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You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred - Zabludowicz Collection

Image © Erin Shirreff

An exhibition of photography which blurs the lines between reality and fiction

We visited the Zabludowicz collection in North London to take a look at their latest exhibition featuring 14 international photographers, over a 40-year period, who have been pushing the boundaries of the medium and questioning its role in contemporary art.

The Zabludowicz Collection in Belsize Park is a Grade II-listed former Methodist Church that has been programming exhibitions from the private and devoutly philanthropic organisation’s collection since 2007. It’s very likely you’ll have encountered works from their collection at galleries across the UK, or abroad, in the past.
Their latest exhibition features work, predominantly from North American and German artists, which challenges the everyday perception of photography as an art form. It spans a 40-year period and looks at how the boundaries between past and present, and fact and fiction, can be blurred.

Lucas Blalock: Athena's Fruit Dish, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Ramiken Crucible, New York
Photography is having a real boom at the moment. As Elton John’s collection of Modernist photographs closes, a retrospective of German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans – who also features heavily in this exhibition – has just opened at Tate Modern. Somerset House have also been collaborating widely through their own Photo London project.
You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred is very well curated. Each work is given plenty of space, and the gallery’s unusual layout is well utilised, with temporary white walls breaking up the larger gallery spaces. Motifs and patterns are subtly highlighted throughout – a visible human presence appears in Sara Cwynar’s Women (and is touched upon in her video installation Soft Film) as well as Anne Collier’s Album (The Amazing). The Cubist influences of Lucas Blalock’s collage work are alluded to in the deliberate pixellation of Thomas Ruff’s jpeg ny15 whilst the ambiguous, abstract forms of Erin Schirreff’s Signatures are mirrored in examples of both Tillmans and Sara VanDerBeek’s work.

Erin Shirreff: Signatures, 2011 ©Erin Shirreff, courtesy the artist, Zabludowicz Collection and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
The exhibition begins slowly with a contemplative first gallery featuring a meditative, fifteen-minute digital stop-frame animation from Shirreff. Roden Crater consists of a printout of a photograph of an extinct volcano in Arizona - which has been re-photographed and exposed to changing lighting effects. It creates the sensation of witnessing sped-up, dramatic shifts in atmosphere with the reality only becoming clear when certain lighting states reveal the printout’s grainy texture. It embodies the thoughtfulness of the opening section.
Stand out moments occur in the larger Back Gallery; German photographer Andreas Gursky’s monumental Chicago Board of Trade II is a time-lapsed photograph of a stock-trading floor that fizzes with motion. Bankers in gaudy jackets appear in various states of emotion. Some are gazing intently at screens whilst others are slumped on the floor or rushing to different banks of monitors. Opposite, in both senses of the word, is Thomas Ruff’s Stoya - an enormous close-up of an expressionless German man and a stark portrayal of the everyday people caught up in the political maelstroms of their times.   
An entire wall is devoted to Wolfgang Tillmans Berlin Installation 1995-2000 series – a 31-part installation that encompasses personal photos of friends, one self-portrait, several interiors and street photographs including a series of icy streets.

Richard Prince: Untitled (four women looking in the same direction), 1977 Courtesy the artist
There is an overriding feeling of the anonymity of the individual throughout the exhibition, from the four women plucked from advertisements in Richard Prince’s Untitled (four women looking in the same direction) through Gursky’s ant-like individuals in giant landscapes, Tillmans’ anonymous footprints in the Berlin sleet and the nude female figure retreating into the sea in Collier’s Positive (California). Collectively you get a real sense of the damage that over-representation in the media, and reliance on the objectivity of documentary, can do to self-identity.
Special mention must also go to Natalie Czech’s genius hidden poem series where she takes existing poems and finds them in unrelated articles by highlighting certain words and letters, before photographing the result. It’s funny, incredibly clever and so original. These works, along with Gursky’s gorgeous panoramas, make the trip to this North London gallery well worthwhile.

You Are Looking at Something That Never Occured is at the Zabludowicz Collection, Belsize Park, until July 9. Entry is free.