vastly intrigued, mesmerized even. You feel that, if given proper thought, this little bit of bizarre might conceal something quite special.
The photographic series on display in the intimate IBID Projects Gallery consists of a series of portraits of an unusual type; his subjects are a lobster, a dog, a tortoise, a monkey, and various household paraphernalia. Simplicity dictates his aesthetics. The setting is clean photographic studio, and each subject is partnered with just a few items; a stack of old books, a velvet cloth, walnut shells, fruit. The artist’s statements about his work express his interest in photography’s ability to capture “the stillness of an object.” He also mentions that the exhibition draws its title from the idea of the “anima”, or soul, and the long discussed question of whether this anima exists within the animal world. The sharp clarity of the photographs indeed creates a deep stillness, the dark and empty framing bringing the subjects into a frozen focus.
This sense of stillness served to level the animate with the inanimate, both becoming objects for our contemplation. The difference between the living and the non living becomes striking, even when both are put on pause and turned into objects. The animal within each photo provides warmth, and each brings its own uncanny character to the work. The quizzical monkey, the stoic greyhound, and the unobtrusive lobster are all given equal opportunity to assert their presence upon the space around them. These portraits are not joyous, but they are celebratory. And, oddly humourous. The small back room of the gallery is filled with photographs which contain only inanimate domestic objects. Each portrait is dramatically composed and possesses the austere liveliness of those in the front room, but their aura is remarkably different. The photos could hardly be called soulless, rather Richon seems to have placed them here as a counterpoint. He wants you to contemplate the difference between the anima of a tortoise and a salt shaker. It is this attention to the object which makes Anima(l) thoughtful, balanced, and ultimately very compelling.
(*Images, from top to bottom: Olivier Richon, Portrait of a monkey with books, 2008, c-type print, 91 x 115 cm, courtesy of the Artist and IBID PROJECTS, London. Olivier Richon, It is now our business not to let the beast get away, 1995, c-type print, 132 x 101 cm, courtesy of the Artist and IBID PROJECTS, London. Olivier Richon, Portrait of a tortoise, 2008, c-type print, 90 x 74 cm, courtesy of the Artist and IBID PROJECTS, London. Olivier Richon, Generic still life, with lobster, 2008, c-type print, 75 x 65 cm, courtesy of the Artist and IBID PROJECTS, London.)