Conceptual Artist Recreates Family History With Aluminum Prints

(Left) Fragment 21 and (right) Fragment 20 by Raphael Zollinger from the "Evanescent Tales" exhibit at Gray Contemporary.
(Left) Fragment 21 and (right) Fragment 20 by Raphael Zollinger from the "Evanescent Tales" exhibit at Gray Contemporary.
Courtesy of Gray Contemporary

New York-based conceptual artist Raphael Zollinger has returned to Gray Contemporary, this time with his first solo show, “Evanescent Tales.” While previous works have touched on sculpture, photography, video and installation, one of his connecting threads seems to be the deconstruction and reconstruction of photographs; he has continued that theme with a series of pigment prints on aluminum.

Zollinger has edited his family’s collection of photographs, seeking out those that are the most damaged or distressed, with burnt edges, scratches, folds and torn corners. He digitally edits fragments of these images, amplifying specific elements while obfuscating the rest, and making strong use of negative space. Because of the inherent reflectivity and neutral silver hue of the aluminum, it is this absence of pigment that gives an ethereal, transitory quality to the works.

The effect is quite successful in the five colorful works in the secondary room of the gallery space. In Fragment 21, the blistered, burned edges of the photograph anchor the left side of the composition in a spinal column of charcoal and russet foam. The remainder of the image serves as a fleeting representation of a distant memory, save for two floating particles near the top and an unknown object just out of frame.

Fragment 27, Fragment 26 and Fragment 19 present an optical illusion; from a distance they appear to be naturescapes punctuated by a floating river of misty, white clouds. It is only upon closer inspection that the viewer can see human forms: upraised arms, feet in the sand or a camera strap.

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Easily passing for a Rorschach test, in Fragment 20 one can make out a red and white checked tablecloth, but from there the interpretations vary. The image is so far departed from its original that the viewer can divine Darth Vader, a garment tied in a bow, or the horizon of the ocean.

Zollinger has succeeded in conveying the fleeting nature of photography and memory, while still paying homage to early daguerreotype processes. For the predominantly monochromatic pieces on display in the front room of the gallery, the tonal ranges are amplified by the aluminum sheeting.

(Left) Fragment 3 and (right) Fragment 2 by Raphael Zollinger from the "Evanescent Tales" exhibit at Gray Contemporary.
(Left) Fragment 3 and (right) Fragment 2 by Raphael Zollinger from the "Evanescent Tales" exhibit at Gray Contemporary.
Courtesy of Gray Contemporary

An overstuffed garage is most likely the genesis for Fragment 3, with the folded lawn chairs in the corner amid other household objects. Through the torn edges of the photograph, the flare of the sun is clearly visible, made all the more brighter and pronounced by the shimmering sheen of the metal. Instead of a dark and dusty composition, the result is bright and full of hope.

Fragment 2 is so ephemeral that the viewer is left to wonder if the subject is organic, architectural or corporeal. In Torn from Album 6, the aged tape marks in the corner are flecked with dust in this image taken from inside a moving vehicle. According to Zollinger, the stories behind many of these photographs are long forgotten; this breaking down of history to create a new narrative offers a creative way to reframe the past.

“Evanescent Tales” continues through August 28, at Gray Contemporary, 7026 Old Katy Road, Suite 253, open Mondays to Fridays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-862-4425 or graycontemporary.com.


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