AS IF IT WERE
10 April - 3 May 2015
Observe, class, on page 97 of your textbooks, Fig. 1, a spindly shrub in a mound of earth. Compare it, if you will, with Fig. 10, in which the vegetation is now verdant, and levitating. And there are more – strange, black and white photographs of scientific experiments, in which prisms of glass emerge from black slabs, dismembered wings emerge like butterflies amongst the stark lines of geometric three-dimensional renderings. Like the strangest scientific diagrams you will ever see, Rorschach ink blot tests sit side by side with delicate crop circles drawn into fine sand, the imprint of a Zen garden or some strange cosmic source. Elsewhere, X marks the spot, yet where are all those molecules veering towards if not towards it? Why are there three fish perfectly aligned? And what has happened to these two black cones surrounded by a delicate circle of soot? The questions are many, and the answers equally abundant in As If It Were, running at CABIN gallery from 10 April – 3 May 2015. In her solo show , photographer Victoria Jenkins explores the nature of the unknown through her fictional scientific works: the intangible horizon between what is known and unknown and the constantly receding nature of this space.
At the heart of Jenkins’ practice is an investigation into the abstract world of mathematics and science. Her work hinges on the act of exploration, yet whereas previous series, such as Images from the Institute of Esoteric Research (2009) and You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold. (2008) seemed to capture experiments in progress, her newer series focuses on the ‘final’ product. They are presented to us in her signature black and white, like images in a slide projector, stills of fictional molecules in action or strange, pseudo-physics events caught mid-motion. Their titles hark to the pictures found in science books, ‘figures’, rather than things, and it is in this shift from process to result around which her new series hinges.
“Whilst making Images from the Institute of Esoteric Research I had the idea of a fictional archive very much on my mind, to the point I decided where they were from and so wanted to root them in a time or a place,” explains Jenkins. “The fiction was never meant to be convincing in any way but to be used as a device to build the work around: they were photographs of a thing happening.” Meanwhile, As If It Were draws from a wider range of art historical and scientific references, and Jenkins has firmly set to remove them from specific locational or temporal reference points. Here, the photographs are more diagrammatic (both in their references as well as their final outcome), and hover on the border of methodology and magic, at once mystical (divination, magic circles), as well as scientific (molecules, balance).
Indeed, what Jenkins presents us with is a series of metaphors, reflections of the world around us. “The use of metaphor in these ‘source images; allows a playful flux between clarity and obscurification,” she explains. “The surface onto which we pin the photograph’s meaning becomes slippery”. What this means is that the joy of the work is not in pinning down a crisp, methodological, scientific answer, but rather, exploring its misfirings and misinterpretations. “The process is sitting with an image or analogy which intends to make clear a complicated idea and then getting totally lost in it,” says Jenkins. “This happens either through trying to make something ephemeral concrete or by taking something which is merely a suggestion as to how we might think around an abstract notion and taking it completely literally.”
Jenkins’ images are all based on already existing ones, at times loose references to original sources, at others more literal interpretations. The selection process involves seeking images that “have the suggestion of something logical or demonstrative,” and at times this means several sources images may be merged and melded together to create one of Jenkins’ own, new, surreal versions. “My selection process comes from two pools,” she explains. “I collect images which I reference in my constructions and I collect objects which I build from, and the process is in looking for one which suits the other, it is very much a two way street.”
Taking around four exposures a day, the process of photographing the work is labour-intensive, starting first with a laying out of objects and images to give Jenkins a visual cue as to the final set up needed for the camera itself. In metamorphosing an abstract notion into a physical object, much practicality must be taken into account. “I often have things suspended or leaning quite precariously, which is all well and good but the camera and lighting I use often calls for exposures of up to a minute so making sure everything will stay in place is crucial,” she says. Shooting with a large-format camera, Jenkins views the final set up through a gridded view finder, allowing her to translate the final composition with the mathematical precision needed for such images.
Next I set myself up in the studio, I prefer to give myself at least a day to shoot as often things will get changed around in this process from my original plan. I set up the camera first, I always shoot on a large format camera where the view finder is the size of the negative (just shy of 5 x 4 inches) so you get a real feel for how things will look in the final print. The best way to describe it is building through the camera, I only really look at the set up as a whole through the view finder, also this is gridded (they are not always but I like mine to be so) and this really informs how the image is set up, following the verticals and horizontals, I think this grid translates to the final image.
It is here, at the balancing point between practical and intangible, between idea and object and the scientific and esoteric that Jenkins’ practice revolves. In every figure, we are opened up to multiple possibilities – mechanical machinations or fantastical creations, it is up to you.