New York-based contemporary multimedia artist Signe Pierce self-identifies as a reality artist, exploring the blurred lines between art and technology, between art and life, and the concept of heightened reality through her neon urban signature photographic style characterised by a glamorous, saccharine aesthetic. The vibrant colour palette she uses is dominated by bright pink and purple hues, adding a different dimension to mundane urban landscapes. The chromatic excess emphasises artificiality, as the artist provides a visual commentary on the nature of reality in the digital world.
Signe Pierce embraces the idea of ‘unreality’ and takes it to extremes in her lurid, holographic paradise. The viewer entering her world is mesmerised, distracted, trapped in hyperreality. Beautifully influenced by her environment and the chaos of New York, her work provides a glimpse into an augmented version of the famous city for the outsider to be virtually immersed into. Since her art is of a meta-referential nature, it shouldn’t be surprising that it self-consciously depicts the ubiquity of commercial ads and photography, phone screens, screens in general, which, instead of piercing into her world, are rather being harmoniously incorporated in it.
The almost aggressive, consistent use of pink and light purple tones reveals a feminist preoccupation with what is considered stereotypically girly- being subverted by the themes depicted, such as consumerism, surveillance, hyper-reality, and assertive hyper-femininity. The artist not only plays with visual perceptions by depicting fluid forms and using distorted liquefied shapes in some of her pictures, she also challenges perceptions of femininity, by blurring the line between the objectifier and the objectified and portraying the female figure as provocative and strong.
The slick fashion commercial aesthetic of the photographs is reminiscent of surreal fashion horror films such as Nicolas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon and the urban vividness of cyberpunk cinematography. At the same time, her frequently updated Instagram feed includes cinematic photographs depicting a constantly wired, overstimulated world. Some elements often featured in her universe are mirrors, eyes, technological devices, shiny, holographic pieces of clothing, reflecting lights, rainy cityscapes, strip malls, and a lush, stunningly illuminated mise-en-scene. In addition to emphasising the inherent ‘simulacrum’ nature of the urban experience in New York, Signe Pierce’s hyperreal sensory spectacle merges perceptions of reality and simulation to make the viewer question the nature of truth and reality in contemporary society.
Fascinated by the mysterious quality of the colour photographs of William Eggleston, a 20 year-old Alex Prager decided to buy a professional camera and dark room equipment in order to express herself creatively through images, in her quest for existential meaning. 18 years later, on show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, the Silver Lake Drive exhibition represented a mid-career examination of her distinctive photographic and filmic work.
The internationally-acclaimed images of crowds, staged by the artist, portray a sense of emptiness and disconnection underneath the polished façade of active, compact crowds. It can be seen as a subtle commentary on the continuous, superficial interconnectedness that disguises individual alienation: everyone is self-preoccupied and follows their own narrative. There is an intertwining line between the public and the private- groups of people finding themselves in the same space, unaware of or uninterested in the silent stories hidden in the others’ eyes and in their conflicting facial expressions.
Often shot from above, from voyeuristic angles, Alex Prager’s still photographs always have a cinematic quality: they seem to be frozen film stills, presenting a fragment of a greater narrative; which is the main reason the self-taught artist decided to create short films conveying the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ moments surrounding the photographs. Through the cinematic perfection of her still images, the ordinary situations depicted become compelling: the staged details in deep focus, the strange lighting, the highly stylised and saturated aesthetic, all render the reality of her world in a glamourous and glossy way. However, despite the hyper-real and sometimes eerily perfect nature of the pictures, the essence of this world lies in the portrayal of a disturbing emotion, hence there is always a sense of authenticity beyond the artificial fictive layer.
The focus on emotion has been acknowledged by the artist and made particularly obvious in her short film, “Despair”. This early piece adopts characteristics of her general cinematic sources of inspiration, including Hollywood melodrama, silent movies, film noir, art house cinema, as well as Hitchcock and Lynch. The atmosphere dictating her work is ominous, as if tragedy always lurks around the corner – an idea reinforced by the recurrent theme of the vanishing woman, which can also be found in her more recent film shot in Paris, La Grande Sortie.
Gregory Crewdson’s dark, atmospheric, cinematic photographs capture perfectly framed frozen moments incorporating disconnected figures which seem to reflect the domestic and natural landscapes they inhabit; the mundane landscapes are often characterised by an eerie solitude and transformed into something otherworldly, haunting, and compelling. His photographs seem to both reveal and conceal something, creating ambiguous narratives – they are both stills of life and embodiments of the uncanny. The boundaries between life and art, between intimacy and isolation, between strange and familiar environments are blurred.
