Magazine article Art Monthly

Seb Patane

Magazine article Art Monthly

Seb Patane

Article excerpt

Seb Patane

Maureen Paley London 28 November to 17 January

Seb Patane recently described his installations of altered photographs on wooden structures as 'acquired chaos'. Contrast--in mood, epoch, material or technique--is a key concept in the Italian-born, London-based artist's practice, as this show at Maureen Paley confirms. The exhibition is an elegant mishmash of black and white pictures, automatic-looking scribbles and timber assemblages; it is a 3D collapsing of time zones and traditions, at once alluring and mystifying.

The show kicks off with A New Winter Plan, 2009, the enlarged picture of pointy-helmeted soldiers, scrutinising the horizon with various measuring instruments as if planning a battle or, perhaps--who knows--the reconstruction of a flattened town. What they are actually doing doesn't much matter, because the photograph is reduced to an element in a well-thought-out formal composition, where diagonals, textures and balance have more say than any historical information. Patane revisits the past through its physical legacy, banking on the seduction of photography's grain and the touching fragility of its silvered skin. Right in the middle of the image, a crouching combatant is violently erased by a blast of cut-out leather, pressed flowers and biro plumes, a lyrical explosion of intricate patterns. To curb this visual exuberance, the artist has added strong geometrical lines to the arrangement: a thin strip of gaffer tape fleshes out the main character's gaze and continues it in both directions. It is a supporting beam, or a scar on the surface of the work, doubled in the gallery space by a rod casually propped against the print.

The first impression is one of violence. The picture in A New Winter Plan, like all the others in this exhibition, is tattooed, almost mutilated by its ornament. This could allude to the artist's ambivalent--not to say aggressive--relationship to his material. But Patane claims that his interventions are acts of 'respect rather than subversion'. He is, he says, giving ancient pictures a second chance. Considering the images on view, it's hard to know what kind of a chance he is providing for his sources. The opportunity to lose all historical significance in service of the formal? The chance to supply his production with the pathos of patina? To be reborn as the subject of a latter-day surrealist experiment? These images are only saved from the deja-vu by the unusual way they occupy space. …

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