San Francisco

On Seeing and Nothingness

Barbara Kasten, Construct VI-B, 1981 / Polacolor 10 x 8 inches Edition: 1 AP

A few years ago, I found myself wondering: what is the essence of existence? After some thinking, I came to the conclusion that the simplest evidence of existence is interaction. Even at an infinitesimal level, if something doesn’t interact with something else, there is no way to prove it exists. That being said, there are different ways to measure interactions, both direct and indirect. For more than 30 years, Barbara Kasten has used light, planes, and dimensional layering and flattening to make the invisible visible.

In her current exhibition at Jessica Silverman Gallery, Kasten manipulates the interplay of light and surface, both transparent and opaque, to create abstract tableaus. While the work has a strong connection to the Constructivist aesthetic, the photographs relinquish much of the practicality sought after by artists in the 1920s and reintroduce aspects of the autonomous, nonfunctional art object. This isn’t to say that the work has come full circle; instead Kasten utilizes both historical and contemporary methodologies.

Barbara Kasten, Construct LB/6, 1982 / Polacolor 10 x 8 inches

The works exhibited range from Polaroids made in the 1980s, to pigment prints made in the last five years. The installation is beautifully lit, with only three florescent tubes in one bay window of the gallery, and a light projection in the other. The low lighting, supported by heavy curtains on the windows, completely separates the gallery from the outside world. The projection reflects off a mirror and onto the wall on which the contemporary images hang, transforming the formerly three-dimensional tableaus, now turned into two-dimensional photographs, into a four-dimensional interface between the photographic object and projected film.

Barbara Kasten, Behind the Curtain Installation view, 2013

In addition to the multi-dimensional leap-frogging, the photographs and installation are very much about control. Kasten meticulously arranges the objects in her photographs to achieve the angles, shadows and reflections in her compositions, and then “paints” them with light. The combination of elements reveals that which would not be visible otherwise, and plays a trick on our eyes. Flat planes suddenly have depth, lines seem to create impossible shapes, and sharp points and dramatic colors draw an aura of mystery and violence.

Barbara Kasten, Studio Construct 127, 2011 / Archival Pigment Print 53 x 43 inches

Kasten works as the master of her spaces, whether they are within the camera frame or the confines of an installation. Viewers and experiencers of the exhibition become a part of the works, as light bounces off the bodies in the room and figures reflect in glass. The viewers’ organic movements through the space combine with the calculated dynamism of the video projection to produce the final layer of the installation. The next challenge and proverbial cherry on top would be to somehow gain access to an even higher-dimensional view of the gallery space and photograph it and install that image with the others. Talk about meta.

Behind the Curtain is on view at Jessica Silverman Gallery until January 26, 2013.

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