The cinematic nature of his work is also reflected in the complex process of creating and staging his images: there is a large crew involved in various aspects of production; props, casting, storyboards, and the natural world is heightened by the use of artificial Hollywood-style lighting and effects such as artificial rain and ice.
In his interviews, Gregory Crewdson emphasises the importance of the visual balance between the figure, the interior space, and the exterior space; the feeling of transience and the sense of in-between-ness evoked by his images, the enigmatic moments between other unknown moments, the visual commentary on the human condition, the portrayal of flesh, nudity, aging, vulnerability, and mortality.
Crewdson’s aesthetic incorporates American suburban surrealism, and the mise-en-scène usually features windows, mirrors, bleak settings shown in a mysterious, ghostly light. His photographs are windows into the intimacy of a world filled with hidden unsettling desires.
The characters created often seem alienated, immersed in deep thought, in cosmic loneliness, internal conflict, or a longing for something ineffable. Their expressions are pensive, focused on something beyond the world depicted, at times introspective. The feelings evoked are anticipation – frozen in time, subconscious disquiet, and estrangement.
Crewdson’s photography reminds us of the suspense, sadness, and solitude of Edward Hopper’s paintings, of Diane Arbus’ bizarre and psychologically intense photographic portraits of people on the margins of society, of William Eggleston’s saturated depictions of seemingly normal, mundane settings behind which something disturbing seems to lurk; as well as the surreal quality of the films of David Lynch.
Crewdson’s series include Cathedral of Pines, Twilight, and Beneath the Roses.
John Santerineross, considered a neo-symbolist photographer, creates uncanny, sinister, erotic imagery whilst focusing on conveying moods and evoking states of mind- an approach favoured by the symbolists in art in general. Neosymbolism explores mystical, emotional, spiritual, as well as sensual themes, the unconscious mind and dreams, metamorphoses of good and evil, the connection between image and soul, employing private and universal symbols. John Santerineross’ photographs incorporate religious symbolism and iconography, mixed with eroticism, occultism, horror, and a hint of pain; his subversive combination of the sacred and the profane has attracted both admiration and criticism. Whilst in some photography magazines he has been called “the world leading Neo-symbolist artist“, Catholic League President William A. Donohue describes Santerineross’ as a nihilist and one of the “artistic assassins and moral anarchists who want to artistically assassinate Christianity, especially Catholicism“. Santerineross does not confirm or deny any statements or interpretations due to his belief that art should appeal to each viewer on a personal level; that they should define his art for themselves rather than being limited by an explanation, another view also held by the early symbolists. The Symbolist manifesto (1886, by Jean Moréas) emphasises: “Truth in subjective experience. Truth in apparent chaos and insanity. Truth in excess and extravagance. The risk of what was once rebellious to become conformist.”
John Santerineross’ collections feature unsettling erotic imagery, dream symbolism, and the nightmarish aspects of the human psyche, as he delves into the dark recesses of the mind where sado-masochistic fantasies and decadent narratives are generated. Psychoanalytically informed, he has the awareness that many of our repressions and fears are rooted in childhood trauma, which draws the obscure map of our unconscious mind and desires. The uncanny is linked to repressed ideas about childhood, which are alienated via repression and sometimes return to us through strangely familiar moments, through a sentence, a word, or a piece of art that can pierce through the state of repression and bring back certain feelings, wishes, and thoughts originating in childhood. It seems that his photographs allegorically reflect and encapsulate the dimension of desire and repression.
Katie Eleanor is a London-based contemporary fine art photographer and Photographic Arts Graduate from the University of Westminster. Inspired by marble sculptures, the sculptural nature of Oscar Gustave Rejlander’s artworks, as well as scenes and characters from myths and from the artist’s fictional world, artistic memory, or, as she evocatively refers to it, the museum of her mind, “The Sialia Marbles” exhibition features hand-coloured photographic prints depicting ethereal beings frozen in time, marble-like, sometimes angelic-looking, other times ghostly. The uncanny dimension of her artworks stems from the dichotomous interplay between liveliness and death, between the ephemeral and the immortal qualities of her art; the rigidity and physical longevity of marble statues and the fluidity and ephemerality of the human performer; the deathlike stillness and the implication of physical and emotional movement. The beings depicted are also characterised by the archetypal (sentient-inanimate) ambiguity belonging to the Uncanny Valley.
