06 March 2008 - 29 March 2008 at Kevin Kavanagh Gallery
Kevin Kavanagh is pleased to present Voyager, an exhibition of new photographs by Michael Boran.
Michael Boran’s new series of works take us on a zig zag journey across a geography that seems as much about the inner space of the imagination as the locations they describe. Locations are populated by restless characters searching and probing their environment for clues as to current position and direction in a shifting world. The title alludes to the NASA Space probe and draws attention to some of it’s shared sensibilities of method in the use of time lapse, digital photo compositing, aerial views and remote camera triggering. Shot in a variety of locations including Budapest, Toulouse and Dublin the show finds a particular landmark in an image entitled Cite de l’Espace- Toulouse:
“At once subtle and surreal, this image reminds us of our capacity for imaginative projection and self-deception as we attempt to situate ourselves in time and space, as we idly ponder where we have come from, where we are going, where we might have gone, and where we might be just now.”
Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, 2008
A Catalogue with an essay by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith has been published to accompany the exhibition. For further information please contact the gallery
Title. Michael Boran - Voyager
ISBN : 978-0-9555164-6-7
GOING BACK 10 years or more, Michael Boran used to construct toy-sized vignettes, using plastic figurines and other props and, by photographing the scenes he created, recast them as "real". More recently, he's been photographing the real world in ways that suggest it's not as real as we might think. In Voyager , at the Kevin Kavanagh Gallery, he offers us images of people in transit or momentarily adrift, more often than not photographed from a height, so that they are foreshortened against expanses of ground that seem to contain and envelop them.
Because they are paved or, in at least one case, painted with traffic markings, the backgrounds have a grid-like character, and it is as though Boran, from a position of omniscience, is manoeuvring chess pieces on a board. The idea of orientation comes up several times - they may occupy positions on a grid, but some of the people in the photographs seem unduly preoccupied with establishing just where they are. Others have the appearance of being aimless onlookers, tourists unsure of just what it is they are supposed to find interesting.
Boran likes playing on the flatness of the background, which becomes in his hands a picture plane. He is a little too fond of using a double-exposure effect, whereby the figures become ghostly, semi-transparent presences, but he is generally judicious about employing digital manipulation to achieve his effects. Enter the labyrinthine game of flatness and depth, reality and illusion that he has constructed, and you're soon convinced that he has a real visual intelligence.
Irish Times Wednesday, March 26, 2008
In the world as selectively presented to us by Michael Boran, perspectives are usually skewed, grids tend to break down, and maps are often perplexing or useless. Patterns, and even presences, are unstable. The most advanced technological apparatus as well as the most basic visual clues by which we might hope to take the measure of our surroundings and orient ourselves within them, are presented as deceptive. In Satellite (5 Hours) Dublin a bright white satellite dish photographed against a blue sky, though formally pleasing to the eye, seems otherwise unremarkable, until that eye notices that its concave bowl is striped with an impossible splay of conflicting shadows. People, when they appear in Boran’s photographs, are invariably adrift or astray. Sometimes they are barely there at all, their bodies glimpsed on the point of materialising in a particular location, as if they have been momentarily transported there from another time and place. In Crossroads, Dublin a woman with a handbag slung over her shoulder and a man with a mobile phone held to his ear huddle together as they pore over a map. They are standing on a patch of badly cracked asphalt in the middle of the fading yellow criss-cross pattern of a painted parking-lot or traffic box. They are clearly in need of directions, if not in danger of being run over, were it not for the fact that they are almost immaterial. The lines of the roughly painted grid and the disintegrating asphalt alike are clearly visible through the shades that are their bodies, an artefact of time-lapse photography. In At the Museum, Budapest two cultural tourists stand a little apart from one another on a geometrically patterned black and light-grey floor. They may be travelling together, but probably not. One gazes away into the middle distance while the other stares quizzically into the mouth of a large decorative stone urn on a low plinth. They appear to be mildly disoriented, a fact accentuated by the position from which the photograph has been taken. As in Crossroads, Dublin, this would seem to be about thirty feet above them. This is in fact the case, given that Boran has, for some years now, been favouring shots taken with a camera mounted on a flexible thirty-foot pole, which produces such bird’s-eye views. But there is something else out of kilter. The optical assault of the checkerboard floor, especially from this vantage point, is even more aggressive and frontal than we might expect. It is as if the floor has been tilted up toward the viewer and now occupies a different visual plane than that occupied by the figures. The perspectival distortion of the regular grid, for which the naked eye would ordinarily account automatically, has evidently been eliminated through a process of digital manipulation. The patterned floor confronts the viewer like a geometrically abstract painting on a wall, into which the other pictorial elements, the figures and urn, are alien intrusions.
