View of “Katja Mater,” 2013.

View of “Katja Mater,” 2013.

Katja Mater

View of “Katja Mater,” 2013.

From the very start of her career less than a decade ago, Katja Mater has ventured further and further into the borderlands of photography. For her latest show, “Interior A–J,” she constructed a wooden “room” inside the gallery that echoed the shape of its interior almost exactly. This seemingly redundant installation was necessary because Mater wanted to record as if looking through the walls from outside the goings-on inside the space—namely, the process of painting the gallery’s walls in four layers, starting with blue and ending up with silver, with the aid of ten cameras—and she would not have been able to complete the complex installation required for this equipment within the actual walls of the gallery.

It is hardly surprising that Mater decided to use the entire space. Her pictures have consistently tested the boundaries of photography in the modernist sense, pushing both space and time to the absolute limit. In recent years, her usual procedure has been to paint multilayered, geometric abstractions—sometimes on a flat surface and sometimes in one corner of a room—which she photographs in different stages of completion. Crucially, she leaves a single negative in the camera for all these exposures. The negatives thus serve as canvases of a kind. Surfaces created early in the process are covered by additional layers; colors mingle, and different types of light intersect. She thus compresses not only the multiplicity of successive layers but the time spent painting into a single image. Forget the decisive moment; forget shutter speeds of 1/125 s. Mater’s photographs expand continuously before your eyes.

The effort required to grasp the complexity of Mater’s images (which at first seem like off-putting photographs of geometric paintings) reflects the scope of her ambition to destabilize the photographic conceptions of both time and space. And this is precisely what she accomplished with “Interior A–J.” Because she painted the walls as well as the floor of her temporary room, the lines in the final, two-dimensional photos clashed markedly with those of the space itself. Experiencing the work was thus profoundly unsettling; having already lost control of time, you felt your grip on space slipping away. In this respect, it was clever of Mater to exhibit the nine final photographs (one of the ten she’d planned to make didn’t come out) in the narrow passageway between the actual gallery and her painted wooden installation, which was left in place during the exhibition, like a smoking gun. As a visitor, you tried, with a growing sense of defeat, to situate the photographs in space, and to re-create the space in your mind, as it were. But in fact, you knew right from the beginning that you were doomed to fail, lost in space—and time.

Hans den Hartog Jager

Translated from Dutch by David McKay.