Novelty heightens our perception
ON PHOTOGRAPHY, PAINTING AND SCULPTURE. A group exhibition at the Erdmann Contemporary until March 5. DANNY SHORKEND reviews
THE INVERSION of light and shadow marks accomplished photographer and professor of neuropsychology, Hennric Jokeit’s ghostly, eerie and perhaps mystical photographs.
His method and its effects is achieved by exhibiting photographic negatives and sets the scene for the rest of the work on exhibition, including painting and sculpture, in their alternative visual coding.
Heidi Erdmann, gallerist and curator is interested in determining what inspires the artists’ work: There is a confluence between Jokeit’s research in neuropsychology and his photographs; Robert Hamblin’s transracial activist agenda and his photographs; Heinz’s scientific work in microbiology and her paintings; Debbie Loot’s paintings and her work as a writer, and sculptor Roos, a 4th year Michaelis student, draws inspiration from her elective interests in archaeology, philosophy and anthropology.
In this sense art is about something and not simply an aesthetic, formal exploration.
In conversation with Jokeit, what became clear is that in modern culture, where images are ubiquitous and mostly discarded or filtered as useless by the brain (and most brain processing and computing is visual), the role of negative images unsettles usual or familiar perception, giving rise to increased attention, memory and associations.
For it is precisely in finding novelty and newness that the brain is able to heighten perception, which once activated, create further neural networks.
This is owing to the fact as hitherto intimated that shadows become areas of light and forms become X-ray-like, or MRI scanning type imagery.
In fact, it is as if the shadows emit a light of their own and forms suggest an alternative reality or a deepening of the place photographed.
It is precisely in this altered state of consciousness that one finds resonance with the other photographic work on display by Hamblin, where in fact the very unsharpness, if you will, of the image, the overlaying of ornamental text and their almost painterly quality, that photography opens up in scope.
It is therefore no surprise that they are juxtaposed alongside paintings, which traditionally (unlike photography which perennially simply documents “what is”) offers new perceptions/conceptions of the external world.
So that when one comes to the paintings, indeed there is a shift in the way one usually sees.
In Loot’s case, her work is patently psychedelic, urging the eye to dart around and move, while Heinz’s paintings are more staid and yet in their seeming “accuracy” are, on closer inspection, decidedly not real – the colour exaggerated, the definition of form highly structured and uniform. Roos’s sculptures, while appearing out of place compared to the two-dimensional works, carry a strong presence. The costumes of these African samurai warriors are made from inner tyre tubing – and yet that presence together with the photographs and paintings now act only to ignite perceptual affect.
Yet in keeping with Jokeit’s investigation of the negative, perhaps one may surmise that these warriors or samurai sit on the boundary between doing what is right and positive (fighting for something) and its opposite (a perhaps violent incursion).
It is at that juncture – the left and right hemispheres as it were – that life happens. And it is difficult to understand as Jokeit explains that what brings both hemispheres (positive an negative) together into a single perception is not yet known.
What we do know is that newness and novelty allows the brain to switch from an automatic to a more active state and in the process one is more likely to extract meaning.
While this photographic method is not new, recalling early photography of the 19th century and later surreal excursions, I believe the “negative” is a significant way of doing photography and is philosophically profound. Consider Plato’s famous “shadows” analogy, or Hegel and Marx’s dialectics in this regard.
In simpler terms: we cannot just deny the negation or simply medicate depression, for example. Jokeit emphasises that what is required is to acknowledge the “other side”, to invite contradiction so that the “white cube” is also the “black cube”.
It would be a most positive and negative experience to go and have a look!
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