Such distortions and disorientations provide the technical and thematic matrix from which the ten mid-size lambdachrome prints that make up Boran’s most recent suite of photographs, Voyager, all 2007, have emerged. These images are as disparate in subject matter as they are in location. If the suite’s title calls to mind the long-term investigations of our solar system’s final frontier on the journey into interstellar space, Boran’s explorations are more earth-bound, in spite of the bird’s-eye views. They are nevertheless similarly wide-ranging, while retaining a comparable sense of focus. Boran’s Voyager takes the viewer on a zig-zagging trip from Birmingham to Budapest, from Dublin to Toulouse to Lake Garda, and from the South of Sweden to that country’s frozen North. Despite the uniform dimensions of the prints, and the recurrence of certain key tropes, the subject matter and compositional make-up of the images are quite varied and the dramatis personae constantly changing. This is no orderly pictorial account of a predetermined Grand Tour, but a succession of snapshots of apparently randomly chosen locations in which the artist has found just the kind of thing he was looking for, before moving on. Though order is clearly of interest, it is not imposed. Or rather, when it is imposed on the image it is done so in a manner that stresses just what an imposition this is. Visitors to the Summit, Monte Baldo offers a view of a spectacular Italian landscape from a vantage point officially predesignated to maximize touristic delectation, replete with a wooden safety barrier and bench. We see the ghostly figures of three separate couples, who are looking away from us. Two of the couples are admiring and calibrating the view we partly share with them. One standing figure seems to be photographing the panorama, while a seated figure holds a camera in her outstretched hand in order to photograph herself and her partner surveying the same landscape. The third couple is examining a printed map of a mountain range on a quaintly rustic wooden display stand. From the specific vantage point of the photographer, and implied viewer, the map appears to be oddly continuous in its contours with the view beyond it. This, however, is surely misleading and merely the result of a carefully chosen camera position. These three couples probably never coincided at this particular location. Their ethereal afterimages were simply stitched together digitally for compositional purposes by the artist, who has yet again opted to make this potential deception clearly evident to the viewer.
Boran has little truck with the map’s implicit aspiration toward objectivity and supreme utility. We conventionally assume that a map is true and useful regardless of where we are coming from. Yet we know from various cartographic controversies that this is not necessarily the case. Take, for instance, the debate concerning the misleading nature of the standard Mercator map of the world, which greatly exaggerates the relative size of areas far from the equator, thereby significantly compromising our perception of the vastness of the continent of Africa and arguably pandering to a Eurocentric world view. The various alternatives proposed over the years include versions in which the mapped world, as we have come to know it, is viewed ‘upside-down’ in a manner as disorienting as the view offered in Boran’s North, Ostersund of the reflections of three well-clad Arctic divers staring into a triangular hole cut into the ice. One of them grips a rope that disappears into the water. One can imagine them fancifully dreaming of the day when one their colleagues might actually plunge through to the other side of the globe. The potential for distortion that is inherent in any attempt at ostensibly definitive cartography, since the dawning of the age of science, is also thematised in The Golden Boys, Birmingham, a photograph of a city-centre statue in which three eighteenth-century members of that city’s lunar society are shown theatrically scrutinising a map. A bird perches on the golden head of one of the figures, comically subverting his monumental authority, while the distorted reflection of a city centre high-rise shimmers in the gridded glass curtain wall of the building behind the statue. A similarly comic subversion of authority is evident in Our Glorious Leader, Budapest in which all that remains of a once ostentatious statue of Joseph Stalin is his boots.
In The Stop, Toulouse a blonde woman in white trousers and a patterned summer blouse, viewed once again from above, is waiting for a bus. The pattern of the small bricks in the street contrasts with that of the stone slabs of the pavement. She is looking to the right. Her torqued body suggests that she is about to step into the street. Maybe her bus is arriving. Maybe she has simply given up waiting and is about to set off in another direction. In Walker, Skane Province a man in a check-patterened short-sleeve shirt walks across a cobbled plaza. Moss and flowering plants sprout up through cracks in the time-worn grid. He is holding a folded piece of paper in his hand. If these are directions toward his intended destination, or a list of things to do there, he has currently no need to consult them. Or perhaps he no longer cares where he is going, having given in to the temptation to drift aimlessly. The oddest of all the images that make up the Voyager suite, however, is Cité de l’Espace, Toulouse. Shot at a visitors’ space centre in Southern France, it is an image of a generic modernist, concrete walkway threading through landscaped surroundings, with an area of well-maintained pebbledash paving in the foregound. Propped up on the paving is a panel on which there is a life-size, painted depiction of three figures in astronaut suits marching across a stretch of tarmac. Their relative proportions suggest those of an improbable space-age family. The holes in the panel where their faces should be are clearly designed to allow visitors to photograph themselves as space explorers, in the time-honoured manner of the pier-end holiday snaps of an earlier age. At once subtle and surreal, this image reminds us of our capacity for imaginative projection and self-deception as we attempt to situate ourselves in time and space, as we idly ponder where we have come from, where we are going, where we might have gone, and where we might be just now.
Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, January 2008.