David Clarkson

YYZ Gallery

Much of David Clarkson’s predominantly photographic work has reconstructive overtones. He starts by taking a number of photographs of a building’s facade. Calling these photos “glances,” Clarkson tries to make the camera look as cursorily and intently as the eye would, resting for split seconds on individual features of the facade. He then reconstructs the complete facade as closely as possible from the photographs. The viewer’s natural reaction is to attempt to reconcile the individual images into one focused image. But when this is done, the viewer ceases to be aware of each individual photograph in the synthesis. The elements required to form a comprehensive whole are present, but to try to integrate them is to divest them of detail, and consequently of the intricacies of their relationships—which are, ironically, what compel one to integrate those images. Caught forever in between dissolution and formation, the collages look oddly exploded and, at the same time, they reveal minute detail.

These works allude to the kind of composite photographs used to present weather data or to form aerial maps. The lesson these bring to Clarkson’s work is that it is necessary to relate the information contained in the individual photographs, and not the photographs themselves—however much their physical abutment may appear to belie that.

Though this collaging device is not new, Clarkson’s installation, titled “The Fragments of an Incomplete Reconnaissance,” is a significant expansion on this theme. Here Clarkson shifts his concern with the connection between site and sight from two-dimensional depictions into a three-dimensional realization. From photographing the facades of buildings, Clarkson has moved inside, and has set up an installation which includes a photographic composite of an interior.

This composite, an aerial view of an apartment in which Clarkson lived a year ago, is mounted directly on the south wall of the gallery with pushpins. In the opposite, northwest corner of the room sits an exact reconstruction of the corner which the reconstruction occupies. This “corner” includes floorboards and a pane of glass that mirrors the window, which extends from the actual corner, and which comprises most of the gallery’s north wall.

Both of these reconstructions conceal what they portray. The corner does so in an obvious way, in that its placement makes it impossible to view the actual corner, while the photographs do so because they are a composite. Furthermore, in the case of the photographs, Clarkson must remember accurately details of an apartment he has not seen for a year. In both cases we have to trust him: we can’t see either the apartment or the corner.

A glossy black baseboard has been installed for the piece around the edge of the gallery, where the floor meets the wall. By echoing the black edges of the Cibachrome photographs, the baseboard turns the gallery itself into a photographic “site” similar to the individual photographs in the apartment assemblage. The other objects in the gallery—a few chairs and a desk—suddenly are transformed into elements in their own floor plan, and are drawn into the installation.

Tacked onto the west wall of the corner reconstruction is a morphologically correct replica of the color-photo reconstruction of the apartment. But the paper of this replica is extremely overexposed, and while the shapes of the individual photos and of the complete aerial view on the south wall can be discerned, and are exactly the same, all content is missing.

This replica is the most obvious connection between the corner reconstruction and the photographic composite of the apartment. But because the black double is placed in the reconstructed corner in exactly the same position as that in which the original appears, in the opposite corner, and because both the corner in which the composite is located and the reconstructed corner have wall sockets in the same place, one is led to imagine that the reconstructed corner is actually a reconstruction of the corner in which the apartment collage sits. But by adding the window extension to the reconstructed corner Clarkson keeps the reconstructed corner from fading into the other corner. And so the corner “explodes.” As in the earlier facade collages, the same elements which relate the individual components of the piece physically, also keep those components separate, and deny the possibility of reconciling them.

Though the piece is rather dry. this is perhaps because it is a detached syllogism measuring the chaos that lies between related poles. But it is also the culmination of Clarkson’s efforts in earlier work to explore this almost gravitational law.

Martha Fleming