Zoe Leonard: Observation Point

By Allsop, Laura | Art Monthly, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Zoe Leonard: Observation Point


Allsop, Laura, Art Monthly


Camden Arts Centre London 31 March to 24 June

Of all the subjects that do not readily lend themselves to representation, the sun ranks as among the most difficult to picture. Indeed, the absurdity of reducing the sublime to the pictorial realm, the modalities of seeing and the meaning of landscape, are all themes running through Zoe Leonard's solo exhibition 'Observation Point' at Camden Arts Centre. Comprising just three rooms, the exhibition includes a camera obscura; soft matte analogue photographs of the sun; and piles of postcards of Niagara Falls, arranged topographically so that they represent an aerial view of the cataracts.

Though it may be the oldest photographic trick in the book, the camera obscura--just a small hole in the darkened gallery 3 entitled Arkwright Road, 2012, which throws an inverted image of the street outside against a pillared wall--is both mesmerising and immersive. An otherwise mundane view of a busy road is radically altered by a change of perspective and the architecture of the space. The day the exhibition opened, the sky was grey, and the image projected was dark and oneiric. The pillars in the gallery recast the landscape outside into an unfamiliar industrial panorama, appearing as vast chimneys when the projected image was viewed upside-down. Lettering on signs read backwards. Cars flitted across the wall, as did the indistinct forms of people, before disappearing. Leonard does not seem interested in disorienting the viewer, but rather in encouraging us to think about how it is we actually see. It is as though we are made privy to the mechanics of sight itself, located between the moment an image is received through the eye and the moment it is decoded and reconfigured by the brain.

Gallery 1, naturally lit by skylights, is sparsely hung with black-and-white photographs of the sun. Titled simply with the date they were shot, these images take only the sun--and barely that--as their subject. There are no objects pictured to give a sense of the intensity of the light falling on them and it is impossible to have a purchase on these glowing orbs, framed by the black edge of the negative, and showing flare spots, glare and scratches from the development process. From far away, the suns seem almost distinct; up close, they become hazy, the picture complicated by after-images similar to when looking at the actual sun. …

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