The tableaux of Katie Eleanor allude to religious iconography and mythology art, with some subjects appearing to be solemn, others dramatic, involved in intense narratives. The veiled, white, diaphanous subjects portrayed are reminiscent of spirit photography, which amplifies the uncanny effect. It’s as if we are waiting for the motionless inhabitants of these unknown worlds to transcend the parameters of their existence within art; waiting for them to move towards the edge of the frame or fade away, for their veils to slip and reveal a change in expression, for their eyes to meet ours or glow. At the same time, the resemblance with statues (thus with something inanimate) makes this expectation perplexing.
The process behind the images includes the ritual of painting the models, performing a scene, the post-production process of hand colouring and enhancing the texture of the black and white analogue photographs. “Sialia” is the scientific name for bluebird – which Katie mentions is her alter ego, and the choice to include the word ‘marbles’ in the series title is congruent with her museum without walls parallel- a collection of uncanny human statues from her imaginary museum. The use of analogue photography and old film techniques brings uniqueness to the artworks; the physical, haptic quality of her work makes it more memorable and evocative, taking us on a mental trip through photographic art practices and through history, bringing back cultural artefacts and the sensory, magical properties of photography belonging to the pre-digital age. In more ways than one, Katie Eleanour’s photographs transcend temporality, having a hauntological dimension.
“I love tableaux vivants and creating intense, ambiguous scenarios with my performers. Angels are found in so much religious and historical visual culture, so they are familiar. They also symbolise protection, particularly when the series is viewed as a whole. I am not a particularly religious person, but I believe in sanctuary. My brain and my imagination are my sanctuary, and that is something I associate with these solemn spaces. It’s all creating a sanctuary for the viewer to inhabit, a sense of stillness and introspection.” – Katie Eleanor, Image Journal interview, 2019
Among the figures depicted in her work, you can find Saint Lucy and Daphne. After seeing a painting of Saint Lucy by Francesco Del Cossa, displayed at the National Gallery, the artist reveals:
“I was struck by the contrast between the brutality of her story and this ornate, delicate, almost whimsical rendering. In my version, the bandages over her eyes are significant, as I find the eyes of sculptures particularly haunting and vacant. This piece is a kind of homage to an amazing character in history.” – Katie Eleanor, Image Journal interview, 2019
“The Sialia Marbles” collection is on show at MMX Gallery until 15 February 2020
Diana Marin’s photographic poem revolves around the uncanny connection between two women and the ambiguous intersection of separate timelines. The poetic video incorporates a beautiful collection of painterly photographs depicting a process of sisterly bonding in nature. As the visual narrative unfolds, the connection between the two enigmatic characters grows to be stronger and more intimate. The enticing imagery is accompanied by a haunting, atmospheric, emotional piano melody and a monologue filled with lyricism. The natural landscape is infused with echoes from the past, whilst the two characters can be found gracefully running through idyllic fields, like diaphanous nymphs. The lines between life and death, the natural and the unnatural, reality and imagination are blurred, whilst the woman coming from another era becomes more than a ghostly materialisation of the past and the ineffable bond between the two crosses into tactile, sisterly intimacy. The eerie anachronistic presence is initially shown in cinematic fragments, revealing herself in parts, whilst reaching out from beyond the grave, trying to escape the confines of time. Their first encounter under the blossoming tree is a brief visual reflection of their indescribable link: the elusive ghost of the past is closely identified with her surroundings, particularly the flowers, merging with them in a dreamlike haze. Later on, when they start inhabiting the geographical areas of her memory, she is still difficult to reach.
Concept: A woman from the past reaches out to a contemporary girl, sharing the story of her life in fragments and by guiding the girl on a path of re-living her past sensory experiences. Her tragic fear is that of memories vanishing, of losing traces of her significant other’s existence after his death, and at the same time, of being forgotten. Janey follows the traces of this 50’s apparition who transcends temporality, and the connection between them grows as their selves start merging.
A selection of artworks from the stunning uncanny underwater photography collection by Bulgarian visual artist and fine art photographer Mira Nedyalkova.
Mira’s work depicts the beautiful facets of pain and sadness in fluid forms, whilst linking water with sensuality and exploring erotic and emotional themes.
