Rut Blees Luxemburg

Laurent Delaye Gallery

Noises carried up from the street below through an open window that is usually closed, shuttered, and covered by a screen wall on which art is hung. But Rut Blees Luxemburg revealed it again as part of the installation of her show “Cauchemar,” which presented five images from the eponymous series of photographs, 2000–2002, shot in Paris and exhibited here within a precisely considered environment. Luxemburg takes her pictures at night using only available light. The long exposure times required for this result in pictures that slow down and hold the viewer’s attention. We are shown ordinary things we might expect to find anywhere—a discarded cigarette packet, the marble finishing in a lobby, damp pavement, and a lichen-covered wall—but what we see goes well beyond this. It takes us toward André Breton’s idea of convulsive beauty, to the way in which the everyday and the ephemeral can open into and reveal the workings of the unconscious. It takes us to the city of Louis Aragon’s Paris Peasant, for whom matter-of-fact description was no more than “a means of obtaining access to a hitherto forbidden realm.”

Working with architect Patrick Lynch, Luxemburg divided the gallery into three zones by means of two screens made of wood. One side of these was painted, the other left raw. Each screen had, so to speak, a behind to it, rather as the street lay disclosed beyond the room’s outer wall. But this wrong side, while it could easily be reached by walking around the space, was made imaginatively distant and, perhaps, morally or psychologically questionable by the addition of an extra coat of gloss reaching just above head height on the painted sides. Surely such a resistant surface, so rarely encountered in the gallery context, must have been applied in order to hide something? One’s gaze bounced back off this reflective sheen, as it did off the similarly treated gallery walls, and it was only within the photographs that the eye could satisfactorily discover any depth of field. What it found there, implied in the show’s title—“Nightmare” in English—was the city’s disturbed dreaming. Within the precise architecture of the installation, the pristine fronts and naked backs of the screens quickly came to appear as facade and interior, an interior where one might gain access to the subconscious of the built form.

Caught by the oblique cast of the street lighting, the strip of tarmac laid between the paving slabs of the sidewalk and the curbside proper in The Veins, 2000, clearly reveals the pattern of tree roots running just beneath it. Water has dripped onto a small area of the wall in Wound, 2001, making a dark, shiny patch, more or less in the shape of a figure, which somehow appears to sit behind the plane of the discoloration. More veins, this time in the marble panels of The Dandy, 2000, look unremarkable until you notice that, Arcimboldo-like, they resemble the flayed head and shoulders of a horror film predator. Once you’d spotted this, it wouldn’t go away. The figure remained to haunt the exhibition, an outward emblem of the city-as-body on whose surface it had been discovered.

In President, 2001, an empty, crumpled pack of that brand of cigarettes lies in the arch of a bridge support. The name is sharp and clear on the packet’s side, but the river in the background, flowing through the long exposure time, has become nebulous and ill defined. President’s dark, uncertain plane of water found a double correlation with other elements in the show: first, with the low wooden ramp one had to ascend in order to get close to Wound, and second, with the barely contained root growth of The Veins. The latter, hanging closest to the open window, gave a presentiment of what might lie in wait in the street.

Michael Archer