Exhibitions

1 December 2016 -13 December 2016

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After Empire is a reflection on the passing of time. Beasts roam in the empty halls of an abandoned factory indifferent to the broken fragments of an ancient past. But sometimes the broken sculptures meet one another or with the animals and engage in a silent dialogue.

The century-old Babcock-Wilcox factory in La Courneuve (Seine-Saint-Denis) was demolished two weeks after I took this spool of twelve photographic negatives which serve as a background to the series.
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The glass they are printed on are the panes of a dismantled greenhouse from the 1920s, a relic of old Paris when it was still surrounded by towns and villages where factories co-existed with the market-gardens that fed the city.

The marble fragments are of classical sculptures from the Louvre, the National Museum in Athens and the Museum of Fine arts of Rouen. Gods, goddesses, emperors, warriors, ephebes and nymphs - all survivors of the past, exiled, far from their original homes.

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Photography itself is a process which engages us with things past.
Susan Sontag in «On Photography», talks of all photographs being «mementi mori». The subject is dead and all that remains is the photograph as a gateway for the imagination to visit a world that no longer exists. Marcel Proust in «Swann’s Way», writes: "Photography acquires some of the dignity it lacks when it ceases to be a reproduction of the real and shows us things that have ceased to exist. »

After the Empire employs this melancholy trait of photography to show us beautiful ghosts. In these photographs Nature reinvests her dominium amongst the shards of past civilizations in a factory that no longer exists, on panes of glass that ceased to be a greenhouse many generations ago.

Vivian van Blerk
November 2016

After Empire - History and Process

Vivian van Blerk first printed photographs on glass in 2009 for the series, «Public Flesh». The transparent glass allowed him to paint fleshy tones behind the Louvre sculptures in this series, making them look alive amongst the monochrome museum visitors.

Since then Vivian has explored various chemical processes to fix images on glass: Silver gelatin emul-sion (classical b&w photography), gum bichromate sensitizing and cyanotype. In the two most recent series, « After Empire » and « The Elsewheres » (2016), paper photographs are collaged directly on old glass panes in combination with the silver gelatin image. Their imperfections and surface patina are part of the composition and aura of the works.

Process

After Empire comes from one spool of twelve 6x6cm negatives taken in the warehouses of the abandoned Babcock factory (built ca 1898) in La Courneuve two weeks before their demolition. To add sculptures, animals and other imported features to the factory images, the artist prints photographs from his archives. These are cut out, tinted with watercolor, and composed onto the factory photographs and printed to the format of the glass panes (37,5 x 29,5cm).

The glass panes, found decades after bein abandoned in a muddy storeroom, are thoroughly cleaned with abrasive clay, ammoniac, soap and vinegar. Free of grease, a coat of gelatin is painted on one face of the pane. The positions of animals and sculptures is traced onto the glass. Then these paper photographs are pasted on the glass with gelatin.
JPEG - 848.4 kb Once dry, the glass with the collaged photos can be coated with a light sensitive silver emulsion in the dark room. The emulsion is painted on with brushes or rollers.

Dried overnight, the glass is ready to print on. Printing is nearly identical to the usual black-and-white process. In a darkroom, an enlarger is used to project the negative onto the sensitized glass. The pane is then developed in trays in the usual way: developer, stop bath then fixer. A further hardening bath is added after the stop bath and the panes are washed in clean water between each step of the process. This prevents the gelatin image from sliding off the glass when wet - a frequent problem. Once dry, the image side of the glass is painted. In this series acrylic medium and acrylic paint tinted with pigments were used to render the images visible and the glass opaque.

Vivian calls these combinations of black-and-white photographs, collage and paint seen through distorted and patinated panes, «glass darklies».

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