Delphine Burtin’s photographs begin with commonplace objects—a clementine, a shower drain, an egg crate, the fringe pulled from a spiral notebook—but it would be too simple to classify her work as still-life photography. The Swiss artist finds her subjects and manipulates them so as to uproot them from their intended contexts. Her work merges photography and sculpture, fact and fiction, construction and happenstance. Each frame becomes a “visual accident,” provoking the sensation of “stumbling around everyday images,” as the artist has described.
In her first U.S. solo show at Benrubi Gallery, “Encouble,” Burtin presents an investigative series she started while completing a degree in photography, following a long-time career as a graphic designer. Her background in photography no doubt informs the rigorous compositions, which are intently focused on the arrangement of light and shadow.
To achieve her trompe-l’oeil illusions, Burtin employs two distinct approaches. In some works, she photographs an object and then interferes with the resulting print, cutting into it and folding it to generate a set of parts that are then recombined in a new form. The effects are often produced through simple means. For Untitled, Encouble (#13) (2013), the artist photographed a print in which an empty film canister balances on a small marble, but by pushing the original image to the corner of the frame she creates a dizzying mirage—as if the film canister is about to topple off the corner of a table. In compositions like Untitled, Encouble (#3) (2013), her process becomes more abstract. Countless layers of paper strips amass, making it impossible to know just how many times the image was transformed.
Another technique that Burtin employs to distance her subjects from reality is the use of exaggerated lighting—whether enhanced natural light or in the studio. Sometimes she juxtaposes the two light sources through collage. The low-contrast and elevated view in Untitled, Encouble (#46) (2013) sets up an enigmatic mood. Eventually, after prolonged viewing, the uncertain image coheres and we realize we’re simply looking at a cracked eggshell.
Burtin’s take on the still-life has a strong narrative element, with each image telling a story of how an ordinary object is transformed into something surreal. The experience of looking at the photographs is one characterized by a constant back-and-forth and multiple glances, asking oneself where the boundary between reality and artifice lies.
“Encouble” is on view at Benrubi Gallery, New York, Sept. 10 – Oct. 24, 2015.