Forest Folds

What Are Our (Digital) Dreams Made Of?

Metropolis M, 2019



The solo exhibition Point Cloud, Old Growth by the artist duo Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukács is part of Next Level, an exhibition series at Foam focusing on artists who make radically new use of the medium of photography. In a constellation of works Broersen and Lukács address the role of photography in shaping, or in fact, in constructing, our perceptions of nature. They collected an extensive photographic material at the site of Europe’s last primeval forest - the Białowieża forest in Poland to recast it into a constellation of media formats adjacent to photography.

The first work on view in the exhibition Forest on Location (2018) is a video installation that places the viewer into the soft, green darkness of a forest inhabited by a single protagonist (the avatar of the Iranian opera singer Shahram Yazdani) who walks, sings, and floats through the ground (or rather grounds).  The fairy tale forest scene morphs into a virtual world resonating with a film set under construction composed of fragments, which float freely into a generic digital void devoid of gravity or direction. The melancholic tune of Yazdani lures the viewer to step in, and experience a gently settling nightmarish awareness that everything in this world is a liquid image-surface with no stable ground.

Forest on Location is based on digitally assembling a multitude of photographic images taken on the site of the Białowieża forest into 3D models of trees and the forest floor. At moments, the images spill into only outlines and reveal their medium as a digital surface that is infinitely malleable, a meta-image pointing to the operations of its own medium. Still, Forest on Location maintains a degree of documentary weight, which is related to the claim of the photographic image to be true to the reality of its object, to capture its material presence, to freeze it in time. Next to being at the heart of the concepts of evidence or document, concepts that are intimately related to our understanding and reconstruction of the past, photography is a medium with an extraordinary plasticity and with its own history, which now changes very fast. We photograph more and more, and the images shared on screens, permeate and in fact define our experience, our self-images and memory. The digital surface of photographs is no longer an image to contemplate or simply to look at. It replaces the hard outlines of objects and is endowed with a different potentiality; no longer a still that registers a moment in the past, but a surface that folds the past into a malleable present, in which the image becomes a tactile surface, which invites one to zoom and scroll, edit, layer, share.

The choice of a tree trunk as a visual protagonist in Schweig Mayn Harts (Hush My Heart) (2018), the second work in the exhibition, is strategic and poses a question with regards to photography as a precision medium, which allows access to the (in)visible texture of the world. The irregular outline of the trunk, the surface of the bark covered with moss and fungi form an infinitely complex object. Its rendering as a 3D surface print is based on taking multiple photographs and morphing them together. But precisely here at the threshold of the possibility of the reproduction of an object in its volume and materiality, photography confronts a loss. The visual surface with its colour and fine details is impossible to 3D print and is layered over the model as a projection. The bodies of natural objects are still irreproducible and simulation remains dissimulation.

The image as a layered surface is explored further in a series of three light boxes Phantom Bark_Birch_, Phantom Bark_Spruce_, Phantom Bark_Ash_ (2018), which present bark surface with a complex network of details. The uncannily real surfaces are in fact composed of multiple overlaid photographs. The edges of details come across not as sharp, but as deep. They suggest an interactive surface and invite to touch, to zoom, to sink in the flesh of the image. Installed in the same narrow space, Cast and Mould (2018) consists of two screens facing each other showing bark surfaces suspended in a continuous rotating loop. The title of the work refers to imprints, or images generated through contact with the objects they represent. Making an imprint is one of the oldest techniques of image-making and is also at the heart of the photographic image. The two bark surfaces appear as an exact match, but not as positive and negative. They are the face and the back of a digital surface. This proposes a different understanding of the photographic trace as a modulation of the same surface: an ultra-thin membrane observable from both sides.

The two last works in the exhibition invite us to reflect on our desire for immersive experiences, saturated visual environments, their affective impact and their blinding, liquid allure. The video installation Establishing Eden (2016) borrows the camera movement specific to the establishing shot in blockbuster films in order to present a breathtaking landscape as an endless opening scene. The image reveals itself as a strange, architectonic construction built of dramatic landscape surfaces, which split in layers, rotate and dissolve in a loop folding onto itself in an ever-lasting present. Double Mirror (2017) is a digital animation populated by objects morphing into one another in a way reminiscent of the rhythm of ornaments. This endless modulation questions the identity of objects, matter, and ultimately the frame of our own perception. It invites us into interior worlds, which resonate with hallucinations and psychedelic experiences.

The constellation of works in Point Cloud, Old Growth employs the potential (and the histories) of media as film, sculpture, photography, landscape painting, animation to address a set of questions with a particular urgency in the present moment. Broersen and Lukács use the discreet charm of traces and unfinished digital surfaces as details that speak of the urgency to look at ways of looking.

Persijn Broersen and Margit Lukács - Next Level: Point Cloud, Old Growth, Foam, Amsterdam, until 10.02.2019

Image: Phantom Bark_Birch, 2018, Broersen & Lukacs, courtesy AKINCI