The absent photographer and the behavioural image

Carlo Prada

It’s a restless struggle for photography to keep up. In the age of Adobe and Photoshop, finding an original way to rejuvenate the camera seems to be a challenging call for many artists such as Sam Falls, Lucas Blalock, Sarah Cwynar, just to mention few of them. Approaching the medium untraditionally, Russian-born and Bruxelles-based Marina Pinksy (b. 1986) can be defined as a photographic sculptor. A personal perspective this one, that secured her inclusion in the Lyon Biennial, the pivotal New Photography exhibition at MoMA and a solo show at the Kunsthalle Basel last January, just to mention few events out of her stellar cv.

To better understand Pinky’s take on photography, take for example Untitled, a bold and eye-catching work from 2011. Over a checked and flower print plastic tablecloth, bottles and cigarette packs are arranged in a group, resulting in a balanced composition and a rich palette of colors. It looks like some sort of LA commercial advert (Pinksy studied there under artist Charles Ray) but on a closer inspection, someone notices bottles and packs are fake cast reproductions assembled by the artist who is keen on putting together both found and ready made objects. To layer things even further, the artist adopts a mise en abyme strategy, by contaminating the image and turning real into pictorial space and vice versa. Behind the objects you can spot fragments of what looks like a Dutch painting, with characters moving within a room and a window facing a classical landscape that includes a river and a castle. The window overlooking a landscape is often found in the background of Renaissance paintings, a device often adopted by another contemporary artist: Will Benedict. The association with a commercial advert is underlined by the inclusion of a supermarket product catalogue that complicates the backdrop. The physical insertion of images within larger compositions serves to help Pinksy better understand the way an image behave and what other meanings it may hold.

At the same time Untitled 2011 shows Pinky’s ability of craftmanship which found full exposure in her last solo show at Kunsthalle Basel, “Dyed Channel”, a crucial moment for the artist’s career. Inspired by the Swiss pharmaceutical tradition and Basel as a capital of the chemical industry, she created clay sculptures modeled on pill packages. Pharmakon I-XXIV (all works dated 2015) depicts giant pastel coloured tablets encased in foil. Each pill carries an architectural landscape, similar to those built by major architects such as Frank Gehry and Herzog & de Meuron for Novartis. As correctly noticed by artist Sebastian Black in his article on Pinksy published on Flash Art, these pills remind us of “terra sigillata, a kind of proto pill mined on the islands of Lemnos back in 500 BC and traded across Europe”. Pinksy transforms these tablets in symbols and representation of the Swiss land, taking her sculptural and photographic skills to a new level. What we see here are Novartis and Hoffman-La Roche headquarters but, in a wider spectrum, this is a “photograph” of Switzerland itself through sculptural means. 2017 seems to be another busy year for the artist: in April she is showing at Wiels in Brussels during the “Absent Museum” along with artists such as Francis Alys, Marcel Broodthaers, Marlene Dumas, Isa Genzken and many others while in September a solo show awaits her at De Vleeshal in Middlesburg.

January 13, 2017