BEIRUT: Works by French photographer Mustapha Azeroual are being exhibited for the second time at Karantina’s Art Factum Gallery. Azeroual’s work first appeared in Beirut as part of “Potpourri 001,” a collective exhibition Art Factum staged last January that placed his work alongside that of such artists as Leila Alaoui, Tanya Traboulsi and Mazen Haidar.
Anyone intrigued by Azeroual’s renderings of life in Paris and its suburbs in the 2013 show will have plenty to ponder in his solo exhibition “Reliefs.” Of the over 30 works on show, most focus on rural landscapes.
“Reliefs” is subdivided into five series. Two of these address the theme of “Radiance.” Two more take up “Resurgence.” A fifth dwells on “Phenomenon.”
Those members of the public accustomed to photo exhibitions that have framed C-prints hanging from the walls may be surprised by Azeroual’s thoroughly contemporary approach to photography. Indeed, casual onlookers may imagine that some of the photos on show here are actually watercolors.
When creating the works in this show, Azeroual said he worked with “ultraviolet-sensitive emulsion, made of pigments of the desired tint, Arabic gum and potassium bichromate.”
Photographers have used this gum bichromate technique to lend a painterly aspect to their works since the 19th century. Photographer William Henry Fox Talbot was among the pioneers of this process.
The fruit of this chemical-experimental photography is surprising.
Take the series of framed images that make up “Radiance,” for example. It’s difficult to discern the object depicted in these indistinct pastel shades of blue, pink and beige, and you might conclude that they’re variations on a chemically treated theme of a single landscape. Upon closer inspection, it’s apparent that the series is a photographic study of the changing face of a landscape at different points in the day, apparently around sunrise or sunset.
Another hall hosts “Phenomenon,” which pairs an installation with negatives presented in light boxes. The untitled installation is comprised of a single large brownish print mounted on white columns of different heights – a sculptural supplement that conveys an additional sense of perspective, topography and movement to that of the landscape photo.
The deployment of the print, with the material protruding from the columns, allows the onlooker to appreciate the nuanced palette of half-tints that emerges from Azeroual’s photo-development process.
The downstairs space is reserved for the series “Resurgence,” where onlookers will encounter another work of photo-sculpture.
A tree has been photographed in segments – trunk, branches, leaves, etc. – and these images printed on numerous white porcelain tiles. These have been hung from the ceiling in the fashion of a mobile. The delicate artwork sways in the air with currents made by passers-by, its components clanging subtly against one another.
The installation depicts one version of the birth of a tree, recalled here in the antique medium of porcelain.
Hanging alongside this mobile installation is a series of nine photographs of a tree, all altered by the same development techniques. But these alterations are less noticeable than on the pastel works upstairs.
In the black room off this gallery hall are three sculptures that, at first sight, resemble huge gemstones upon which trees have been engraved. This evocation of precious stones worked as figurative media gives these sculptural photos an oddly sacred feel.
Azeroual’s approach to developing and exhibiting photographic images does indeed give this exhibition an aspect of “ghosted” mimesis. The historic techniques the photographer revisits to create these objects utterly undermine our conventional expectations of photography.
Mustapha Azeroual’s “Reliefs” is up at Karantina’s Art Factum Gallery until May 2. For more info, please call 01-443-263.