Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cameraless at Atelier pH7, Brussels

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 11-6-13 I "Resurgence", 2013
In the quiet, leafy neighborhood of Uccle in Brussels, the quiet gentleman (and maestro) of alternative photography, Roger Kockaerts, has put up a show at Atelier pH7 of alternative work that runs until well into the summer.  If it were only for the van dyck browns, the palladiums, the carbon prints, the bromoils and orotypes and of course the gums, it would be worth seeing, but there is a double reason: a significant part of the show is devoted to cameraless work, in this case the chemigram, and some fascinating and instructive work it is.

The above piece, by the Brussels-based team of Pierre Cordier and Gundi Falk, demonstrates the devotion to exacting conceptions for which they are famous.  Here they compound that practice by using one of their frequent ploys, the hidden puzzle, an audience favorite since time immemorial.  If you stand back and squint real hard you can just make out the letters of the title, R-e-s-u-r-g-e-n-c-e, written left to right and then, as in a boustrophedon, a device popular in ancient Greece, from right to left in the line below and zigzagging back and forth down the picture.  As I say, you have to squint.  Who said boustrophedons were easy!  Yet is the supposed boustrephodon here actually a red herring, a trail leading to a misreading?  It's for you to decide.  Here's a blow-up of the lower left corner, which is elegant fun but unfortunately may not help at all:

detail, Resurgence

In a work like this, planning in advance is essential - everything must be scrupulously mapped out, the incisions, the larger boundaries, the form to be taken by the hidden letters of text, the areas to be masked from chemical assault.  'More Mondrian, less Pollock,' as Pierre has said - a lot more.  The good part is that once set in motion the process more or less proceeds to term on its own, and all the artist has to do is shift the paper from one tray to another.  Imperfections, blips, and other small visitations from the gods of photochemistry, when they happen, are accepted into the picture, indeed they are blessed as emblematic.  But I exaggerate somewhat.

To monitor progress (the new reader should review earlier how-to posts on chemigrams, such as this), the artist may use the thickness of dark and light lines as a measure or trace of ongoing activity, a chronometric record not unlike the growth rings of a tree - an idea which, the more we think of it, may connect chemigrams to the larger saga of natural history and to the seasons of the earth.  If you think this connection far-fetched, we've discussed themes allied to it before in other contexts, for instance in the rate of movement of mackie lines around the equator.  Critics and pundits in the future, if there is a future and there are critics, will want to expound on this.

Another work on view by the same team is 'Musigram', a remarkable piece depicting a fantasy musical score that features a staccato of bips, or congealed clumps of musical notes, against an opulent black.  Don't even think of playing it, it's only for viewing.  One attendee at the opening tried to hum it but failed, complaining he needed a bass line to keep time - or perhaps just a refreshed glass.

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 11-6-13 I "Musigram", 2013
Here's a closer glimpse into this distinctive work.  The unfathomable, indescribable wonder of the chemigram is on full display.  You can scrapbook this one for study later.

detail, Musigram

Douglas Collins has several chemigrams in the show as well, quite different in design and a far cry from the impeccable work of Cordier & Falk.  All were done earlier this year, mainly in the western Mexican state of Guerrero working under, let's say, simple conditions.  Using Foma FB paper outdoors under a tree, he produced this

Collins, Guerrero series #4, 2016

and this

Collins, Guerrero series #5, 2016
and this

Collins, Guerrero series #11, 2016

The quality of the light and of the water in rural Mexico can be expected to have had an effect, from subtle to determinative: the water was from an ancient well, and bore minerals from deep in the mountainside.  Here's some detail:

detail, Guerrero series #4

and again

detail, Guerrero series #11,
A poet once said that knowledge is like water, 'dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free.'  These pictures, relaxed and open, suffused with sun, unplanned and unforeseen, seem to partake in the joy of discovering profound secrets when one is least expecting them - or when, rather, one suspects they have been present all along.  

Or, according to Collins, they could express something else entirely, and that's okay with him too.

* * * *

Pierre Cordier and Gundi Falk will be seen at Galerie Volker Diehl (Berlin) in August and at Paris Photo/Scheublein + Bak (Paris/Zurich) in November.  Gundi Falk has a solo show underway at Barbado Gallery (Lisbon).  Collins has work currently on view at IPCNY (New York) and at the Center for Photographic Art (Carmel, California).


  1. Are these chemigrams in the Guerrero series the 'etched' chemigrams you've been making, or something else? They don't look much like your bleach-etch works from a year ago.

    1. No, Steve, these are simple chemigrams, without frills. The circumstances of their creation were hampered by a lack of materials - it was by chance that I had a box of Foma in my backpack and that my friend, whose ranch I was staying at, had some old fixer and developer. In such cases you must become inventive; etched chemigrams were never an option, however much I would have wished otherwise. But I'm quite satisfied by the work that came out of it.

  2. I, too, often carry old photo paper with me on camping trips, just in case.

    1. It has many uses but chemigrams is at the top of the list, even before building fires or signaling for help. They don't tell you this in survival school, but they should.

  3. I think the connection the chemigram has to music and poetry and even mathematics are intriguing. Pierre has achieved this. John Cage comes to my mind when looking at some of Pierre's "musical" works. There is a rhythm that is both poetic and mathematical, a synthesis so to speak.