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New York

Margaret Thatcher Projects

Exhibition Detail
You Are Here*
539 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011


February 21st, 2008 - April 5th, 2008
 
D.71 Central Park,Strawberry Fields, Gary CarsleyGary Carsley,
D.71 Central Park,Strawberry Fields,
2007, Lambda monoprint
© Courtesy of the artist and Margaret Thatcher Projects
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Thatcher Projects is pleased to announce You Are Here*, the first solo New York exhibition for Australian artist, Gary Carsley.

Daguerreotypes were a seminal, large-scale photographic technique that utilized iodized copperplates and a camera obscura to produce photographic monotypes.They were a radically new medium when they were introduced in the first half of the 19thcentury. "Draguerreotypes" is a term Carsley uses to describe a series of digital images that are also outputted as photographic monoprints. Carsley begins this body of work by taking photographs of important international parks (for this exhibition, focusing exclusively on Central Park). He proceeds to schematize these tonally, and from a vast archive of scanned adhesive laminated faux wood grain motifs, he elaborates a collaged image fragment by fragment. The results are images that look like highly complex pieces of intarsia, but which in reality exist only as digitalized faux copies of nature. As for parks, we proceed from the assumption that they are designed and curated representations of nature rather than nature itself, or as it can be called in this context, "dragged" nature.

The Central Park Draguerreotypes D.70 to D.76 were created for the exhibition You AreHere*. For this the artist has overlaid the gallery floor plan on top of a detail from a map of Central Park, so that, as one walks through the gallery, it's space "morphs" into the familiar landscape of the corresponding section of Central Park. The map serves as the intersection between inside and outside, mashing the two into a series of established codes of scales, colors, and lines used in cartography, acknowledged as guides for getting you from one place to the other. The map will be available at the exhibition, and features an essay by Rafael von Uslar.

This past year Gary Carsley completed a major public commission for the Attorney General's Department Building in Parramatta, Sydney. The artist exhibits regularly in Amsterdam and Cologne as well as Australia. Later this year he will participate in Intrude 366 Art & Life at the Zendai Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai.

 

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You are here.

Draguerreotypes, an introduction

Named after their inventor Louis Jaques Mandé Daguerre, Daguerreotypes are a seminal, large scale photographic technique utilizing iodized copperplates and a camera obscura to produce photographic monotypes. They were the first international success in the evolution of a radically new medium. “Draguerreotypes “ is a term Carsley uses to describe a category of digital images that are also outputted as photographic monoprints. Carsley begins this body of work by taking photographs of important international parks. He proceeds to schematize them into layers of dark and light and from a vast archive of scanned in adhesive laminated foils featuring wood grain motifs, he assigns to each layer of the photograph an individual foil. The results are images that look like highly complex pieces of intarsia, which in reality however do not exist. He thereby creates photographs that have no negative and no object.

The “r” in italics that Carsley inserts into the Daguerreotype introduces drag into photography, not as subject but as strategy. “Drag” for a time defined the wearing by one gender of the outward signifiers of another, usually encountered as play or performance. Within (and because of) the international “Gender” debate carried on with much enthusiasm through almost three decades, the term has been extended and generalized and is now applied in all sorts of cultural, social and political contexts. In all consequence, this “technique” acknowledges its origin as minority position through a consciousness of difference or otherness that implies a clear political and social indication. As for parks, we proceed from the assumption that they are designed and curated representations of nature rather than nature itself. The Central Park in New York City is the worlds pre-eminent urban 19th century park-scape, and it features all the characteristics of a wilfully designed or, as it can be called in this context, “dragged” nature. As such it is an obvious topic in the ongoing Draguerreotypes project.

The Central Park Draguerreotypes D.70 to D.76 have been created for this exhibition at Margaret Thatcher Projects: You Are Here


Where is “here”?

The visitor to the show will firstly encounter what looks like a regular art exhibition albeit with perhaps more beautiful and well crafted images than one usually encounters. Artworks that identify as photographic prints that resemble large, elaborate pieces of intarsia depicting trees, vistas and a piece of neo gothic architecture are on display. Only when the sightseer has made a full circuit, on the way to the entrance cum exit, they encounter a diagram that presents a puzzling image, which in return confronts them with some revealing insights. The graphic features a cartographical curiosity that overlays the gallery floor-plan with a map of Central Park, the effect completely changes the perspective on the just-seen exhibition. Through the cognitive perception of the suggested blending process, the visitor encounters a representation of a familiar stretch of the famous urban landscape garden as an indoor space. The floor, which up to now had been crossed carelessly, morphs into an imaginative, yet well planned ensemble of lakes, architectural features, driveways rocks and a number of countable trees and bushes that are virtually spread out across the cement floor. Invisible at first, they are evoked by an act of mashing that allows the gallery to become one with the terrain of the excerpted Central Park map.

