View of “Chiara Dynys,” 2016–17. All works: Look Afar, 2016. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.

View of “Chiara Dynys,” 2016–17. All works: Look Afar, 2016. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.

Chiara Dynys

M77 Gallery | Milan

View of “Chiara Dynys,” 2016–17. All works: Look Afar, 2016. Photo: Lorenzo Palmieri.

“Look Afar,” Chiara Dynys’s most recent series of works, derives from an experience the artist lived through personally, one that has all the characteristics of an extreme ordeal. She spent forty days in Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland, nearly 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle, during the total darkness of the coldest months, December to February, staying in a shelter with nothing but the bare necessities for survival. Her purpose was to photograph the aurora borealis. Approximately eighteen thousand images produced during her stay formed the basis for this exhibition, curated by Michele Bonuomo and also titled “Look Afar”: On view were a series of particularly elaborate views, including photos, paintings, and a large video installation.

The video, projected simultaneously on all four walls of the gallery’s upper floor, enveloped the viewer in a dynamic and suggestive setting that played with strong contrasts between darkness and light and on their reflections in the space. Using a time-lapse technique, Dynys in a certain sense recapitulated the spectacular natural event, made up of impressive vortexes of light, conveying it as uninterrupted flashes, first in green tones, then gray-pinks, and finally violent reds. The intention, however, was not to offer a naturalistic representation, but rather to develop the event on a metaphorical level. The colored vortexes gradually move off in the distance, leaving a starry sky and a snowy nocturnal landscape, where a house can be seen. We then immediately see the aurora borealis and its mobile colors once again, now contained within a window of the house, which, in the end, becomes so small it disappears on the horizon. Halfway between descriptive account and oneiric construction (the house seems drawn, but no, it was captured with a camera), the work suggests an equivalence between the creative forces of nature and those of the imagination. The artist is addressing the sublime; her inner self knows how to tackle the excess she sees in natural phenomena because she is able to make it the subject of her ideas. She consequently can overcome the fear it causes.

On the gallery’s lower floor, two groups of works developed the same nature/mind relationship. In the bigger room, ten large photographs printed on titanium, some of them with spray paint added, repeated the various phases of the aurora borealis. The artist’s pictorial gesture here was to add small naturalistic details, such as animals or plants, to the chromatic richness of the depicted natural scene. The photos, whether painted or not, each bore two Plexiglas inserts, one at the top-left corner, the other at the bottom-right corner, like lenses. Each of these, in turn, contained photographic details of places the artist passed through to arrive at the spot where she filmed, variously showing rows of reindeer on the march, houses with illuminated windows, leafy branches of iced-over trees. These works were presented in heavy methacrylate frames in colors that related to the dominant tones of the surfaces they contained; the frames were elaborately shaped with exaggerated lobes that seemed like retractable organic elements and evoked the Baroque style.

In a smaller room on the lower level, the relationship between painting and photography was systematically analyzed in five medium-scale works. Through their lenticular surfaces, two images were superimposed, one pictorial, the other photographic. Both images related to Arctic landscapes and were rich in details, forming a sort of visual travel diary. However, a disturbance came into play, because the image kept changing depending on the viewpoint of the observer. Here again, the methacrylate frame formed an integral part of the work and always related to the dominant color of the image. The frames had bizarre contours, with triangular excrescences, processions of sharpened tips that assumed a vaguely archaic look. The formal extravagance of the works was part and parcel of the disturbing value of the images.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.