Los Angeles

Amir Zaki

Roberts & Tilton/MAK Center for Art and Architecture

To point a camera at a house is a somewhat tautological operation, as both comprise rooms—the term camera denotes an enclosed, interior space—with windows, or apertures, opening out. Among all fabricated things, the house is the camera’s closest kin and shares its most salient associations; above all, to the psyche, whether perceiving, remembering, imagining, dreaming. In The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard famously described “the chief benefit of the house” in relation to this last function: “the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”

In Amir Zaki’s recent work this same set of correspondences—between architecture, mediation, and mind—is simultaneously reinforced and undermined. Three discrete but obviously interrelated photographic suites describe exteriors of houses, interiors of houses, and exteriors seen from houses. The pictures range in size between medium and large and were recently dispersed between two venues that partly mirror their own aesthetic configurations. The first of these, the project room of Roberts & Tilton, represents “white cube” enclosure in extremis. Next came the notoriously difficult space of the MAK Schindler House that, in comparison, becomes the epitome of open-plan permeability, a state between inside and out.

Appropriately, the photographs at MAK run the gamut from architectural to landscape to still life, whose various conventions Zaki largely embraces but only to uncannily twist. The houses he shoots all conform to a classically LA model of the modernist hilltop home, but observed, as here, from below, they seem to jut precariously over sheer drops. This anxiety-provoking effect is further augmented by Zaki’s digital erasure of the cantilevered supports that would normally hold the dwellings in place. Clichés of the SoCal high life, they are thus nudged from the everyday into a J. G. Ballard–style realm of eroto-apocalyptic sci-fi.

In sharp contrast to the heroic upward sweep of the architectural photographs, Zaki shoots his landscapes from above, as though leaning out of an overhead window and looking down (sometimes into backyard pools). The opposite orientation of these two perspectives is carried through to their objects which, taken together, stage a Freudian debate between “outies” and “innies.” Zaki’s symbolism is crude—the interior views of stopped-up fireplaces in particular are almost too much—but, considering the myriad psychosexual readings that come with the territory, also perfectly justified.

Such emphatic yet seamless (read: Hollywood) F/X are by now recognizably Zaki’s stock in trade. At Roberts & Tilton he directly acknowledged his debt to the realm of sheer spectacle; it was also here that his ambivalence reached a crescendo. Again, a house is shown teetering over a sharp slope, though in a sequence of three separate photographs. These are identical, save for a tiny airplane that appears in the upper-left-hand corner of one image, then glides nonchalantly through the rest until it reaches the other side. It generates the sort of “visual noise” that belongs more to documentary veracity than dramatic verisimilitude, but whether it emphasizes or obscures the artifice of the image is unclear, and this is largely the point. One marvels at Zaki’s mastery while shuddering at the implications of these spaces that not only no longer protect but now actively obstruct and antagonize the dreamer. What happens to the primal hut when its walls are replaced with flat-screen TVs? What happens when our “theaters of memory” go digital? Zaki’s photographs are ultimately about the horror of a house that does all your dreaming for you.

Jan Tumlir