‘The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.’
– Walter Benjamin, ‘On the Concept of History’1
This survey exhibition by Laurianne Bixhain presents a selection of photographs from different series made over the last three years. Taken during urban perambulations in the framework of residencies and stays abroad, these images suspend our gaze between two temporalities: that of history and that of progress. Prompting us to question the acceleration of obsolescence in the technological era, sometimes by emphasising the anachronisms in her photographs, Bixhain aims to reveal the discrepancies between human concerns, advanced technology and the remnants of the industrial revolution.
Using analogue and digital techniques, the artist directly confronts these two generations of photographic processes, which straddle two centuries. By doing so, she highlights the parallels between technological aspects and mechanical, computerised industrial production on the one hand, and artistic practices that are themselves subject to the vicissitudes of time on the other.
In Bixhain’s images the transition between these two temporalities manifests itself systematically through the presence of screens or mirroring surfaces that filter or reflect the light. When absorbing, they create the impression of a haze blurring the subjects’ outlines; when reflecting, they prompt a juxtaposition of smooth and textured surfaces highlighting the chasm between two different states. The light, which is omnipresent in Bixhain’s photographs, bounces off the glazed surfaces of a window, the chromed bodywork of a car, the tubes of a scaffold or the fireproof clothes of a contemporary foundry worker. It shimmers on the surface of a lake or a partly frozen pool of water. It infiltrates a windshield misted with reflections through which one glimpses the racy seats of a car, a crumpled sheet of plastic foil covering a pile of books, a bouquet of flowers or an advertising sign seen through a shop window, an everyday scene shot from a bush that lies out of focus. When it is not physically present, the light is suggested by the technology that simulates it artificially, such as the plane of an LED screen, an accumulation of different bulbs or the headlight of a car.
It is also the subtly perceptible matter that transcends the photographic medium and that the artist seeks to communicate through architectural elements, such as the bricks of an Arts and Crafts industrial building or a fence of barn wood, or through decoration, such as the curtains of an exhibition space, as elements underlining the contrasts between different textures.
Like Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, the ‘Angel of History’ that Walter Benjamin interprets as a figure caught between a past it does not want to relinquish and a future that attracts it irresistibly, Bixhain plunges us into the heart of the storm called progress. The photograph of Manchester’s tallest tower, for instance, taken through the decrepit window of an old industrial building, confronts these two temporalities, each representing – in their own time – the notion of progress, while conversely, the weathered logo of a luxury car brand projects us into a past future.
During her residency at Darling Foundry in Montreal, the artist stayed in the heart of a historic neighbourhood grown out of the industrial revolution, which has now been converted into a new hub for the digital industry. The title of her Montreal series, On the Other End, expresses this shift between two temporalities, while the screens function as metaphors for our enslavement to new technologies. Gleaned within a restricted perimeter, these images seek to reveal the traces of a past taken hostage by modernity, as the pace of progress continues to accelerate.
Serendipität, EMOP – Monat der Fotografie, Luxembourg Embassy, Berlin
Meisterschüler Ausstellung, der Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Gallery, Leipzig
Artmix 8, KuBa, Saarbrücken & Annexes, Bourglinster
Keep your feelings in memory, Agence Borderline, National Museum of Resistance, Esch-sur-Alzette