Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Art

Magical Surfaces: The Uncanny in Contemporary Photography brings together photographic works by seven artists who play with the idea of the uncanny in imaginative and innovative ways. These contemporary artists, all from different generations and nationalities are: Sonja Braas, David Claerbout, Elger Esser, Julie Monaco, Jörg Sasse, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld. Our modern understanding of the concept of the uncanny goes back to Sigmund Freud’s influential 1919 essay Das Unheimliche (‘the uncanny’), which first framed it as an aesthetic category and described it as something that seems both familiar and unfamiliar.

Each of the exhibiting artists has mastered their own process of manipulating the photographic image inviting us to marvel at the various ways the uncanny can occur in photographic works. Essentially exploring time in his work, David Claerbout brings a pre-stardom Elvis Presley back to life in 3-D by digitally reconstructing him from a 1950s black-and-white photograph. Julie Monaco’s often hyper-real and dramatically turbulent scenes appear at first to be images of nature, but in fact are created entirely on her computer using fractal algorithmic software. Jörg Sasse’s apparently realistic images are created using computer technology. Esser, too, deals with time and memory in his serenely lit and composed land- and seascapes that seem at once to be both familiar and unfamiliar. Sonja Braas works entirely in analogue, sometimes from ready-made sources, often by artificially creating landscapes or by building models which she then photographs, rather than directly photographing actual nature. In the 1970s, both Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld travelled independently across the USA, taking what are evocatively revealing photographs of the time and place. Using Kodachrome film and 35-mm cameras, they managed to capture an atmosphere that is almost palpably uncanny.

This exhibition is curated by Ziba Ardalan, Founder/Director of Parasol unit. It is accompanied by a comprehensive publication which includes essays by Ziba Ardalan, David Claerbout, and Marta Dahó who is an independent curator and teacher of History of Photography, based in Barcelona.

Parasol unit appreciates the generous support of ‘theprintspace’.