Monday, March 7, 2011

Elspeth Diederix: Flora, Fauna, and Things That Will Freak You Out

Elspeth Diederix photographs lots of things: bedrooms and sunlamps and motorbikes covered in paint the color of Pepto Bismol. She admits that she's a world-traveler, born in Kenya, based in Amsterdam, and taking her pictures in exotic locations all over the world. She doesn't want that to show in the images though. Her biographical artist statement is interesting:

"Purposefully she herself remains on the outside. Instead of being absorbed by the setting of her subject, she prefers to maintain a high degree of detachment. This enables her to create a sense of alienation and in her photographs she achieves this by stripping everyday objects of what normally one takes for granted. There comes a moment when everyday objects lose their sense of familiarity, acquire another meaning and seem to become almost abstract."

Most of her subjects are singular, lacking friends, enemies, or incidentals. Like recognizable setting, they could detract from the lonely object, floating in our view.

You have to appreciate the melancholy of these creatures (for even her inanimate objects become them). They border on existential; we are curious about them, but something about their abstraction enables us to tilt our head, puzzle at them for a moment, and then move along. Aesthetically, a lot of her pictures are very beautiful, full of eerie nighttime colors, crowded with vines and flowers, lovely as they snake around wrists and neck to strangle us. She does take photographs full of green grass and sunlight, but I think there's something special about her darker pictures. Each one is like looking into black well-water, waiting for something to float up out of the earth and breach the surface. You're expecting a skeletal hand, pale and threatening, but find instead a white jasmine blossom. Which is no less threatening.

"lilac" is the one I can't stop looking at. I'm drawn in by my association of that smell with the backyards of my childhood, playing hide-and-seek with my sister in the late-May dusk and catching that scent on the breeze. I want to go closer, but when I do, I'm sure some creature, frozen in the flowers, will begin to move. Toward me, at me. But that smell.

The tension between beauty and fear, between the familiar and the unknown, is what makes these pictures so wonderful to look at. I'll admit, I loves me some creepiness. If Black Swan (watch it!) was translated to photography, I think it would come out something like Diederix's dark pictures.

jasmin chair (2004)
familie portret (1998)
casett (2008)
lilac (2007)
car (2008)

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