20
May
12

Review: ‘Littoral’ by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff at Colour Factory Gallery, Fitzroy

Exhibition dates: 4th May – 26th May 2012

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Truck in Safi
2010
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
New Homes
2011
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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Jeff Wall, the renowned Canadian photographer, observed recently that, “Photography is such a wide, complex art form medium that there’s no real single way of practising it. Up until 30 to 40 years ago, it was pretty much presumed that the way you practised photography seriously was in the documentary mode. It was very unilateral, other things weren’t really plausible. I never objected to documentary photography, but it’s not the whole story…”1

How true. In this post-photography world there are many spaces in the city for showing all kinds of photographic work, notably at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Fitzroy. While the viewer does learn about different modes of photographic representation through experiential learning (making meaning from the direct experience of looking at such work), personally some contemporary photography often leaves me feeling rather underwhelmed. Rarely do I leave the CCP thinking, wow, that was a great “photography” exhibition, I have seen something amazing about the world that I had not recognised before. Interesting: possibly; inspiring/engaging/memorable: occasionally, which is perhaps why reviews of exhibitions at the CCP occur rather rarely on this blog. This is not to belittle the work that the CCP does as an establishment, far from it, but just to note that not much contemporary photography lasts long in the mind.

It was such a joy then to walk around the corner from the CCP to the Colour Factory Gallery and view the exhibition Littoral by emerging artist Kristian Laemmle-Ruff. This is one of the best, if not the best, “photography” exhibition I have seen so far this year. As soon as you walk into the simple, elegant gallery you are surrounded by fourteen large scale horizontal photographs that are suffused with colour variations bouncing across the gallery – here a blue, there a green, now a lush orange palette. The effect is much like Monet’s waterlilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris; seated in the middle of the four curved paintings you are surrounded by large daubs of paint of various hues that have an elemental effect – resonances of earth, air, water, fire – on the viewer. The same affection of colour and space can be found in Laemmle-Ruff’s photographs.

The artist’s literal rendition (the definition of littoral is that it relates to the coastal zone between the limits of high and low tides) of the interstitial spaces at the edge of urbana, the fluid spaces of a no man’s land, are beautifully visualised in the work. These entropic spaces are mainly devoid of physical human presence but filled with the detritus of humanity: concrete boxes and tangled beams of steel, satellite dishes and red-eyed chimney stacks. In Casablanca Terrace II (2010, below) satellite dishes shimmer in orange while in the distance alien lights seem to hover over the city; in Manneheim (2010, below) the whole photograph is a cold, chilly blue the only visible signs of human existence a couple of lights peeping from the flat windows (at left) while the belching smoke from numerous alien, red-eyed War of the Worlds chimney stacks blends seamlessly into the overcast sky (please enlarge the photograph to see these). When first looking at New Homes (2011, above) I thought the green lines at bottom left were trenches until I realised they were hedges. Then I noticed the empty oval in the upper right quadrant – a demolished sporting facility… a racetrack… a spaceship landing pad? In these familiar but alien landscapes (ice covered swimming pools, graveyards sitting under mountains) Laemmle-Ruff plays with colour, space and depth of field. In some photographs, such as Road to Essaouira (2010, below bottom) the depth of field is very shallow, the focus point in the photograph being the road and gravel, silver road sign and buildings falling out of focus beyond. Like the shifting of colour, this expansion and contraction of DOF from one photograph to the next adds to the body of works ethereality.

The best print in the exhibition is Truck in Safi (2010, above) which is an absolute knockout. The composition is beautifully visualised and the print is incredibly luminous and well balanced. The large white ‘M’ on the back of the earth-filled truck solidifies our gaze in the mid-foreground while, metaphorically, the letter stamps the earth as the possession of man. The road curves into the distance and upon it, as minute specks, are a bicycle and two motorbikes. The sweep of an industrial plant fills the horizon line in a sensuous entanglement of vessels and pipes. This truly is a beautiful photograph and therein lies the contradiction present in Laemmle-Ruff’s body of work. While seeking to capture the paradoxes of urbanisation and consumerism, a vernacular world, familiar and normal (both the beauty and frailty of our times as Laemmle-Ruff puts it), the beauty of the photographs becomes the heart of the work, its strength in the presence of the viewer and perhaps its slight weakness as well. The artist’s visual acoustics, his mythologising of the city if you like – the (dis)ease of the city as sublime photograph picturing the picturesque – has, to my mind, elements of Pictorialism in the artist’s scopophiliac looking. Nothing wrong with that, but we must acknowledge that there is a contradiction here, not between the beauty and frailty of our times, but between the frailty of the earth and the constructed beauty of the photograph seen through a desirous looking that might be at odds with Laemmle-Ruff’s intended project.

Be that as it may, it is a great pleasure to see a young, emerging artist produce such memorable photographic works. Walking into the gallery the viewer can littorally feel the pleasure that the artist has in capturing these complex, fluid spaces. The artist is at the beginning of a path of exploration where each new body of work will develop thematically out of concerns that have been evidenced here. Where this journey will take him is unknown but with courage, fortitude, knowledge, passion, a good eye and a camera he will go far. Good stuff!

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Many thankx to the artist and the Colour Factory Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Casablanca Terrace II
2010
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Manneheim
2010
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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“Littoral examines the shifting overlap between landscape and urbanscape. As a reaction to a traditional approach where the two are consciously separated, Laemmle-Ruff focuses on the often grotesque and ever-expanding littoral zone between civilisation and nature.

“I found these undefined zones did not discriminate on place or culture. From Morocco to the post WWII suburbs of Germany, somber skies were met with stubborn and aggressive urbanisation. I was drawn to contradictions. “The World Tastes Better with Pall Mall” claimed the cigarette ad. These empty remarks of consumerism seemed to go unchallenged. My intention was to capture these paradoxes and pull them from the wallpaper of modern sensibility. Our gaze once traveled to picturesque, unspoiled horizons, forests in mist and rolling plains. Instead it stops on concrete or becomes tangled in steel beams.”

Littoral presents us with spaces anticipating themselves. Housing estates on the fringe of development yet to be occupied; North African peasants walking past the mall’s facade where the market once stood; roof top terraces lined with satellite dishes streaming immaculate reception. We are left to wonder who will fill these homes. Who is in control of where urbanisation will go next?

Ultimately, this series may appear to be a presentation of a vernacular world, familiar and normal. This, in turn alludes to a desensitisation to our changing surroundings in an age of globalisation and overpopulation. Our landscape is increasingly becoming a manifestation of ourselves. Littoral urges one to question where the present seems to be leading us.

Practicing in both documentary and conceptual photography, from warm narratives to surreal visions, Kristian Laemmle-Ruff’s photographs subtly bring to light both the beauty and frailty of our times. As we spiral up the exponential curve of ‘progress’ there are dynamic ruptures, vulnerabilities and regenerative possibilities in our human reality – this is his motivation – a truth worth capturing.”

Press release from the Colour Factory Gallery website

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Olympic Stadium
2012
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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Kristian Laemmle-Ruff
Road to Essaouira
2010
Type C print
100cm x 67cm

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1. Wall, Jeff quoted in Laurie, Victoria. “Lights, Camera,” in The Weekend Australian Review. May 19-20 2012, p.5.

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Colour Factory Gallery
409 – 429 Gore Street
Fitzroy, Victoria 3056
T: +61 3 9419 8756

Colour Factory Gallery website

Kristian Laemmle-Ruff website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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