Jean-Marc Bustamante

Galerie Daniel Templon / Galerie Nathalie Obadia

Jean-Marc Bustamante's new photographs, part of the “Tableaux” he has been working on since 1970, were taken in 2001 on a trip to Japan. Developed in Cibachrome by a Swiss laboratory in the largest possible format (most often vertical), they are framed in dark wood. But don't look for anything picturesque; Bustamante's Japan is not the land of triumphant modernity nor of ancestral traditions but, as is his wont, that of the urban periphery, indeterminate zones where nature blends with human traces (roads, bridges, electrical pylons and power lines, banal or prefab architecture) in ways that prove strikingly similar throughout the world. A few clues (the shape of rooftops, signage, even Mount Fuji in the background) allow us to situate the image, but, when all is said and done, this Japan strangely resembles the Switzerland of Bustamante's “LP” series, 2000, shown last year at the Neues Kunstmuseum Luzern.

With their neutrality, superficiality, and obvious immediacy, however, these paintinglike photographs resist analysis; they are blocks of massive and enigmatic presence whose enormous format encourages direct confrontation and does not allow evasion. These apparently banal images are remarkably structured: The balance between earth and sky, fullness and emptiness; the geometric construction (straight and curved lines, mass and plane); the handling of luminosity and chroma are all brilliantly controlled. Everything is there on the surface, contained within the frame—at least in this regard Bustamante is heir to the Minimalists. The trick is to be able to see everything. The experience he offers to the gaze is based on exploring the properties of depth of field: the details are all crystalline and therefore clearer than they would be to the naked eye. The result is the simultaneous presence of sights that for the human eye would ordinarily be successive; an insignificant fragment of landscape becomes an endless source of visual information. But in order to unpack this simultaneity, we need all the time that Bustamante has evacuated from the image. We really have to look to see the little sanctuary situated below the road, to see the landscape behind a house under construction, to get used to the reflections on the water and to see its surface; a lot of time is required to see each blade of grass or rice plant while grasping the whole as a meadow or a rice paddy.

By this slow process of perception, the photograph is constituted as an object of thought and connects with the furniture sculpture that Bustamante produced alongside it: Three tables with metallic legs and glass tops (Mésa I, II, and III, all 2001) punctuated the space, as present and enigmatic as the photographs; wax candles were cut into disks and stacked on top of them or pushed through them. Bustamante's works introduce disparity and disorientation into our experience of the world. At Galerie Obadia, a Tableau, 1980, and a Panorama, 2000, set off the tension between photography and painting, between the real, reproduction, and representation, while Continent V, 1993– two forms made of PVC placed on rolls of carpet, never before exhibited in France—illustrated Bustamante's research into known and unknown, organic and geometric forms.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.