Ori Gersht: Floating World
by Lou Proud
On meeting Ori Gersht at his studio, I am greeted by a warm welcome and also his dog, an adorable terrier who stands on its hind legs with delight when it realises there is a definite fan standing in close proximity.
I first met Gersht whilst working at Phillips Auctioneers and was stunned not only by his working environment which elegantly, compactly and calmly encompasses an in house print studio, tiny darkroom and work archive, but also by his extremely gentle and kind manner. He sits opposite me, focused and alert as we discuss his work and many of the influences which swirl around and engulf it, endless historical references come fluidly one after the other. I am riveted to his articulate descriptions of how he makes work and hugely grateful to find such energy and stimulation. He tells me how he is reading Italo Calvino’s book, Invisible Cities which explores the imaginable and the imagination through the descriptions of 55 cities. For a moment I remember my own experience of this book years back, reading it out loud to an old boyfriend on a train trundling towards Venice, and briefly I am transported via a memory which probably is inaccurate.
Since the beginning of ‘his’ time as an artist we could be mildly forgiven for being swept away on a superficial cloud of the undeniable beauty of Gersht’s images; they are breath-taking. Hazy motifs from nature melt and fade in front of us, we gasp and need these most delicate colours and less than perfect fragmented shapes; Seurat-like flower fields, willowy pines in snowy landscapes, tulips that explode with ecstasy, vases fragmented by mirrors, and more; but what lies beneath will wrench our hearts and feed our minds until we are sated.
In November 2015 Gersht began his most recent body of work, ‘Floating World’, which will be shown at Ben Brown, London from 11 May – 16 June. Gersht visited and photographed the ancient (1,000 year-old) gardens in the Buddhist Zen temples in and around Kyoto. As usual with Gersht, his intent was to document something that is not physically present and via the camera project layers of the metaphysical. The philosophy of these ancient gardens seems to align with his own. For example, the gardens were created to reflect an essence of nature rather than its actual appearance, they are magical places where time stands still, meditative spaces not based in time. Like-wise Gersht’s images are time-less reflections of time, emotion, and the flux between a true reality and a created perception, combining a kind of Utopian fantasy and what exists in the everyday, not forgetting the eternal and fragile.
The title, ‘Floating World’, is deep rooted. In Japan’s Edo period (1615 -1868) ‘the floating world’ was associated with hedonism and a type of imagined universe which offered an escape from the humdrum of everyday life. It referred to kabuki actors, samurai, geisha, prostitutes who existed as creatures of the night fading away when the morning hours appeared. The woodblock prints that exist from this period are among the most famous examples of Japanese art. Their world was a type of reality only visible to some and virtual to others – it is this type of question that drives Gersht – where does reality begin and end and what is it to us as individuals? Especially, in an age where we are saturated by image, almost smothered by it and at such great speed in the current age of digital. The camera is no longer employed just to document, but to create and fabricate – here is the crux. In a sense we are ‘floating’ between reality and our perception of it, suspended between what we see, and what we think we see, via art and technology.
These new photographs are created from particular places within the Zen gardens where natural forms are reflected in the water. There is no one ‘object point’ but instead Gersht captures the water when hit by a gentle wind – the surface shimmers and fragments the reflection, creating a fusion of colour and natural content. The images are complex and layered with no end or beginning. In contrast to some of the previous series, they come from a noted physical place of peace rather than violence. Oddly, however, many of the resulting works have a more visual ‘violent’ fusion of content – multi layered with a hatched surface which appears like a painting – this likeness is enhanced by the pigment process which Gersht uses.
During the post-production process, images of the reflections are integrated with the reflected objects – trees, flowers etc. Gersht also inverts the photographs and fuses different perspectives to create new spaces which hover between the real and the virtual. The resulting works are born of something which actually exists, but they are also weaved with reflections and subversions of image. Fundamentally we are left with something which doesn’t actually exist – the work itself becomes a new reality, its own reality. By contemplating the surface of these sumptuous images, we are invited, like the Buddhist devotees of the Zen gardens, to go beyond, behind and within.