Sarah Mosca, Phenomena and the Unfolding, exhibition essay, STACKS Projects, 2019
The corpse which you see here is that of M. Baynard, inventor of the process that has been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only toogenerous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard,and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life…..!.....He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you’d better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.
In 1840 Hippolyte Bayard composed a portrait he ‘posthumously’ titled Self-Portrait as Drowned Man (fig 1). A breathless man sits, eyes closed, slumped sideways, his hands blackened with death and decay. Hands once useful rot with bitterness. This is not a portrait of a dead man at all, it is the artist’s sour hoax. Bayard protests that he was the inventor of photography not Monsieur Louis Daguerre as proclaimed. This squabble lay at the tenuous historical foundations of photography itself.
The marvellousness of this new invention lended itself by nature to science, sceptics and magicians. A mechanical revolution in picture making thought to be void of the imagination of the artistic mind, it would represent true images of the real world yet it has consistently lodged false narratives and un-truths.
In 1923 psychiatrist Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (known as the Ghost Baron), published a book the Phenomena of Materialisation. Schrenck-Notzing supposed me might by way of evidential photographs, clarify psychic medium Eva Carrière’s claim, that she could materialise a connection with the spiritual world (fig 2 ). Spiritualism claims ectoplasm is a physical manifestation which excretes from the body a spiritual medium when in the trance state. Eva C could exude ectoplasm that would shape itself into various forms, faces and spirit silhouettes. The gauze-like substance discharged from orifices of the body acts as a portal to coalesce the non-material and transmit it to the real universe.
The menacing photographs published in Phenomena of Materialisation depict Eva C seated, tightly gripping onto enveloping curtains as she liaises then materialises manifestations from the spirit world – impressions embedded in the cheese – cloth expelled from her mouth.
But we must look closely in search of clarity. Yet another hoax? Is that fishing line dangling from the ceiling? Aren’t they cut-outs the faces of women from the daily newspaper mingled in the fabric? Perhaps Schrenck-Notzing and Eva C’s collaboration was not phenomenal at all, simply the clever tricks of the marvellous camera.
Packed Matter II, 2019. Gelatin silver photograph on fiber based paper framed with custom steel, 31.8 x 47.5 cm, edition of 4 + 2AP
The Poetics of Losing Clarity raises the question that within a photographic context how do we explore and manifest the relationship between matter entwined with the provocation of the mystery of life.
Ioulia Panoutsopoulos’ spatial propositions and notations playfully disorientate the viewer. Like a floating dust particle trapped in the lens of a camera – we do indeed lose clarity. The layered curious forms unravel, there is no up nor down or front and back, the collapsing perspectives akin to doing a somersault in a corner – offering glimpses of the ground to keep you from falling.
These speculative forms are witty attempts to dislodge the camera’s role to reveal certain truths. Photographs that reveal almost nothing yet demand a pause if only to become more aware of what isn’t there.
Allerton’s peculiar object - a strange delight. Our eyes squint and tighten for clarity. The weightless mischievous mound leaves a shivering trace but I’m not sure what it is asking of me. Suspension of disbelief? I’m looking hard to determine what is real. I am willing to forego logic for the sake of enjoyment.
Allerton and Panoutsopoulos pose vague spatial inversions. Dream like revelations akin to those of cheese-cloth rolling from the mouth of Eva C. An unfolding, surreal in nature, echoing photography’s lineage of untruths.