Gallery 295, Vancouver
January 30 - March 14, 2015
Curated by Francesca Szuszkiewicz
Review by Karen Zalamea
For their second annual emerging curator exhibition,Gallery 295 welcomed Francesca Szuszkiewicz to present a solo exhibition of Michael de Courcy’s photographic series it’s about time. As a viewer encountering the work, one is struck by the careful inventory of images of tools—a single lens, a developing tray, a darkroom easel, a pair of Kodak beakers—showing evidence of years of usage, of being handled and held. The selected darkroom implements are photographed against flat black or grey backdrops in a commercial fashion, focusing on individual or grouped objects. The objects are usually known in darkness, their forms perceived when vision has adjusted to the dark, their contours expressed through tactility, their distinct chemistry marked by permeating odours.
Developed over the past 10 years, de Courcy engaged in creating this body of work while he dismantled his own home darkroom, all while continuously reconsidering the changing process of photographic production from analogue to digital and the accompanying challenges and possibilities of this transition. it’s about time negotiates this transition, as it provided the artist with the task of establishing a new way of making photographs. The digital photographs were output as inkjet prints on canvas, then varnished on the surface, and gessoed on the back countless times to give the prints body and flatness. This hybrid procedure speaks to de Courcy’s experience as a master printmaker. The resulting photographs are precise, luminous objects themselves that do not attempt to mimic traditional colour prints. The visceral quality of the images, revealing the features of the objects photographed and the varnished materiality of the canvas, invites the viewer to come closer, to participate in this deliberate meditation, one article at a time.
Michael de Courcy it's about time (exhibition installation at Gallery 295) 2015
In a manner much like viewing analogue prints directly from the darkroom, the prints are pinned to the gallery’s walls. The pushpins were handcrafted from silver by the artist’s daughter, furthering the dialogue on traditional silver photographic processes and functioning as “quotation marks or parentheses”,1 calling attention to the images. As documents, resembling the lone image of a page from the artist’s darkroom notebook, the work functions as an account, an ode to the darkroom that refuses to delve into a lament so often christened the “death of the darkroom”. Instead, de Courcy’s account is a search for a continuum to pragmatically work with photographs. From a practice rooted in mass accumulations of negatives, prints, and notes, to one of infinite ephemeral data, de Courcy has found a delicate balance in rendering his digital images as photographic material. Digital images run the risk of disappearance, with the quick turnover of storage devices and software, let alone the complications of cluttered, lost or infected data. The challenge becomes one of facilitating the visibility of digital images. The outcome in de Courcy’s case is a curious and circuitous conversation of analogue instruments captured digitally then materially transformed on the photographic surface.
The images can be read as an archive of objects and traditional processes, and the project itself, amongst many of de Courcy’s bodies of works, can be viewed online on his website. Throughout his career, the artist has employed varied forms of dissemination, such as postcards, pamphlets, and cardboard boxes. The online archive provides an alternate platform for the projects to be visible and made easily accessible, inciting a different engagement with the works. Moreover, the exhibition space, Gallery 295, is a highly considered and appropriate context for the project. The gallery is housed in the back of an industrial space with three finished 10-foot high white walls. Behind the gallery’s walls is The Lab, a full-time working professional photography lab, complementing the exhibition with the murmur of machines and timers and the unmistakable scent of developers. The laboratory and exhibition spaces function in tandem, testifying to the processes of making a photograph, and furthermore conflating the separate spaces of production and exposition.2 Just as the photographs incorporate analogue and digital processes, the exhibition acknowledges both the working lab and the gallery space.
Michael de Courcy’s it’s about time speaks to the pleasure of photographs—the pleasure of making, viewing, and contemplating images. The works embrace the palpable nature and haptic experience of photography, inscribed by de Courcy’s persistent inquisitiveness into culling the long-lasting out of the fugitive.
1 Public discussion with Michael de Courcy, Francesca Szuszkiewicz, and Michael Love as part of One Hour Photo, Gallery 295, Vancouver. 7 March 2015.
2 Daniel Buren discusses the alienation of museum-displayed artwork from its place of origin, i.e. the artist’s studio, or in de Courcy’s case, the darkroom. For Buren, artwork is compromised when it is recontextualized in its passage from a space of production to a space of exposition. See Daniel Buren, The Function of the Studio, trans. Thomas Repensek, October 10 (Autumn 1979): 51-58.
it’s about time was an exhibition of new works by Michael de Courcy curated by Francesca Szuszkiewicz, selected for Gallery 295’s Annual Emerging Curator Exhibition in 2015.
Karen Zalamea is a visual artist and writer based in Vancouver, Canada.