Through veils and contrived angles, Rohan Quinby explores the relationship between the city and time in his recent series of photographs on display at Le Zigoto Café. The artist’s statement offers up a general theoretical framework that guides his investigation. But the images seem to hide stories – the way that cities do – and we are left wandering the inscrutable cityscapes alone and uninformed.
There are edifices in Barcelona that have been draped in building mesh. Two of them have a stark, greyscale colour palette that gives the structures a ghoulish appearance. Another has a greenish tint and the mesh seems to ripple across its surface like algae-infested waters. If a ghost ship was a building, it would be these.
Three pictures seem to present the city as a stage. A Hong Kong picture of an apartment building is obscured by the red and black wall that occupies about half the photo. At first glance, the wall looks like a red velvet curtain that has been partially pulled back. The shot of a doorway in a tan brick wall in Dublin is largely taken up by metal siding that is pressed against it like a metal curtain. The third photo has a pearl-pink tarp draping down from the top of the frame and is pulled to the right to reveal an abandoned warehouse that is bathed in cool blue light.
Then there are the images that stand apart from the rest because they differ in style. In chicago: stratigraphy, we look down onto the street from somewhere on top of the “L.” The shot is angled in such a way as to layer the train tracks with a power line, the base of the bridge and a traffic light. Presumably, this is an attempt to cobble together the natural lines of the city and form strata. The other photo, new york: spectre, is perhaps the most striking photo of them all. Against a grey, large-bricked stone wall, a black umbrella is open and hiding the upper body of its owner. All that we see of that person is the long black coat that is tilted forward as if needing to press against the wind. It has an undeniable Edward Gorey feel to it.
Heavily influenced by urban theorist Lewis Mumford, Quinby subscribes to the notion that the city is “both a material and immaterial container; as such, cities possess the capacity to contain different experiences of temporality.” He explains that these different experiences of temporality are co-existing modalities – they are “social ways of being that do not correspond to the most dominant at any given moment.” While the notion that there are social ways of being that differ from the dominant societal way of life seems trivially true, what is more interesting to us is the way the photographs reflect this statement.
How does framing the city as a ghostly apparition, a stage or a stratified entity illuminate our understanding of the relationship between it and time? How is the juxtaposition of distinct social ways of being expressed in them? Quinby may have a reply, but the queries of the viewer are largely left unanswered. While beautiful, the photos – like the cities themselves – offer us little in the way of understanding.
Rohan Quinby’s exhibit runs until August 30, 2009 at Le Zigoto Café, 5731 ave. du Parc. The café is open Monday through Sunday from 9h to 18h. Some of Quinby’s photos can be seen on his blog.