Barbara Kasten’s works are not photography in any familiar sense of the word. She synthesizes sculpture, painting and architecture to create new forms, which she captures as light and shadow in photographic prints. She builds what she calls “Constructs” in a studio out of a variety of objects – Plexiglas panels, spheres, half-moon mirrors, pyramids, columns, paper. She then photographs them from unusual angles to “paint” them with light. It’s an artistic method she has refined over several decades.
“I want to make the invisible visible,” explains Kasten. “The essential element in photography, light, reveals a tangible reality even though what you see is not a tangible object. It’s something that’s only there when there is a camera and the light to complete the image.”
The Studio Constructs, Kasten’s most recent series (on view until August 3 at New York’s Bortolami gallery), are photos in which the number of objects is reduced to a minimum (transparent Plexiglas, seamless paper). The range of color, mostly black and white, is also minimalist. The shadows seem as real, if not more so, than the objects that cast them. “All of the Studio Constructs were an attempt to take out any representational value in the objects in the photograph,” says Kasten. “What I decided to attempt was to photograph only shadow.”
In an earlier series of Constructs, shot between 1980 and 1984, Kasten used a more brilliant palette to reveal abstract features of light and shadow, perfecting her manipulation of light and color to create what one critic called “optical fantasies” that drew inspiration from Bauhaus and Constructivist art. “I was using mirrors to reflect surroundings, but changing the plane of reality with the camera, rather than showing something using a photograph. Most photographs show distance and placement that create perspective. I wanted to eradicate this depth of field, to alter the way we see things.”
Throughout her career, Kasten has pioneered experiments in photography, which have ranged from intricate constructions in her artist studio to interactions with actual buildings. In the second half of the ‘80s, she recruited a lighting crew from the film industry to create Architectural Sites, a series of abstract interpretations of real buildings, many of them museums like the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Pulling all-nighters, she and the crew deployed a complex system of lights, colored gels and mirrors to produce mural-sized photographs full of hallucinogenic color and bold juxtapositions of line, angle, and form. “The challenge was to do it in real space rather than just, say, moving elements on paper. I displaced parts of the real building and used them interchangeably with the mirrors, which were reflecting parts that were not in view. It was like a collage in its effects, but it was also a deconstruction of the building and reassembly into a new façade and reality.”
There is an ephemeral quality to Kasten’s images, whether it is a deconstructed moment in the life of a building or her studio work. But she also insists on their “documentary” aspect. In the case of the Constructs, it’s the projection of light on a temporary structure built solely for the purpose of being photographed – unique “photo opportunities” that push the edges of painting, sculpture and drawing toward a total work of art.
For full article with image slide show, see here