Two Artists Tear, Sew, and Fold the Limits of Photography

Letha Wilson and Kate Steciw shatter photography’s limits in concurrent solo exhibitions.

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Dec 27 2016, 3:28pm

Kate Steciw exhibition view, Kate Steciw, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele, courtesy of the artist & Galerie Christophe Gaillard

Among the artists taking photography to new and unparalleled visual dimensions, Kate Steciw and Letha Wilson have been leading the charge together for some time. The two photographers, perhaps more adequately described as image-makers or image-users, create works that defy any presupposed limitation placed on the medium. Galerie Christophe Gaillard organized two simultaneous solo shows for each artist in their Parisian exhibition spaces on display through January 8th.

Kate Steciw’s namesake exhibition and Wilson’s Surface Moves are disparate entities both in terms of their visual concerns, but you’d be hard pressed to find two concurrent shows operating in such synchrony. Perhaps this is a result of the intimate and longstanding relationship between both artists, who met each other years ago through a group exhibition at Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), and have repeatedly shown together and conducted frequent studio visits with one another ever since.

Surface Moves exhibition view, Letha Wilson, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele, courtesy of the artist & Galerie Christophe Gaillard

“I think it’s safe to say that at the core of both of our practices is a love of photography coupled with a frustration with its limitations — a basic desire to interfere or intervene with the image to better suit our desires and expectations,” Steciw tells The Creators Project.

Each artist anchors their space with a highly sculptural centerpiece that is tenuously linked to photography. Steciw’s Construction 2333 is a tangled sateen coil with her signature fusion of stock imagery and personal photography, loosely sprawled on the floor. At the center of Surface Moves, Wilson has placed two long and connected steel pipes resting on top of a Toblerone-shaped print out of an arid American landscape, a union that appears to defy physics due to the artist’s clever use of steel as photographic material.

Kate Steciw exhibition view, Kate Steciw, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele, courtesy of the artist & Galerie Christophe Gaillard

Beyond Steciw’s chain-hung image cut outs, all other pieces on view are wall works, a seeming reversion back to a more traditional notion of photography. The wall works in both of these exhibitions are rarely 2D, with Steciw removing abstracted chunks from many of her images to be placed on top of other works leaving gaping holes in the process and with Wilson’s predilection for rough, undulated surfaces made of industrial materials for her vibrant and often fragmented works. 

Kate Steciw exhibition view, Kate Steciw, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele, courtesy of the artist & Galerie Christophe Gaillard

Despite some overlap in approach and visual output, each artist has a different reason for negating photography’s flat surface. For Wilson, it is “about changing the way a viewer interacts with an image and changing the way an image occupies a viewing space. I want these photographs to become ‘more real’ and ‘more present’ by virtue of their physicality, to emphasize their existence as objects and things,” she explains to The Creators Project.

Surface Moves exhibition view, Letha Wilson, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele, courtesy of the artist & Galerie Christophe Gaillard

“Their sculptural qualities allow them a physical presence that traditional photographs cannot communicate on their own. Photography becomes a tool to transport location, experience, and site into a material that is transformed through a sculptural decision,” Wilson adds. “I see it both as a way of merging the location of the original photograph and the materials into a new third location, the one in front of the viewer.”

Kate Steciw exhibition view, Kate Steciw, 2016. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele, courtesy of the artist & Galerie Christophe Gaillard

Steciw’s approach to physicality seems more personal and incidental, rather than a calculated attempt to alter the viewer’s experience. The artist reveals, “The form is decided very instinctually. It feels almost like crafting that way. At the point of physicalization, I am thinking only about color, shape, and composition.”

More of Kate Steciw and Letha Wilson’s photo-defying works can be seen here and here, respectively.

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