Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Invisible Majority (Eliza), 2016, ink-jet print, 17 1/2 × 21".

Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Invisible Majority (Eliza), 2016, ink-jet print, 17 1/2 × 21".

Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili

Galerie Micky Schubert

Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, Invisible Majority (Eliza), 2016, ink-jet print, 17 1/2 × 21".

Part of the unconventional beauty of Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili’s photographs lies in their blurring of the boundary between medium and motif; her approach to representation is intimately bound up with the inherent characteristics of the photographic medium. The artist generally works with analog technology and large-format cameras, but she also integrates digital techniques into her compositional processes. Having studied with Stephen Shore in New York, she is fully conversant with the methods of analog color photography: From operating the camera to manipulating the negative and negotiating the intricacies of lab technology, she controls all stages of the process, intervening with sometimes extensive, sometimes minimal and barely perceptible alterations, collaging, enhancing negatives with scratch marks, and experimenting with cameraless techniques. Frequently, she digitizes analog images for further editing. With a complex practice that blends intuition with invention, Alexi-Meskhishvili arrives at a peculiar texture that is neither pure representation nor abstract construction. That is the hallmark of her unique art: By dovetailing different techniques and probing the semantic interstices they open up, she unleashes their aesthetic potential and reveals photography’s underpinnings; rather than undermining representation, she stages it as a distinctive register of visual narrative and poetic material.

Alexi-Meskhishvili’s exhibition “I Move Forward, I Protozoan, Pure Protein”—the title is a quote from Clarice Lispector—presented new works that further refined the formal and stylistic qualities of her visual language as well as the technical complexity of her approach. Object photography and the still life abide as the cornerstones of her oeuvre; the critical engagement with medium and material remains crucial. The show also included examples of her more recent interest in portraiture, such as Invisible Majority (Eliza) (all works cited, 2016), which shows a recumbent young woman dressed in a blue velour sweatshirt. She rests on her right shoulder, her right arm angled, the bare forearm sticking up in an almost vertical line leading to clenched fingers. The left arm is a slack diagonal, with the extended hand stretching beyond the frame; the head is bent toward the bolster on which she lies. The entire posture lends her a peculiar air reminiscent of Mannerist painting. Her confident gaze holds the camera’s, while the arms folded across her body seem protective; her naked forearms are dotted with small tattoos, so the gesture may also be read as demonstrative, as though she were demanding that we look at her body art. The ambivalence between wariness and extroversion finds its metaphorical reflection in the compositional rupture within the picture: The artist has montaged two different negatives.

This layered ambiguity is echoed in Sister Rose. At first glance it is a nature study: a black-and-white photograph of a pale rose in bloom above grass-covered ground, shot from slightly above. Alexi-Meskhishvili’s choice of a colorful, blossoming plant for a tintless picture drains the motif of its ostensible naturalness and draws our attention to the composition’s structural qualities. Meanwhile, fine crisscrossing or arced lines scratched into the picture demonstrate the materiality of the photographic medium. A characteristically minor alteration of the negative, executed in a rapid gesture intimating the artist’s hand, they seem to quote the subject, tracing the plant’s fragile tectonics, furnishing it with an imaginary framework and even paraphrasing the alternating pairs of horizontal leaves.

Also on view were sss and Osile 2, two extraordinary pieces in large formats; like the smaller Osile (magenta), they are based on photograms. In these light collages, the artist burrows deep into the photographic material, covering a negative with simple hand-cut stencils or found objects and exposing it to light in different colors; areas masked by the stencil appear white. She also used colored LED finger lamps to enrich the pictures with gestural gradients or zones of diffuse brightness, creating a complex abstract photography that reveals its physical foundations.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.