Above and Below Ground


Wyang Kulit

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Gallery 339
February 2006

The photo booth is a strange place. It’s secretive, claustrophobic, and must be a kind of heaven for the narcissist, like a guest bathroom with an immense mirror.

And let’s not forget the thrill of instant gratification. No wonder Andy Warhol, that most voyeuristic of artists, was among the first to explore its potential. It is also a relic of our futuristic coin-operated past, like the juke box, the phone booth, the automat (which originated in Philadelphia) – C20th century inventions that were intended to make life more convenient for all. This is the nostalgic photo-booth, the one that Liz Rideal has been using as her studio of sorts for the last 20 years.

Instead of photographing herself or her friends Warhol-style, Rideal, who was trained as a painter, creates portraits of fabric and flowers in front of the automatically operated camera’s lens. The resulting images bring to mind colour versions of Muybridge’s studies of motion or 19th century botanical cyanotypes. Her gridlike collage arrangements of her photo-booth strips are thoroughly contemporary, however, as are her C-print enlargements of individual images.

Rideal’s one-of-a-kind photo-strip compositions, which dominate her first one-person exhibition at Gallery 339, are the more original and visually arresting of these two kinds of work. Her two editioned portraits of plants and flowers, while intriguing because they were made in a photo-booth but don’t look it (they’re vastly enlarged versions of single images from photo-booth strips), seem big for the sake of big.

In her unique pieces, Rideal’s juxtapositions of serial images can simultaneously suggest the movement of film through a projector, high-rise apartment building, Bridget Riley’s dizzying paintings, and even Donald Judd’s glowing aluminium-and-Plexiglas boxes.

Warhol’s serial photo-booth portraits were one thing. Rideal has transformed the photo-booth strip into an idiosyncratic art of her own.

Edith Newhall, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 February 2006