Bernard Voïta

Galerie Bob van Orsouw

Bernard Voïta’s “Paysages ahah,” 2009–10, are photographic landscapes the likes of which you’ve never before seen. Their intricately nested spaces blend together uncanny microcosms and idyllic expanses, as if in some fantastic dream—or nightmare. How strange that your eye can never rest in these pictures, cannot simply luxuriate in them. These are not postcards of recognizable, manicured gardens. Their color is not really colorful: An overall silver, yellow, or violet shimmer keeps merging into blackness or blazes of brightness, showing to what extent the boundaries between literal and invented vision are becoming more porous. Parks, an esplanade, the pines of Rome—these elements are “photographic” not merely because they have been caught on camera, edited on the computer, and then printed, but moreover because they invoke our memory of other photographs. In them we read the codes of a familiar medium, all the while becoming increasingly ensnared in a complex and unfamiliar process of image construction.

Voïta has used a specially developed process of ink-jet printing to render images translucently on the back of glass placed in a frame, so that they overlie—at a slight distance—other photographs of carefully staged everyday objects that make up the background layer of the image. Each picture has its own internal order. But depending on how the light strikes the image and from what angle it is viewed, this overlay produces shadows that shift to produce virtually uncontrollable painterly nuances: a third element in the constellation. At the same time, it soon becomes clear that individual images—a folding ladder, for example—recur in several works.

Voïta, who is Swiss but has lived for many years in Brussels, put this show together following a long break from artistic work after finishing his series “Camera,” 2003–2006. Moments of both continuity and rupture with his earlier series can be seen here. The previous work was always in black and white. But updating memories of familiar images has also long been a concern. Voïta has built large-scale installations using everyday objects, creating overall geometric patterns or else building anamorphic reconstructions of architectural complexes as seen from the camera’s perspective. The patterns and shapes are evident, but so is the intricate construction of the illusion itself. In “Camera,” for instance, he presents eight iconic cameras as sculpturally assembled shapes: The bodies and lenses of these enormous “cameras” were created using such items as a plastic bucket, a pie pan, and a glass lampshade—as well as their shadows—all arranged for the lens. The instrument recording the image and the conditions that allow it to work are entirely interlinked, yet with a wink, as it were, as if asking to be deconstructed. Voïta’s new landscapes reveal a similar kind of deconstruction but in less overt terms, hiding behind a veil of dazzling color and a web of interconnections. In these works, one begins to believe the illusion even as one recognizes the desire to be deceived, but this structure of self-deception is unstable. When I finally left the show, I no longer wished to know what it was I had just seen.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.