Here. Now. Nowhere

Monograph Essay for Transition, Lauren Marsolier (Kehrer, 2015)

“Reality is not always probable, or likely”.  Jorge Luis Borges“


“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where

you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” 

C.S. Lewis, “The Magician’s Nephew”


We’re here, now.


These places, these landscapes, in Lauren Marsolier’s “Transition” exist in the present.  These are not historical reports like photograph at its most basic but rather they are constructs for this moment in time.


These are places that emerge from the artist’s conscious and unconsciousness, contemporary in the way music sampling happens, collages built up with fragments of what she has seen and saved.   The elements come from the archive of details she has built up over the years - hundreds of houses, horizons, trees, rocks.  She adds and takes away the visual phrases..


There are no people.


You have the sense that people may have been here earlier or that they will return.  They have parked and covered their cars.  The few doors and windows are mostly closed but some seem open as if the owners will be back soon. 


Look at Marsolier’s very first image a perfect manor “House” (page 11), Romantically sited, nestled in purple forested hills with a green carpet of grass, all at the edge of a cliff.  But we can’t tell for certain if the good looking house - her fantasy of combined elements - is half shuttered or abandoned. 


These places are nowhere. 


They exist here as buildings somewhere at the edge of civilization, an outpost or oasis or odd seaside village or caves outside of town.  The carousel and Ferris wheel, the playgrounds are still.  There is no signage.  Highways go on forever.


There is no sound. 


We search through these places, looking for whatever, for signs of life, but it is soundless, as if we were driving through with the windows closed tight without even the whisper of air conditioning. 


We are weightless, moving in a dream state.  We don’t disturb anything or leave any wake.  We are walking, searching, with a sense of anomie and ennui, existentially distanced from the immediate, stumbling through like actors in a Michelangelo Antonioni film or Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”.


And when we seem to be close to the scene we encounter huge piles of rocks, alien mountain-scapes in the neighboring yard.  We can’t believe our eyes; it is so unexpected but magically and uncomfortably real. 


The success of the images in all three parts of “Transition” is their handsomeness.  The colors are pleasing: attractive, welcoming and comforting - sand, rose, peach, stone/cement.  The skies, usually cloudless, are a perfect blue or, with Part II, inky and infinitely black.

They are great looking, and they are thoughtfully done. 


Any readings or interpretations you may bring to them are entirely your prerogative. 


And she seems to welcome that.


Marsolier’s journey is not bleak or soulless.  There is hope or the prospect of change.  The word “Transition” means growth, change or metamorphosis.  All the trees and shrubs are bare and spare, dormant but not dead.  Expect bounty and new life. 


The door is half open or half closed depending on what you bring to your own looking although the pulse of rebirth does seem like dread or anxiety.  These places make the mute intruder wary and cautious, even paranoid.   We fill in the blanks of the lack of explicit information with apprehension. 


This has the impact of the 1960’s television show “The Prisoner”, an exercise in Cold War terrors that took place in a fictional place, “The Village,” but shot in the highly surreal Welsh seaside resort, Portmeiron, itself an eccentric collection of Italianate follies.  The feeling is Orwellian, full of discomfort and disorientation.   Indeed there are surveillance cameras in more than one of Marsolier’s images.   Looking at what?


Or we feel like the populace of the anonymous Japanese towns anticipating Rodin or Godzilla looming over the building tops. 


Indeed thoughts of apocalypse pre- and post-, come to mind,.  “Landscape with White Chair” (page 55) could be a visit to the site of the nuclear blast of the White Sands Proving Ground, the “Trinity” test in 1945.


The idea of watching comes into play in other ways.  We, as the visitor, survey the scene before us, and the few windows and doors act like eyes that look back at us, taking us in.  The hanging rings of “Playground 3) (page 61) are like Gatsby’s optometrist’s sign.  Looking.   (Who hangs on those rings?  They seem less for play than for our consideration.)


As basic, as minimal, as these environments appear, they fully provoke our imaginations.  These could be the places the military practices raids on desert settlements, like the compound where Navy SEALS took Osama bin Laden, or, at a much sunnier extreme, where beauties like Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorleac sang and danced with Gene Kelly in the perfect coastal town in Jacques Demy’s “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort”.  


Children build toy villages like these for their train sets with little block house buildings and tiny green trees.   Adults see evidence of neutron bombs or movies with too much sun or too much noir.


And the people?  There are benches, a watered tree and tended bushes, CAUTION tape, a parking meter - signs of life.  When we reflexively try to decode what we see, it becomes unsettling.


In “Buildings and Pines” (page 45), two garage-like structures face other; the doors seem open, cypress trees welcome us, an inexplicable shadow darkens the foreground.  Most mysteriously of all, car tracks snake their way either to the back of the frame, vanishing into the hills, or to a dead end up front, between the buildings, disappearing in front of us.   Unnerving.  


The artist says “The core of my work is to explore the phenomena of transition both as a psychological process and a spatial condition. I am interested in how we experience change, how it can trigger inner conflicts and eventually affect our outlook. To me, transitional phases feel like being in a place we know but can't quite identify. Even though things around us somehow look familiar, we feel lost, disoriented and unsure of the next step to take. We feel a temporary disconnection from what surrounds us. This mental process we go through during such phases is what inspires my images.” * 1


Her world mutates fast.  She erases details which make the landscapes seem more abstract than real life, closer to a mental image.  The unnecessary elements get filtered out.  She continues with “our world becoming more than ever a construction of the mind, with its increasing virtuality, hyperreality and overall artifice.” *


The disparate visual elements in the images are managed expertly.   Shadows fall precisely, deep perspectives seem right, color is balanced, scale is correct and often surprising because we are closer than we expect, and all the edges match.  We are not conscious of the digital virtuosity.  The technique disappears.  The artistry remains.  


Think of these as e-scapes.  Welcome.  Nowhere.  Here.  Now.


*   1 from the artist’s notes for a presentation at the Houston Center for Photography, 2011