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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Photo Fantasy

Art Review

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In1839, photography as an art form was born. Since then, photographs have captured countless memories and unique moments in time. Nearly 170 years later, however, programs such as Photoshop and iPhoto produce retouched pictures instantaneously. Even cell phones can transfer images at the click of a button.

This technological revolution has reinvented the art of photography. In the exhibit “Stretching the Truth,” the John Michael Kohler Arts Center showcases this transformation as a complement to its “Constructed Realities” series. Throughout the entire exhibit, photography is used both as a medium and a material in the construction of the artwork, focusing on life or environments that may be considered fantasy. As one of the artists in the exhibition explains, “The camera never lies, but it can record a lie.”

Twenty-seven international artists throughout “Stretching the Truth” display their versions of altered spaces, interiors and environments through either “straight photography” (where there is no electronic manipulation during development of the file) or “digital manipulation” (where the computer enhances a picture to construct or change the photograph). Each artist, equally adept at photography and their chosen frame of reference, builds sets, dioramas, wood frames or sculptures as they tear, cut, weave or paste the resulting printed pictures and apply it to their own imaginative artwork.

Rusty Scruby weaves and layers asymmetrical pieces from thousands of photographs to invent textural images of life. Leaf, which resembles photographic origami, crisscrosses and configures Scruby’s interpretation of nature from multiple shades of green prints into larger 3-by-7-foot pieces of artwork. This interweaving of photographs suggests how nature is engineered and depicts the impact that technology has on organic forms. In the installation Rara Avis, Cassandra Jones digitally reconfigures found snapshots for her sitespecific wallpaper. This 10-by-10-foot surface appears merely decorative, yet on close inspection displays “something rare,” the pink flamingo, to startling effect. This “strange bird” is fashioned in multiple images of flowers and curved lines, defying the viewer to discover the real image of the flamingo, blurring reality and fantasy through the definition of ornament.

Interstate Junction, a 12-by-25-foot installation constructed on site by Young Min Kang, depicts a busy stretch of Southern highway. This sizable sculpture intricately wraps around a corner of the gallery as thinly shredded digital photographs elongate into delicate strips of color that warp through space. This undulating three-dimensional collection of photographs mimics the movement and frenzy of urban speedways.

Whether using a rare camera obscura for multiple exposures or traditional grass mat techniques to weave photographic tapestries into unique surrealistic pictures, each piece in the exhibit invites the viewer to inhabit worlds that appear to the eye as reality. Only upon closer inspection do the photos become fragments of the artist’s ingenuity and imagination. This fluidity between fantasy and reality challenges the modern photograph’s ability to record events with truthful certainty.

The photo’s interpretation remains open, questioning reality, as the public so earnestly detects the fiction of fashion layouts, magazine covers and pictures in the media. Is the photograph—what is seen—to be believed? The artists participating in “Stretching the Truth” advance all of these concepts to the extreme, demonstrating that the photograph rarely presents that moment of actual reality. Their artwork distorts truth, reaching beyond conventional techniques, to describe on film or digital photo a reality now determined and limited only by the artist’s imagination. (Continues until May 3.)
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