by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
The lamp post does illuminate a section of the pathway, but something is amiss about the spotlight effect on the section of the trail - its source is missing. The element of the unpredictability of the image Congregation by the British photographer, Suzanne Moxhay, transpires throughout her works. The lopsided balance of depth, movement, scale, space, surface and texture – “anomalies” as Moxhay likes to call this – in her images dearticulates the norm of apparent response from the viewers. In the times when the surge of images unflinchingly peppers the everyday life, if a photograph opens a way to refashion the presupposition of the digital imagery, it is indeed a pleasant surprise.
The world of Moxhay’s photographs, even if ridden with darkness without a human face, carries a presence of life in the forms of birds and trees. The empty roads, deserted edifices, the dilapidated structures of her works are at the border of collapsing, but they are not falling apart. The fantastical milieu of the photograph holds the promise of the renewal of life rather than annihilation. To recreate an illusionary world laced with arbitrariness, Moxhay deploys the filmmaking technique of matte painting, along with her photographs and images from her archival collection. The matte painting was popular in the early 20th century, where the artist creates an artwork with paints on the glass panels to be integrated with the film footages. She uses cutout fragments of the source material, which takes the shape of the small stage sets on glass panels. Two more steps including rephotographing of these sets and its digital manipulation follow the first process. The act of reprocessing dilutes the original context in an effort to broaden the narrative potential. The theatrics of the final composition eschews the traditional perception of physical reality only to take the viewers onto this journey of the interplay between truth and fiction.
Talking about the use of digital technology in her works that help her achieve the final composition, Moxhay in conversation with STIR says, “I see digital technology as a fantastic tool and for me, it’s something which I can combine with other methods which open up new possibilities for the work. There are many artists embracing digital media and for some, it’s central to their practice. Digital technology has its own language and its own possibilities but there will always be a place for painting and other more traditional processes. I don’t think it’s a case of one thing or another but being open to all the tools available to make work.”
The botanical motifs are conspicuously present in her series, for instance, Conservatory, Interiors, Penumbra and Diorama. In the series Conservatory, nature and technology are entangled under the same roof to reflect a pattern of coexistence. The imagery on the walls is similar to traditional romantic landscapes. However, the paintings peel from the walls, the misplaced tall palms and the intertwined cables and electrical detritus display do not make up for an idyllic scene.
Moxhay reveals how the vegetal life in her works turns into a way to explore the boundaries between inside and outside in my work, “There are many anomalies within the images, such as walls painted with landscapes or skies that appear to dissolve into an outside space. The use of trees and vegetation relates to this merging of interior and exterior. In recent work, I have been using a lot of images of dilapidated rooms, often with cables and wires hanging out of the walls or on the floor. There’s a certain organic quality to these objects; the hardware of technology usually concealed in domestic space. I started to see a connection between twisted electrical wires and organic forms like weeds and roots. I find that montage tends to collapse the difference between these incongruous elements and they can exist in the same space.”
The series Penumbra is a manifestation of the anomalies and juxtaposition of two binaries that Maxhoy mentioned. The photographs in the series were partly conceived from the photographs the artist captured around the area of River Lea in Bow in the United Kingdom. To highlight how the features of industrial and suburban lives overlap in the vicinity of River Lea, she played with the artificial light to evoke a sense of drama. Maxhoy elaborates, “Light has always been important to me when composing an image. I work with montage so I look for connections between elements from different images that I can combine. Often this can be following the path of light from one image through another. The film is also a big influence and in cinema light is very important. In my series, Penumbra I worked with a lot of photographs that I had taken in my local area at night. I was drawn to the way that streetlights illuminate certain areas that may be overlooked in the daytime.”
If the disquiet of our times compels us to shatter the mirror of presuppositions, Moxhay disturbs the given reality to pave the way for newness. As Moxhay scrupulously takes steps to conceptualise and visualise the compositions, the viewer is required to conscientiously watch and ponder at the work only to be encountered by the unexpected. It is the arrival of the newness with a tinge of unexpectedness that the work of Moxhay thrives on. Like the inroad of the image, Congregation that has an absent source of light, life, if has odds, it also has a path to tread, fall and rise.