Fotopsychodiagnostik: by Christine Davis

“Art is the strife of earth and sky,” Martin Heidegger. The first thing that pops into my head as I take in these beguiling dreamlike light boxes. They feature moody vibrant cityscapes, sweeping clouds and sunsets. I am blown away. I am drawn to lit up images, I am reminded here of the smaller effect I achieved with colour slide photography as a sophomore. Of course there is nothing sophomoric about a show at Olga’s.

These cerebral dichotomies beget a dualistic harmony so cherished by those who know the Rorschach test. What is hidden and what is revealed is dramatically manifest in these elegant glassworks. Having a background in mental health, I wonder, what right does Davis have to be appropriating old tests from psychiatry or psychology? Why is she referencing this famous epistemological tool in her work. Since 1921 of course many people have been inspired by the Rorschach test. Interesting that its integrity has been slowly eroded: the original test was most effective when it was unknown to the patient – it has been a controversial method since the 1960’s, and perhaps before. Litigation over its efficacy and objectivity has occurred as recently as 2001 – the test being unknown to the patient prevented biases from emerging, prevented the patient’s impulse to skew the test results.

“Within the symmetry, we see instead mushroom clouds and post-apocalyptic cities. They are all at once seductive, and deeply threatening.” There is a sort of unease, a sort of warping to be sure. Although my most innate response is something closer to the notion of phantasmagoria. The work is successful in drawing out the phantasm of ones mind, eradicating any clutter, these works draw you in the way a Rorschach test properly does, revealing that hidden element Heidegger felt was so intrinsic to the sublime. I get that time and place can be integral to a work. Especially with those still enthralled by the American Dream, or in this case acknowledging a paradoxical weariness of it. I would say however, the Statue of Liberty or emphasis on NYC is the one failure of the exhibition. From the exhibition statement I am to understand it was the inspiration. To me it leads the work into some dialogical mish-mashing of American art. The gallery rebuts this notion stating, “Fotopsychodiagnostik is the artist’s direct response to witnessing the well-weathered symbolic view from her studio window, while listening constantly to the news. The work is a result of the disconnect between beauty and disbelief.” This is an interesting perspective, it gives the viewer a sense of the emotion Davis wishes to convey. A reflection on her connectionto a chaos outside her studio window, dubiously silenced by the majesty of a vast panoramic metropolis and open sky. Although in the sense of Roland Barthes, I am drawn to the work more objectively. I am drawn to see the work as something much stronger than American art (though perhaps I’m simply betraying a personal bias). I am not interested in where she made it, or what city it depicts. The point here is the timeless element. There is a stirring of the subconscious in these luminescent images, a deep surreality. One stands amidst these rows of glass in baffled contemplation. There is something clinical, sterile: some synthetic element. Are these x-rays of the artist’s soul? Sublime landscapes of the unconscious?

The swanky sofa at the end of the gallery seams almost glib, were it not so extravagant. One gets the unwieldy feeling of a Stanley Kubrick film. Did he ever directly portray psychoanalyses? One of the images makes up the fabric of the piece. My associate asks to sit down, to which Olga’s heir apparent smiles and says, “You break it you buy it”. Not exactly an invitation, but a reasonableresponse. He did not sit down. This classic scenario brought to mind the great divide in art: what is commercial or museum quality, versus the current trends in relational aesthetics. It is a stellar show in one of the grand galleries of North America, and Christine Davis has just made it on my radar. Alongside the exhibit I learn of a ‘work in process’ called ‘Machines for Thinking’, or ‘Knowledge of Life, or the Imagination is a Function without an Organ’. At any rate a terrific accompaniment to the work at Olga Korper Gallery, giving us a glimpse into this fascinating artist’s peculiar methods.

About J.E. Simpson

I review things I like in colloquial and dynamic language.
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