Our world is such that the great majority of people never catch a glimpse of the “behind the scenes” making of certain advancements that affect us tenfold in our lifetime. We possess awareness of developments and breakthroughs in the industries that scope the modern world, but it is not so often that chance permits us to actually see them. Wherein seeing is related to knowing and understanding, it is often the case that many do not really fathom the techno-scientific world that surrounds us. Thus, to actually see the topographic domiciles where these creations take place is somehow unfamiliar and dehumanizing. Thomas Struth’s most recent body of work unveils the complexity of these man-made creations to a greater audience, opening a platform with which to scrutinize techno-scientific spaces.
This body of work, exhibiting at Marian Goodman Gallery, consists of photographs taken at research and medical facilities and from Disneyland, depicting the likes of plasmaphysics and chemistry, oil rig-buildings, and space shuttle repair throughout Asia, Europe, and the Americas. The landscapes of these industries are somehow eerie and sinister. Every image is completely void of humanity; all that remains are the by-products of our existence. The photographs evoke all kinds of binary reactions: disgust and intrigue, isolation and connection, rumination and disdain. In many ways the objects of the techno-industrial world are not only a marker of the vast limits of the human mind, but they also symbolize a recession from humanness.
The photographs can be seen as a coalescence of visual art and everything at its opposing spectrum. Techno-scientific spaces take the place of traditional landscape, and the products of these spaces displace and reestablish the role of sculpture and portraiture. There is something strange in acting as a voyeur not to man but to the product of man. As a viewer, there is a similar sense of displacement, a sense that one should not be looking, or might be caught looking by something or someone looming outside of the frame.
These large-scale digital works certainly warrant claims of Struth as a master of composition, detail and color. With such an array of subject matter and photographic genres through Struth’s career, what remains consistent is an adherence for absolute stillness and beautifully rendered light. With a silencing of scenes generally recognized as landscapes of cacophony, the photographs become, somehow, otherworldly. A photograph of a surgical robot in Berlin working in a room of absolute darkness is rather spectral and fantastic. It is an image of the vulnerability of human life at the hands of a machine. Hot Rolling Mill, another beautiful but dark and daunting image, hangs on the wall directly opposite of the surgical robot. The photographs make the whole of the Conference Room at Marian Goodman a quiet and meditative place. The North and South Galleries feature photographs from Anaheim, Georgia Tech, Helmholtz-Zentrum Research Center, and Kovenskij Pereulok Hotel in St. Petersburg, which are lighter and not so emotionally intrusive.
Struth brings forth the edifices of the techno-industrial world, evincing a deep striving to synthesis imagination and physical reality. The artist explores the process of imagination and fantasy in our contemporary world. There is something poetic in Sturth’s ability to foresee and construe the fictive and the real. He provides a means with which to intimately contemplate the question of how we judge what we see.
Thomas Struth is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery from January 10- February 22, 2014.
Review by Isabel Sullivan
Photos by Tanya Kiseleva