Standing upstairs in the large, white space of the Marion Goodman gallery, alone except for the tops of the heads of two gallery assistants poking above the minimalist stockade of their work area, it struck me that this could in fact be a new work by Struth, a study in absence, perhaps his first move into installation art.
This is Struth’s first major exhibition in London since his Whitechapel retrospective of 2011 and some of the themes are familiar. The exhibition is split between photographs of technology shot in California an images taken in Israel and Palestine as part of the ‘This Place’ project. Whilst there doesn’t seem to be much to link these two themes I actually enjoyed the contrasts between the two sets of work.
The Middle East photographs show vast, bleached landscapes largely devoid of human life but scared by their presence. ‘Al-Ram Quarry, Kafr’ Aqah, 2011′ shows an ancient landscape, the sides of the valley shaped by by erosion, rivulets etched into the rock like stretching fingers. This organic, natural shaping of the landscape is contrasted with straight cuts and precision of the neighbouring quarry. The scene is framed by the concrete buildings, that like much of the habituation in these works seems to be in a weird flux between new construction and decay.
These strange edgelands appear again in ‘Har Hama, East Jerusalem, 2009’. Here a row of new buildings is lined up along a ridge, like the cavalry of an ancient army waiting to charge onto the battlefield below. A carpet of pale-coloured aggregate creeps across the dark scrubland like a lava flow.
The most striking image from this group of images is “City Hall, Tel Aviv, 2011” – however the modernist building, shot square on and corrected for vertical perspective and printed on a grand scale like a vast abstract artwork, feels a little like a cliche however impressive the result. This could be an image by his fellow Dusseldorf School of Photography alumnus Andreas Gursky, or a thousand photographers on Flickr (myself included) mimicking the style.
Of the other theme of the collection, two images caught my attention.
“Polymer Head, JPL, Pasadena 2013” shows a dummy head wearing an outrageous blonde wig, with more than a touch of the Boris Johnson about it, stuck on a pole in the middle of a crowded desk in some undefined research department. It’s an amusingly surreal image, but my favourite image was less immediate; “Epitaxy, JPL, Pasadena, 2014” shows a complex piece of scientific machinery, its purpose obscure, but a cat’s-cradle of wire and cables emanate from it like tendrils, giving it an almost organic feel. It wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood sic-fi movie. It’s only once you have stood there a while wondering what strange, esoteric function it carries out that you notice, hidden away to the left, it is wired up to an old-fashioned monitor propped unceremoniously on an upturned plastic bucket. A red, rubber mallet rests on top.
29 April – 6 June 2015,
Marian Goodman Gallery