Water symbolism always makes us think of regeneration, purification, and catharsis – a reflection of the beginning and the end. Mira emphasises the dual dimension of water, symbolising sin and purity, as well as pleasure and innocence. The aquatic element has both generative and destructive powers; it can be life-giving and apocalyptic. Her models are depicted as otherworldly beings, seemingly frail, yet also dark and enigmatic. Water is also the essential element contributing to the surreal aesthetic of the pictures, since it changes the light, colour, and shapes captured in unexpected ways.
Mira Nedyalkova is not interested in pure photography – as opposed to many photographers who praise raw analogue photographs for capturing unaltered moments, she recognises the creative and transformative power of post-processing and digital editing as a way of enriching photography, of creating something new, conveying an emotion, and telling a story. As a former painter, she now sees digital editing as a way of getting closer to painting again.
Like many artists, Mira believes emotion is an essential part of a remarkable piece of art. Her view is epitomised in her stunning, memorable photographs, often depicting expressive, intense characters found in captivity. Other recurring characteristics of her artistic vision are a preference for nudity, the eerie beauty of nature, enigmatic, fragile-looking animals, and subtle sexuality.
Polish self-taught fine art photographer Kamila Kansy, known as Laura Makabresku, draws inspiration from her deep, intimate connection to her native land – which she perceives as a mysterious realm of sinister fairy tales, in order to design a tragic world revolving around death, obscure eroticism, suffering, and human frailty. The suggestive name of her artistic identity conjures up the darkness portrayed in her haunting photographs which seem to reflect the Freudian uncanny through their eerie and strangely familiar quality.
Stepping away from digital cameras, she embraces the analogue practice with a soft painterly style with dark undertones. To create a gloomy, glacial, and morbid atmosphere, the colours used are often desaturated dark blue and green and the photographs are intentionally underexposed. Some photographs adopt the technique of superimposition to achieve a ghostly aesthetic and induce the impression that there is always something morbid looming within the frame – a dormant presence about to be unleashed.
The distinctive imagery depicting Laura Makabresku’s artistic world can be compared to a dream: it has multiple layers, inviting the observer to begin an internal exploration. Her pictures should not only be admired aesthetically, but also felt from within. The shots are like collections of impulses, raw emotions, objects filled with hidden symbolism displayed in a beautifully chaotic, surreal manner which often involves strikingly unexpected combinations of elements such as dead animals, naked bodies, blood, knives, ants amplified in size, ravens pictured indoors, and human bodies with animal masks. The uncanny is ever present in this artistic realm: from dead birds coming out of the mouth of a woman collapsed on the autumnal earth, a naked body covered in moss, guarded by a mysterious fox, a sorrowful girl’s languid body enveloped by a goat’s hide, a pensive woman touching a bowl filled with blood, upon which a little bird rests, a touching portrait of a girl embracing a fox in a glass coffin, eyes covered by pressed flowers or positioned dangerously close to a raven. All of her entrancing visual creations are filled with lyricism. In addition to these transparent motifs and compositions, the uncanny also lies in the homely atmosphere of the photographs, as well as the strange aesthetic quality reminiscent of macabre fairy tales.
Influenced by Francesca Woodman, her black and white portraits of the naked female body convey a duality between the calm, beautiful, graceful vulnerability and simplicity of the nude body sight and the undertones of death, darkness, emptiness, isolation, and dark sexuality. Through self-portraits, she embraces her fears and anguish and explores themes like autopsy, witchcraft, love, and a deep connection with animals, mortality, and the evil that lurks within her. The universe she creates makes the viewers look within and be inspired to embrace their own dark instincts and fantasies.
Diana Marin’s photographic project, Requiem for the Awakening, is a postmodern audio-visual trip, visual poetry constructed primarily from still photographs, a few moving image moments, and piercing, post-modernist monologue. Her activity included single-handedly editing, photographing, filming, as well as recording sound and voice-over to crystallise a concept that was inspired by her own dream experience. One morning in her previous home city, during a time when days were seamlessly, furtively blending into nights, Diana was immersed into a dream of an uncanny afterlife, in which the dimension of temporality became absurd. It was a special type of dream within a dream, evocatively described through the voice-over in her Requiem.
The fantasy-style digital manipulation is present throughout many images, with some particularly memorable ones featuring surreal compositions: the stormy skies surrounding the woman’s body embraced by tree branches, the woman with a grandiose pose standing behind what looks like a glass case followed by a shot of the graves with a similar layout, the Gothic images of Lilith guarded by her shadow, the elegant yet decaying decor in which she finds herself in the last tableaux.
