December 12, 2007

Spencer Finch, In Praise of Shadows at Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin

Spencer Finch, In Praise of Shadows
Galerie Nordenhake, Berlin
December 1, 2007 - January 26, 2008

Galerie Nordenhake in Berlin presents an exhibition with new works by american artist SPENCER FINCH: In Praise of Shadows. Shadows are an always present element of Spencer Finch’s artistic exploration of the psychological and physiological aspects of perception and its limits. His current show at MASS MoCA exemplifies the wide range of ideas and visual modes with which Spencer Finch approaches the paradoxical nature of light and colour. The show “In Praise of Shadows”, however, is specifically devoted to the complex world of shadows. The title derives from Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s short 1933 treatise, a meditation on the aesthetics of shadows in Japanese culture, threatened by the omnipresence of electric light: “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty”, Tanazaki states. Spencer Finch’s exhibition can be seen as a small visual anthology of shadows. A drawing from 1995 is exhibited alongside new watercolours, photographs, light installations, and smaller experimental installations that explore the diverse aspects of shadows.

One of the narrow walls alongside the large gallery window is painted in a monochrome grey colour, transporting the viewer to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s house in Weimar. The grey is an accurate chromatic replica of the colour of the shadow cast on a November day in the house where Goethe wrote his “Theory of Colour“ (1810), and where he most likely performed his experiments on coloured shadows. Goethe defined colour as the result of a dynamic interplay between light and darkness. Although Goethe’s theory was rejected in favour of Newton’s purely physical explanation, Goethe’s observations laid the groundwork for colour psychology.

A sequence of 12 photographs captures the transient shadows cast by a lemon tree over the course of a day. The artist travelled to Spain and took the photos at equal intervals from dawn till dusk to record the revolution of the sun around the tree. The work is inspired by a poem about a barren orange tree, written by Federico García Lorca, which adds a melancholic tone to the delicate photographic renderings and points to the long tradition of ascribing shadows deeper psychological meanings. Lorca’s orange tree invokes a woodcutter to cut away his shadow because it can’t stand the torment of seeing itself in its fruitless silhouette. 

Eugène Atget, master of the photographic conservation of old Paris, is honoured in a light installation in the second room of the gallery. Spencer Finch uses colour filters and fluorescent lights to re-create the exact darkness of the shadows cast in the Parisian alleyways that were photographed by Eugène Atget around 100 years ago. 

What remains constant in Spencer Finch’s work is that he merges dry, scientific methods of measurement and documentation with his subjective creative expression, here demonstrating that shadows are far more than regions of darkness where light is blocked. Rather, they are optical shapes that beckon towards a subjective sublime, reflecting the human condition of never being able to completely know what exists in nature, waiting in the shadows for a stroke of lightning.

NORDENHAKE Berlin, Germany
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