The thrill of Jessica Skloven’s photography is in the dissolution of elements. Driving the scale far from the everyday human, she finds her haven in “the immediacy of the land and the simultaneous distance of the horizon dematerializing far away.”* It’s no surprise, therefore, that interpretation becomes salient in viewing her work. Skloven carries a metaphysician’s understanding of photography and a reverence for the transformative alchemy of silver in the traditional film craft. She gives particular obeisance to the light-giving sun and the great reflective power of water.
The show’s strongest piece turns the nucleus of our solar system into a bobbing egg yolk in the sea; it conjures a hissing sunset on a mythical flat world. Like a handful of other pieces, it is printed on a metallic paper that I mistook for aluminum. It gives the water (sky) a dirty grey-brown muddle where the blue ends. But does it end? The glossy, unframed panel bears no stark visual borders and runs off the edges unpunctuated—to its benefit. It’s disappointing that the show’s marquee doesn’t follow suit.
The large four-piece suite Imprint suffers from more than excessive borders though. It may be whiz-bang aerial photography, but it behaves like a school project; it’s too directed. True, the diagonal up/diagonal down alternation of running rivulets is evocative; to me, it’s the recycling of seasonal waters. However, the heavy reliance on an extreme white push seems forced, the fourth photo seems to break the chain, and the composition just doesn’t smell right visually (like a mixed metaphor). A photographer is equal parts editor and composer, tactician and technician, right?
Imprint, like the other photos on display, was shot in Iceland recently, and the mixed results of this show reflect an insistence on theme over image. Skloven, the editor, may have been stretched thin too because of a concurrent San Francisco show. I would’ve loved to see more of the fuzzy color fields so prominent in her sizeable portfolio. On Togonon’s walls, a breadth of work is visible, but more palpable is the lack of depth, the resonances of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Mark Rothko that seem to dot her portfolio. In these pieces, it’s like photography kissed painting and parted, pulling off pieces like VD in its wake. It’s refreshing to see that the mimicry goes both ways: a show-off tactic I can appreciate.
The wake of another kind twinkles as twin towers of sea reflection. It's a photograph created much like Tyler Cufley’s Darkness III, except the image inversion serves to create a synthetic watery motion where there was none before. (Cufley’s simply doubles the image, a profoundly different effect.) This is Skloven’s only digital print in the show, but unframed and fabulous on that silver paper, it plays well with the others.
In many ways, the leather-like grey-green of the three-piece suite looking backwards is the opposite of Imprint: the micro scale; the lack of frame; the activation by black, not white; and importantly, the captivation and beauty. Like Imprint, the far right image here also deviates, but into a stunning blue cloud that eats the black lightning formed in the ice surface. This piece is dynamic, simultaneously a Japanese screen’s snaking branch and a Sin City Mickey Rourke arm vein.
Speaking of black blood, apparent palette knife swipes and stabs dominate four smart small-scale black-and-white images mounted on the gallery pillar. Cool. So there’s still a lot to like here; only the brevity is a shame. The show ends as it begins, with another false sunset, as if to taunt the viewer of the premature end. White sea birds dot the foreground, tiny detail among massive scale: think Andreas Gursky. The throbbing orange glow provides the final punch line; as it practically radiates off the paper, I struggle to visualize the original blue as captured on the film. As Jessica Skloven might say, let’s turn this negative into a positive.
*Quotation from the artist’s accompanying booklet
(Images top-bottom: Mirror mirror, 2009, digital c-print mounted on aluminum, 38”x83”; Untitled (June 10, 2008), 2009, c-print mounted on aluminum, 50”x40”; Untitled (looking backwards), 2008 3 C-prints mounted on aluminum, each 29.5”x 38”; All images courtesy Togonon Gallery and the artist)