If Yann Guitton’s first back-lit urban landscapes began emerging about five years ago, like long black limousines sliding surreptitiously out of the night, or more prosaically, out of his basement studio in the heart Brussels - these early prototypes (now precious and rare) owed their origins to the artist’s obsession with perfecting a kind of transcendental beauty somewhere from within, or from just outside, looking into - the geometric hyper-reality of contemporary cities.
Or ElectriCities as the present series is named. And so out of the night into broad daylight - and now - back into a glittering new night.
Guitton’s forays into creating the illusion of space and depth within the confines of a flat black canvas came into life initially as large typographic compositions, where from photographs he began meticulously removing all the visual information not directly interpreted as a man-made sign. In practice this meant filtering out all of the organic and material parts of the landscape we tend to value - and leaving intact only the letters, words, numbers, punctuation, logos, way-finding systems, instructions, injunctions and graffiti produced by the modern city. Paradoxically - magically even - the results of this subtraction process revealed a new kind of dynamic graphic landscape and offered Guitton the keys to finding other ways of seeing and appreciating the urban sprawl building up around us.
Delving into the sensory experience of these new electric city scapes creates oddly familiar feelings. Of course the city monuments speak to the audience before the audience has the time to blink an eye, leaving no doubt as to the possible geographical location. So beyond the act of standing in the hills overlooking Los Angeles at night - perhaps remembering that very sensation as a lived-experience - one also suspects the issue is not just about recognition and not only about feeling a certain awe in front of a glinting nocturnal carpet of lights. The dividend runs deeper.
In the case of « Los Angeles ElectriCities #2 », waves of cinematographic references wash through the mind - or should one say ‘Drive’ - and with each black box proportioned like a multiplex screen, entire back-catalogues are triggered and brought back to life - who after all can forget De Niro and Pacino capering between the runway lights in Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’? Or David Lynch’s journey into the unconscious along ‘Mulholland Drive’? But these sensations can be fleeting and subjective.
On closer inspection there’s still more to it.
Indeed, ignoring the means by which Yann Guitton’s images arrive would be admitting to a form of paralysis, so much the whittling down and perfecting of the technique is central to the optical magic of the art. And instead of describing the illusion of light and dark tone through coloured spots of paint, as in pointillism - here, the eye reconstitutes vast areas of space, volume and depth with pinholes of light cut into a matte black surface.
Added to this, the willful ploy of displaying the materials; the screws, switches and electric cables - a quality of do-it-yourself aesthetics reminiscent of Tom Sachs say - and yet, very much on its own level and terms, inviting the viewer into the illusion without the great fanfare and gloss of a luxury-level production, but on the contrary - operating complex visual effects with breathtaking simplicity.
Neil Wood ©2018