This map, like any other is made up out of an established code of scales, colours, symbols and lines along with inserted writing. Maps present a comforting promise of a schema for rendering any location, any distance over-view-able to the orientation seeking eye. There is the implicit suggestion that everything that can represented by familiar graphic codes and printed out on a format that is manageable between two hands is somehow under control and can therefore be managed. An eye travelling across a map or a finger that takes a route in close body contact with the paper can easily bridge any distance, no matter how near or far.

The show case example for such an imaginative mastering of any distance even in the most confined spaces, are possibly Albert Speer’s walks in Spandau. The architect had spent years of planning a gigantic urban project in Berlin, the so-called North South axis. It was to become nothing less than a testimonial to the future political centre of the world, something that the architect himself, in a moment of insight, would later view as a “mad affront to reality”. Speer actively dispossessed Jewish properties to create space for this; shifted existing monuments and planned gigantic buildings and new mnemonic furniture for this ambitious enterprise. Fortunately, a lost war prevented him form bringing his plans to realization. On the other hand it also ironically allowed Speer to finally get a chance to install his north-south axis. Still in Berlin but now at the prison-garden in Spandau, which he took great care, and attention in both designing and describing. It was here that he came to another second best conclusion: If you can’t conquer the world out there, walk it – if only in your own garden! Again, it was all a question of scale and time. He measured the perimeter wall of the garden and calculated the corresponding kilometres on ordinance maps; he started his walking tour in Northern Germany and arrived in Mexico shortly before his release, all without ever leaving his garden. By comparison, fitting just a small section of Central Park into the space of Margaret Thatcher Projects is all just a rather modest enterprise.

Many maps just like the one on the gallery wall feature an aid that helps its reader to make out their position in the graphically translated space. These “you are here” spots; squares, triangles or circles are a strange phenomenon. They point out a certain position within the image that is formally assigned to the so-addressed “you”. The “here” which is a more or less significant and variable spot in the graphic relates to the space the map-reader identifies as his or her own (natural) surrounding. Speer found his “here” in the “there” of the prison garden during an imaginative sightseeing tour that he occasionally remarks upon in his Spandau diaries, particularly when he has “passed” an established sight seeing location. The visitor who accepts that a substantial section of the park can be espaliered across the gallery walls will find their “here” in acknowledging the parallel existence of two locations in one. They have their own yellow brick road invisibly laid out over the cement floor. One that allows for a special trip through Central Park on a fourth floor, up in Chelsea. For special guidance along this trip, the map marks points of interest that correspond with the already acknowledged works on the wall.

For this second viewing the visitors bring themselves into position. The individual artworks on the wall now appear as a spatial continuum, which, as they turn around on their own axis, gives the experience of encountering an “interrupted panorama”. But unlike the totality of the 360 degree round view a panorama usually provides, here the individual works are reminiscent of those ill-famed American sight seeing platforms featuring a wall obscuring the surrounding view, while offering apertures that present - in the form of a well censored vision - the “best” views both for the observing as well as the photographing eye. And indeed there is an imminent connection between the panorama and the closely related dioramas to Photography. All of them aspired to present a reality; in many cases a hyperrealism that to this day remains a strong presence in photography, film and TV culture. There is someone who well illustrates this media link in their’ own work - Jaques Mandé Daguerre already mentioned as one of the inventors of photography, started as a well established theatre painter and went on to have his own successful enterprise with a Diorama that he himself developed and which he subsequently lost to a fire. A coincidence that Walter Benjamin sums up in his dry comment: “In the same year as Daguerre invented photographie, his Diorama burned down, 1839”.

A panorama allows a unique overview that not only permits the spectator to see everything from a distance, but also to gaze out undisturbed and unobstructed by any other possible natural condition or occurrence. “The interest in the panorama is to view the true city – the city inside the house. What is set up inside the windowless house is the truth.” Here it is the park inside the gallery that allows for an unobstructed perception, unobstructed, except for the alienation introduced by the techniques of the Draguerreotypes.

Inherent to all panoramas is the aspect of journey. The visitor to the “interrupted panorama” at Margaret Thatcher Projects will encounter their journey through Central Park as a day trip. They will start in the very early hours of the day when an umbra still permeates the scenery. They will transit through a day of encountering various locations only to find themselves back in the dark of the night, located at either side of the gallery door.

“Here” in the Draguerreotype D.72 The Rambles

The most interesting work in this perspective on the exhibition as a journey and a quest to establish different perspectives on what indicates “here” is a diptych, D.72 Central Park (The Ramble). Formed by an all-over structure of trees and bushes the work is made up of two panels that join in cohesive image. The panels are distinguished from one another by the choice of different colours prevalent in each section, giving a different reading of both the light as well as the scenery. In the left panel the colours range from a light grey through different shades of green through a vast variety of browns that in few areas become as dark as a mahogany. Undergrowth and bushes close off the foreground while the middle-ground of the image is defined by a thicket of bushes, trees and tree trunks that reach well throughout the entire height of the picture. A few dark spots between the complex array of leaves appear as areas where the eye penetrates this thicket, indicating depth while suggesting a glimpse of a background. The image is made up of a multitude of details and colours further enriched by the fact that each colour defining form also features the pattern of an image of wood derived from the adhesive foils that form the visual undercurrent of all Draguerreotypes.

