CHOI&LAGER Gallery is pleased to present Seasons Change, an exhibition of recent photographic works by Canadian artist Scott Mcfarland.
Since the late 1990’s, the artist has been making large-format images that explore the parameters and limits of photographic representation through extended visual studies of particular environments.
McFarland’s crystalline, hyperreal images derive from a laborious technical methodology, in which he exposes multiple large-format negatives at a given scene, digitizes them and painstakingly reassembles the images into a seamless, cohesive composite.
The resulting image is one that leverages Realist aesthetics in service of imbuing the work with the long-held notion of photography’s indexical ‘truth’, while simultaneously disavowing it by doing away with the singular ‘decisive moment’.
Such a practice is, of course, familiar territory followjng the emergence so-called Vancouver School of conceptual photographers throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s, for whom the careful blending of photography’s (supposedly) documentary nature with cinematic staging was a stock-in-trade. Indeed, there is a clear alignment between McFarland and the work of Jeff Wall (under whom the artist studied) in both methodological terms and in their extensive use of art-historical referentiality in subject matter, while one also senses the influential presences of Gregory Crewdson and Hannah Starkey in the artist’s rendering of light and penchant for ambiguous narratives.
Where McFarland sets himself apart from these masters of the Tableux-Photograph form, however, is in his adept integration of multiple temporalities into the pictorial plane. Unlike the aforementioned, the artist rarely stages his human subjects; instead he creates spatial and gestural relations between them through extended observation of people’s comings-and-goings within the scene, serial exposures and a mastery of post-processing that creates unresolvable narratives perhaps best characterized as “non/fiction”.
Neither is the landscape itself pinned to one spot on the space-time continuum; be it through recognizably multi-directional shadows, the jarring proximity of different seasonal foliage or subtle amalgamations of spatially-discrete scenes, McFarland’s images successfully integrate the stasis of the photographic with the durational aspect of the filmic. In this way, the artist frames the locale as a distinct narrative agent unto itself, in a shift away from the deliberate aesthetic of banal placelessness cultivated by many of his contemporaries.
These ideas of referentiality, ambiguous narratives, locale-specificity and spatial reconfiguration are all very much at play in McFarland’s New Orleans Pictures series, which forms the core of CHOI&LAGER’s exhibition.
Having previously produced bodies of work that explored the highly constructed and codified environments of private gardens, public parks, rustic cabins and popular zoos, for this series the artist turned his attention to reworking popular representations of that distinctive city. Commercial depictions of its’ French Quarter, Garden District, street cars and Mississippi steam boats are reconsidered in order to present a more “Realist” interpretation of these familiar scenes.
Staff Meal, (2014) in particular, draws equally on the pop-culture legacy of Galatoires Restaurant (with all it’s associations with Tennesee Williams and Mid-19th Century gentility) and the multiple art-historical references encoded in its composition.
The eye is immediately drawn to the unremarkable-looking female staff member sitting alone at a table for four, captured at a moment that hovers ambiguously between active eating and uninterested picking, her posture and expression undefinable as either engaged in her task or absentmindedly passing time. A small signifier of almost-comically banal realism reveals itself amongst the wealth of visual detail ; where does her bland-looking plate of fried chicken and accompaniment of water fit in with the pop-culture image of Galatoires as the hub of fine French-Creole cuisine par excellence?
From here, the focus shifts to the mirror behind her, in which one registers the restaurant’s lighting fixtures, the bustle of patrons and the apparent bonhomie between the four male staff members depicted as enjoying a meal together at the table opposite.
With its play on constrained pictorial space extended by mirrors and the interrelations of its subject mediated by gender, class and economics, this image clearly tips its’ hat to Velázquez’s Las Meninas, and stakes its place in a nexus of artworks that subsequently referenced that piece (Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère and Jeff Wall’s Picture For Women chief among them), with a dash of Edward Hopper for good measure.
Maurice Merleau Ponty’s idea of the mirror as the instrument of a universal magic that changes things into spectacles, spectacles into things, me into others, and others into me is an apt one to keep in mind for all the works presented at Seasons Change. Throughout New Orleans Pictures, Concrete Cottage and other non-series works, the artist treats photography as much the same sort of instrument, foregrounding the artifice of the photographic process and object through use of sparkling-rendered detail, overwhelming panoramic format and spectacles resulting from virtuosic temporal and spatial disruption.
These are images born from the interplay of other images, texts and histories that we construct and are constructed by; Scott Mcfarland’s ability to hold them all in a productive balance marks him as one of the most important photographic artists working today.