SPOOR. A solo photographic show by Roger Palmer. At Commune.1 until March 30. DANNY SHORKEND reviews
LIKE fissures of the cranium coming together, like tectonic plate activity bringing continents together, so there are lines of force – timelines - that both divide and connect. UK artist, Roger Palmer’s landscape photographs both capture the particular quality of his explorations of the Cape and that of Scandinavia, in the process also connecting these seemingly different worlds.
Yet they are part of one world, and this is gleaned from the very fact that the southern most and northern most cultural limits share a common time zone. This is derived from the Struve Geodetic Arc constructed by the 19th century astronomer, Struve Arc wherein an accurate meridian stretches from Northern Norway to Southern Moldova, crossing 10 countries along its way, so to speak. Should the arc continue, it would link northern Europe with South Africa.
A vinyl installation of this arc is presented at the exhibition, setting the conceptual and perceptual framework through which to view the art.
The title Spoor is apt, suggesting tracking, reading the land and finding ones way. It is a journey with meandering paths; travelling here and there; moving and staying, the natural world resolute in marking ones way, with the odd “intrusion” of peoples, places and their art and architecture. Thus in his longitudinal travels, there are digital colour images from the Cape as he follows various rail routes.
There is a certain silence in these works as if one can follow certain paths, and yet, there is no sense of whither it shall lead, just parallel lines that lead the eye – well to the cropped and framed images – to be left wondering “where am I?” which in turn leads to the question “who am I?” In this sense travel and being in a particular wilderness of sorts is a good recipe for introspection.
Especially if, as the artist does, one creatively engages with where one is, seeking ways to reflects on it and entering a dream state: is there symbolic value in what is perceived? Is that sign a sign for me?
In this sense, place is highly charged; it becomes personal and a mark of the people that live off the land, even through the land. The land is also shaped by human consciousness expressed in architecture and art, cushioned by the dry, sparse, but seemingly endless country. Then on the top floor of Commune.1 one finds images of regions of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Now the landscape is completely different to the ones presented below. They are black and white, far colder in appearance, more removed and with an odd presence, as if it is difficult to traverse that space. Why are the South African photographs in colour and the Northern European set of pictures in black and white?
Perhaps a clue is given in the two images on the top floor that are in fact in colour. They capture rock art in a place inhabited since the Stone Age it is believed. But what is uncanny is their similarity to San art of South Africa! It is then not unreasonable to assert that just as the time zone is shared across thousands of miles, so this not quite circular sphere we call earth indeed is such that even though time, space and matter divide, at the same time, quite surprisingly, there are overlaps, commonalities and a unity, so that in effect time, space and matter do not exist as such (or are interconnected).
These photographs capture the glint of the sunlight on water; the dirt road leading to a hopeful place; the railway track that could mean everything and nothing. All these snippets of his journey (or in fact constructing reconstructing it) contain this ineffable quality. That is why we look at it, rather than hear it.
For seeing is instantaneous, while to hear (particularly where this is linguistic) only becomes sensible over time. What I believe Palmer is able to do is to bring seeing into the realm of understanding (hearing), so that the revelatory quality of sight does not overwhelm, but is augmented by hearing, in this case, the idea that a simple line, the Struve Arc, call it what you will, connects disparate parts.
The old rock art is neither here in South Africa, nor there in Norway. It is in the world. Have a look.
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