September 28 – December 30, 2018
B.C. Binning and Alvin Balkind Galleries
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in North America of Paris-based artist Dove Allouche. Developed in collaboration with Centre d’art contemporain d’Ivry – le Credac, this exhibition comprises new bodies of work alongside recent ones, with the aim of tracing correlations and connections across the artist’s expansive practice.
Central to the exhibition is an investigation of Allouche’s desire not to produce new things in the world but rather to make visible that which otherwise remains unseen, hidden or buried. Grounded in reprographic processes, his practice is fundamentally concerned with the matter of the earth and the slow passage of time. From the surface of the sun to Parisian sewer networks, stalagmites and the growth of spores, these subjects all demonstrate the effects of natural events, which both shape their structures and, in most cases, obscure them from human view.
In Allouche’s work the medium itself becomes the subject and the process of fabrication generates the imagery. The Pétrographie series (2015), for example, employs a technique invented in 1828 by a Scottish physicist who used crystal cut from calcite to dramatically improve a microscope’s power. From the Terre et Histoire de la Vie laboratory at the Institut Royal des Sciences Naturelles de Belgique, Allouche loaned a 117,000 year old length of stalagmite from Belgium’s Remouchamps caves. Thin slices were cut through the calcite and then each layer — holding a latent image much like a strip of unexposed film — was treated as a photographic negative. In each unique silver gelatin print produced, the stalagmite’s rings appear like those of a tree, revealing the material’s expression of time passing and the environmental forces that impacted its growth.
For the suite of ambrotypes Les petrifiantes II (2014), Allouche looked to natural cave structures, approaching them as dark rooms. The images — taken with long exposures inside the caves and developed in complete darkness — capture the slow process of petrification that produced the pictured stalactites and stalagmites. The ambrotype (or collodion positive process) was invented in the mid-nineteenth century and briefly replaced the daguerreotype in popularity until the tintype, involving a similar process, was introduced. Each ambrotype is a unique original, created by exposing a plate coated in iodized collodion and dipped in silver nitrate. The resulting negative appears as a positive when viewed against a dark background, so the back of the plates are coated with black varnish. For Allouche that process echoed the subject matter necessary to bring the image into visibility, the black background returning the images to the shadowy darkness of the caves themselves.
Deversoirs d’orage (2009), a series of fourteen heliogravures on paper taken in the gloom of the Paris sewer system, follow a similar process. Revealing a man-made subterranean world that slowly evolved through two centuries of mineral deposits, they offer a nod to Felix Nadar, who was the first to photograph there between 1861 and 1865. Allouche, however, refused to use artificial light that made Nadar’s images possible, instead making the work through the heliogravure, the oldest procedure for producing photographic images. Involving a photochemical process to etch an image into a copper plate which is then heated to fuse resin dust to the metal, this creates a surface that when hand-printed, captures an exceptional range of tonal variation. Far from being motivated by nostalgia, Allouche’s interest in such photographic processes is driven by attentiveness to the matter that surrounds us and through uniquely intertwined poetics and pragmatism, a set of decisions that allow his artistic process itself to reveal the nature of the subject brought into visibility.
With Fungi (2016), Allouche focuses on another aspect of the living world: a species of spores that predate human presence on earth (and known for eating away at works of art), collected from the Center for Research on the Preservation of Collections at the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Blowing them through a pipette onto plates, the artist fostered their growth and at a particular point in their development, photographed them. Similarly, the newest body of work in the exhibition, Perle (2017), required the patient growth of organic forms, this time the small, spherical concretions of calcite formed and found in shallow cave pools. Like the Pétrographie works, Allouche’s “cave pearls” were sliced into thin films, polished and used as photographic negatives, their mineral cross sections revealing the process of their own creation. Both series of works were printed as photolithographs, which Allouche fitted into frames carved from a singular block of wood and set behind hand-blown crown glass. The act of glassblowing mirrors that of blowing the spores into the petri dish while the organically formed glass, varying in opacity, colour and surface depth, echoes the delicate rondelles of the fungi and the pearls themselves. “The transparency of the glass,” as curator Maria Stavrinaki has suggested, “is also an expression of the intermediary ontology of the images: they were always there, but they had to be seen.”
The title of this exhibition refers to a phrase first used by the poet John Keats to characterize writers’ capacity to pursue an artistic vision despite the fact that it may lead them into intellectual uncertainty and doubt. Negative Capability describes a willingness to dwell in a prolonged state of “not knowing.” While an almost impossible state to maintain, especially for humans so quick to jump to reason, this temporality is imperative for Allouche’s practice: it is the one that allows his imaginative inquiry to hover so long at the edge of darkness.
Organized by Claire la Restif with Kimberly Phillips and Nigel Prince
Produced in collaboration with the Centre d’art contemporain d’Ivry – le Crédac
Generously supported by Institut Francais and the Consulat général de France à Vancouver