Critics’ Picks

Oto Gillen​, Kentucky Coffee 1, 2016, UV-cured ink on toughened glass, adhesives, cardboard, wood, 34 x 55 x 1".

New York

Oto Gillen

Eli Ping Frances Perkins
205 East 125th Street
September 30–November 6, 2016

The five photographs that make up Oto Gillen’s solo show here—Kentucky Coffee 1 and Honey Locust 1–4, all 2016—are tough to crack. These large, richly colored images of seedpods, printed on Corning’s state-of-the-art Gorilla Glass, are extremely durable—it’s the same material used for the iPhone’s screen (the inexpensive honeycomb cardboard to which Gillen has affixed them, however, is not). The pods are shot in close-up, which gives you very little sense of their surroundings or context.

Just as Karl Blossfeldt, nearly a century ago, made nature utterly alien by focusing his lens on singular specimens of flora so does Gillen. It’s hard to see any familiar qualities and functions represented in these forms without some understanding of seed biology—perhaps one can dub them botanical abstractions. Gillen seems to posit the plant world as something to which humans cannot plausibly relate. Maybe it’s the busyness of our lives that makes the continual rhythms of nature seem so uncanny.

Ultimately, Gillen’s concerns lie with the concepts, abstractions, and contradictions we humans narcissistically inhabit in daily life. And that narcissism is exacerbated when technology becomes life’s primary mediator—taking a picture of a flower, a bird, or a painting with your smartphone, before engaging it face to face, does not make things new, sophisticated, modern. Gillen shot his images (not with an iPhone) while in Manhattan—the very heart of the connected world. And, like the careful flaneur he is, he narrowed his focus on things quite ordinary, yet totally ineffable, face first.