The right panel stands out by a distinctively different choice of colours. These range from a widespread use of mahogany to a variety of greyish shades of greens and the colour purple. The depiction of the scenery appears less detailed, the space more open than in the left panel. The trees are more clearly distinguished from one another and there is space between them that appears as a homogenous layer of light, which in this case is dark. Notably some layers are transparent on the tree trunks where some mahogany clearly shines through the purple haze creating the impression of delicately nuanced light. The undergrowth in the foreground gives way to the assembly of trees in the middle-ground and through the darkness between the trees which can not be penetrated by the eyes. Thus the space between the trees does not seem to represent a physical hindrance or barrier to virtually moving into the depth of the pictorial space. The choice of colours in the two parts of the work is suggestive of the depiction of a day and a night scene that are divided by a fissure that defines the joint of the two panels. As much as not only the light but also the character of the sceneries seems to differ, along this dividing line, with the branch of a tree clearly reaching out, it becomes apparent that the two panels represent one image that is to say a continuous space.

Some painters have chosen pairs or entire series of paintings that depict ongoing scenery in different times of the day or under different seasonal conditions. The already mentioned Dioramas presented their audience a theatrical staging of a scene changing in time. The abruptness however in which The Rambles move from day into night portrays a very drastic shift evoking the impression of a laterna magica slide, jammed half way in while a more contemporary understanding can be evoked by reference to the splice in projected film. While in film such a shift is an experience of smooth transition where one image moves or blends into the other, here both scenes remain permanently visible.

In a first perception the viewer, following standard Western conventions, “reads” the image from left to right and thereby manoeuvres from light into dark, progressing within the scenery and time, from day into night. Thereafter however they are faced with the totality of an image, presenting a continuum of pictorial space simultaneously with a discontinuity, or rupture of lineal time. This highly contradictory notion has a great narrative potential. Firstly it pays tribute to a well know site in the park -The Ramble is a daytime attraction, a scenic natural feature in the landscape of the park. “At the same time” it has a nighttime function as a famous gay cruising ground. The different usages are inferred in the work not only by the different choice of lighting but also by the difference in the depiction of the setting with closed off scenic bushes on the one side and invitingly open bushes on the other. Secondly it illustrates a remarkable cultural and political commentary.

Landscape painting lies at the very heart of Australian art – however the perception of the Australian landscape was initially defined by the filter of the European eye. Just like in the USA, the national style of landscape painting founded in the 19th century was both directly as well as indirectly informed and formed by the Düsseldorf school. Subsequently the perspective on nature and landscape here is first of all an imported one. Taking Central Park in New York as a basis for such an argument is most appropriate as it was clearly modelled after European parks that were, for this purpose, keenly studied by its designers. As a result, the park resembles an English landscape garden, is populated with monuments to Europeans and features a mayor folly, a Belvedere that speaks of architectural languages that predate the invasive European settlement of the United States.

Carsley speaks of Australia as a drag culture. Regarding the early defining moments of the above mentioned aspects of culture, the United States and Australia share a similar perspective in this. But Carsley takes his argument further. Within the context of the Western cultural canon he views Australia in a comparable position to many other influential cultures today. Form him, an Australian artist in order to gain national or international visibility needs to lip-synch artistic and cultural positions established between the United States and Europe. And even though this alliance, functioning as an odd hegemony for several decades is experiencing a substantial loss of importance, it still defines much of contemporary cultural perception and related art market strategies.

In the same way as Carsley “drags” photography, he “drags” cultural models. He introduces a subtle Australian perspective into the way he represents his park-scapes. (Just to give one example, his night scenes ironically pick up on the distinct chromatic choices of Frederick McCubbin, a prominent representative of the Australian “Heidelberg School”). His dragging is in many parts an act of translation that acknowledges the hybrid forms of perceptions, informed by cultural and political knowledge, which is traded between continents and cultures back and forth - and most importantly, in his own work: back again. It thereby ceases to be an inner-Western cultural dialogue but stages an argument that is valid for discussion on a much broader international level.

The virtual blending of space that forms the basis for his “interrupted panorama” is the ideal position to view an image that presents a “here” as a highly complex and multifaceted figure. Not only does it present as a simultaneous experience the continuity of space in a discontinuity of time, it also presents a location that in itself assimilates cultures in a transfer between continents, but most importantly it thereby delivers insights through the filters of a multilayered cultural knowledge and gender strategies. You are here!?

Rafael von Uslar

 


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