Each “chapter” of the story contains conscious literary, artistic, photographic, philosophical, and cinematic allusions and influences in its depiction. The prologue, describing an ambiguous post-mortem state, summons up scenarios of the after life, whilst the strange connection the protagonist – as a disembodied presence traversing the ether- has with her still living brother has an element of unreality to it, and is partly rooted in occultism and the concept of astral plane and astral shells. Visually, the prologue is constructed from digitally altered photographs, created through the technique of digital painting, merging visuals, and adding layers. The first chapter, in which she re-learns how to live, has been inspired by The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and philosophical contemplation, particularly existentialism and the sense of disorientation characteristic of existential angst. It has a soft, aesthetically pleasing photographic style, somewhat in contrast to the eerie atmosphere and tension. The narrative style and stream-of-consciousness monologue of the second chapter carries echoes of Samuel Beckett’s Not I, combined with dark visuals directly pointing at German Expressionist cinema and Gothic films. The third chapter depicts the act of seeking harmony and purpose in the sanctuary of nature, the shots resembling idyllic paintings before the aesthetic switches to sombre and sinister and the mood becomes ominous once again, which leads us to the fourth and final chapter. In this final collection of photographs, the natural is replaced by the artificial and decaying decor. The atmosphere recalls the debauchery and aesthetic focus of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as being a feminine, photographic re-interpretation of the artificiality of Des Esseintes’ life from Huysmans’ À rebours. The mise-en-scene includes paintings, statues, bottles of wine, female figurines, Gothic fashion items, jewellery boxes, and other aesthetic objects. These painterly photographs reveal the life of an eccentric, solitary aesthete, slowly turning into a still life painting.
A brief description of the concept and a few photographic stills:
Prologue – Purgatory: Lilith lives through a centuries-long dream that she believes is the afterlife. She finds herself in a liminal space, with only one connection to the real world to keep her sane, until everything eventually proves to be designed by her mind.
Chapter I – The awakening: Lilith awakens from the dream and tries to re-learn how to live.
Chapter II – Anxiety: She cannot seem to be able to adjust to life once again. In a stream of consciousness, she re-lives epiphanies from her childhood when she gained acute awareness of her ephemeral condition
Chapter III – Nature escapism: Lilith thinks her environment is a cage, and decides to seek refuge in nature, only to realise she is a living cage. The outer world becomes a reflection of her inner world.
Chapter IV – Refuge in art: The girl turns away from nature and towards the artificial, and eventually, towards art. She reconciles with the idea of death through art, when she becomes art.
Model: Rosie Cochrane
“On the 19th of July Lilith drifted away from everything that she knew and acquired a post-mortem insight into the world, after the bomb explosion that shattered the hearts of her relatives. She likes to think that she can still reach out to the closest person she knew while alive. Her brother, who was also the first one to find out about her death. My consciousness is spread across an indefinite area of pulsating matter. I could not tell you whether I’m on another planet, wandering in the ether or lost in my own mind. I can tell you this is neither heaven nor hell. I have been here for a very long time, I couldn’t tell you how long, perhaps years, perhaps centuries My sanity has relied on this inexplicable connection. When I realised I had died, although sad, I was also relieved, that I still existed somewhere, even in this confusing state. I never believed in life after death, although I wished for it, as nothingness always frightened me. After a while however, existing like this became wearying. How can I ever trust my mind and my world again now that I’ve wandered away from reality for what felt like hundreds of years. I’ve been awake for a few days trying to make sense of what happened to me. I can’t fully remember life before the explosion, and my body is finding it very hard to readjust to normality. Words, voices, spiders crawling on the wall, abnormal shadows with a hundred legs, waiting, waiting waiting for the right moment so they could choke me…I would then be one with the shadows. I used to love the darkness as a kid, wandering in gardens after midnight, sneaking out of the house through that small window; making sure everyone was asleep to avoid punishments. The garden…looking at the stars, knowing from a young age that what I was seeing in the sky may have died a long time ago. Those were astral traces, spectres of something that once was; I wanted to exist I wanted to exist beyond time, beyond space, I wanted to see the beginning of the world and the end of the world at the same time…to understand it. To understand my urge for creation and destruction. I have to get out of here. everything around me pulsates and feels like it’s about to explode, my heart jumps with every turn. I fear my nightmare is going to replace reality.”