Ori Gersht at Kohn Gallery

by Cecilia Latiolais

"This whole work is about this new space created when the virtual and physical world are becoming absolutely united"
In a time when the world is constantly depicted to us through images, what is real: the tangible world or the reflected world? Can we even make a distinction between the two? How does it affect our approach to what we encounter? Ori Gersht’s work addresses these issues through two photographic series, On Reflection and Floating World at the Kohn Gallery. Gersht approaches his natural subject matter with a careful and clear eye, one that respects the historical and cultural significance of his subject, while adapting it so it is entirely necessary for our present time. And in experiencing Gersht’s work we must ask ourselves how considering forms of reality will shape our own ways of being in the world.

Much of your past work arises from the history of a specific location or particular place, often in relation to violence or trauma that was experienced there. How does Floating World build upon and/or set a new direction for your work?

For one, in the photographs of the exploding flowers, one of the things that interests me is how new technologies are redefining the relationships between ways of reality with perceptions of reality and representations of reality. When I was making the photographs of the exploding flowers…it’s only become attainable because of the technology that’s available. We have no way to assess what the technology is representing, and, unless we absolutely trust it, we have no other reassurance that the moment actually occurred.

After the exploding flowers, I moved to the On Reflection series where I put the flowers in front of a mirror, and I put two mirrors beside each other and some of On Reflection will be in the exhibition.  And then I exploded the mirrors and took photographs of them simultaneously and I captured two parts of reality, so the photographs became a sort of exploration about where realities are occurring in the spaces between the material world, which is the glass, and the virtual world of the reflection.

And in many ways, the other thing I am interested in exploring is how do we make a distinction when we see things on television or images are entering our lives, affecting our anxieties and desires, that we can no longer locate them outside our empirical experiences of being in the world. So this whole work is about this new space created when the virtual and physical world are becoming absolutely united.

What experiences, emotions, or convictions prompted Floating World?

Another thing that interests me about this is in all the images of Floating World, because I am constantly exploring the relationship between the physical world and the virtual world, I try also to create a situation where in all the images there is no clear sense of gravity so you’re never sure what is up and what is down. This for me was breaking from physical experience of exploring the world, and gravity is always a point of reassurance and gives us some sort of orientation. But I’ve found that in all the images, when we are looking at them, we always try to take them in order to feel certain.

And the other thing that interests me in this whole series – whether it is connected to the exploding flowers or the mirrors – is what I’m capturing is a moment of uncertainty, so you’re never sure what is up and what is down, and you’re looking at something you have no way of assess whether it is actually existing. The photographs are becoming a space, kind of an ephemeral space that is in transition where nothing is certain…It is a place that is really interesting because I think it is challenging our relationship with photography. Photography is so often about our events, historical events. In all my work, the photographs are capturing something that is in flux, something that has no certainty. And only with uncertainty can you start to challenge your moral values, or reassess your position in the world and your historical narrative.

Could you talk about the layering technique you use in this series and how/if it serves your exploration of forms of reality?

For every group of images in the series, a different technique was applied and it was important to me to create a space where your constantly exploring and your never sure, so there’s no one particular mode of looking at the images; every photograph comes with different visual challenges. With the ones of layering, I took the photograph of the actual space and its reflection, and turn it upside down and put it on top of each other. You have the reflective space, which is the up, and the real space, which is the down, and vice versa. So they are becoming mashed up into one space…You start to have a space where the two are melting down into one another. And when I look at them now, I can no longer make the distinction myself. The virtual world of reflection and the physical world, the material world are becoming, in the photographic space, absolutely unified… It is also related to Zen Buddhist culture where reality is always elusive and part of the reflection…I found it interesting the analogy between Zen Buddhist ideas and photography, with the here and now. Photography is always…materializing in the here and now and in Zen culture the here and now is this moment that doesn’t really exist; it is the meeting point between past and present and only when you connect with it can you really experience it or be in contact with the world in the most pure and attuned way.

This exhibition consists of two series, Floating World and On Reflection. How would you like your viewers to approach and assess this juxtaposition of two different series?

It’s interesting because I think, visually, they are very different, and yet, for me, they have this connection of natural development between the reflective world and the physical world. And in each series I’m exploring it in a different way; each one evolved for me. They are my internal narrative and progression to see how tightly connected they are. I’m not sure how viewers will explore this. They are quite separated in different rooms…Both are connected to history and art history in many ways; Floating World is from association with Eastern art history and On Reflection with Western art history. I’m hoping that in the formal appearance there will be more of a link between them. Each one will present, I assume, an independent experience, closer to what you might get in a museum space…You move from one zone to another, so you go to On Reflection where everything will be more immersive and dark, and the Floating World space will be much more light. I’m hoping the physical transition will create a narrative experience with some sort of link. But how it will work, the impact it will have on the viewers, it is hard for me to anticipate.

Why did you choose nature – more specifically gardens and flowers – to explore construction and destruction of physical and psychological reality?

It’s for different reasons. The flowers…are aesthetically appealing and sometimes seductive, containing within them other naturalistic discourses or political narratives. For example, with Fantin-Latour’s paintings, there was a period where he restricted his palette to the tricolor of the French flag and they were embedded in them. But those, and the fact that flowers are always ephemeral and have something soft about them, then introduce this idea of explosion, of extreme violence is the real collision between creation and destruction, of beauty and violence, of attraction and repulsion. They offer an interesting tension. In Floating World, one of the things that interests me is that all these gardens are, on the one hand, tightly under cultural control, and on the other, a celebration of the changing or passage of time. They will go through a cycle of twenty-four seasons rather than the four seasons as we know it. So I am photographing in a place that is constantly changing and reemerging; whatever I capture is already gone. And I like this idea that the photographs are trying to capture something at the moment it has already disappeared. So the photographs are not representing any place (although they were taken in a real place) because you can never go back to find those places ever again, those moments to moments appearing for a second. And the only place or reality in which they exist now is in the photograph…

Ori Gersht's Floating World exhibition will be on view at Kohn Gallery through September 2nd.

TAGS