Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Wilfred flower, 2013, digital C-print, 11 3/4 x 9 3/4".

Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Wilfred flower, 2013, digital C-print, 11 3/4 x 9 3/4".

Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili

Galerie Micky Schubert

Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Wilfred flower, 2013, digital C-print, 11 3/4 x 9 3/4".

As its title suggests, the photographs in “German Flowers,” the first solo show in Germany by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, consist almost entirely of floral motifs. At first glance, erratic and irreducible differences separate her works—as pictures, they are, one to the next, very distinct. Yet the transitions between them are fluid. The Georgian-born artist’s approach to her subject attests to a keen visual sensibility and love of experimentation; in each picture, she builds her central motif from the ground up, exploring it in all its fragility and richness. The works are diverse not only in terms of technique (the artist uses both digital and analog processes, sometimes mixing the two) but also in composition. Yet amid the overall impression of heterogeneity, one noticed—gradually and with a tentativeness that is beautiful, even poetic in itself—the undeniable family resemblances among the pictures. With great precision, Alexi-Meskhishvili constructs a sensory quality that is highly lyrical but almost impossible to pin down.

The works on display formed an open group whose overarching title raised the question of what might be so specifically German about these flora. Almost all the pictures were taken in Berlin, but the title is presumably meant to indicate an outsider’s viewpoint. In conversation, Alexi-Meskhishvili, who has lived in Berlin for six years and recently set up a second base in New York, recalls preparing the exhibition: “I found myself chasing a certain German aesthetic which I thought existed but kept eluding me.” This pursuit of an inherently intangible “Germanness” is in keeping with the artist’s visually contemplative way of working: Her photographs may evoke the atmosphere of a place, but they do not illustrate it or even require the viewer to posses any particular knowledge of it to comprehend them. On the contrary, they tend to transform such specificity, to preserve it only by suspending it in poetic abstraction.

A pink plastic plant, for example, appears in Isa flower (all works 2013). The motif is derived from a sculpture by German artist Isa Genzken, which Alexi-Meskhishvili had photographed a decade earlier. Wilfred flower shows a book with a painting of a lily that the artist found years ago at a thrift shop in Berlin; what might be the previous owner’s name, Wilfred, was inscribed in it. Over the colorfully speckled gray of a Berlin street, the strangely blue-shifted cover enters into an ephemeral bond with a crumpled something in black, red, and yellow—blossoming, as though by chance, in the colors of the German flag—and a shadow that takes up half the picture. It is unclear whether it is the photographer herself casting the shadow; in any case, a real moment has become an abstract composition.

To create pictures such as Isa flower and Dark palm, Alexi-Meskhishvili uses a different technique, taking an analog negative and altering it manually, with a knife, before scanning it and reworking it digitally. She also sometimes scans found photographs and integrates them into her works or, as in the aptly titled Negative, makes the negative itself the subject of the photograph. A small black-and-white self-portrait stood out amid all the colorful floral forms: It shows the artist in the studio where many of the pictures on display were made. Its title, hmmmmm, may suggest a musing contemplation with an admixture of irony: Alexi-Meskhishvili viewing her own art with a loving squint.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.