May 22, 2023
ART TO LOOK DOWN ON
Cezanne, the father of modern art, invented several new ways of seeing. One was the tilting up of a flat plane – say a table laden with fruit and glassware – so that one seemed to be looking down on it rather that obliquely across it. This idea was taken to extremes by the Cubists, who shuffled perspectives like a pack of cards. These modernist experimentations were an attempt to get away from the relentless realism of the current academic painting and the perfect image reproduction of the new-fangled camera. Later, when the camera itself became a routine art tool, new approaches were again called for. The latest work of photographer Emma Bass needs to be seen against this history, and also against the presentation of her earlier flower photo series. Those images were all relentlessly frontal, the blooms arranged in exotic vases on a shelf against a neutral background. However, departing from more mundane floral photography, Bass played games with the viewer in her arrangements, inserting small anomalous objects, insects, dead, fake and painted flowers.
In the new Florassemblage Series Bass goes several steps further, turning her subject matter through 90 degrees. What previously stood upright on a ledge is now lying down flat. This is not immediately apparent, but the realisation gradually dawns on the viewer. It is the opposite of the effect sought by Cezanne – what he raised up is now pressed down. The camera does not lie, but in making sense of what it shows us we are curiously disorientated. We have a sense of weightlessness and confusion about what is and isn’t real. The format allows Bass to let rip with her zany additions, no longer constrained by gravity or sightlines. She adds drips of paint to the background surface and allows elements to seemingly float. With her larger prints on canvas Bass continues her manipulations, overpainting some parts of the print and adding in extra content. Every print is thus an original, and careful examination will reveal all sorts of surprises.
In the context of art, for photography to be important it needs to do what only photography can do. It must capture a moment, produce an artificial image or use light and shade to create a unique form. Or, in Bass’s case, it must record something that cannot really exist for any length of time. In that regard there is a clear link back to her earlier work, where her floral constructs were all doomed to the destruction of wilt and decay.