In his first solo exhibition in the UAE, German photographer Jochen Lempert makes us consider the sweeping and granular vastness of the natural world, with all its artful, mesmerising repetitions.
The exhibition, Natural Sources, is running at Grey Noise in Dubai's Alserkal Avenue until March 31, held in collaboration with ProjecteSD, Barcelona. For an artist whose works are featured in public collections such as New York’s MoMA, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the la Caixa collection in Barcelona, the Centre nationale des arts plastiques in Paris, and the Nouveau Musee National de Monaco, it serves as a potent and thought-provoking debut in the UAE.
The photographs within the exhibition are scaled and grouped in a way that responds to the L-shaped space. Shot through monochrome film and printed on gelatin silver paper, they make the most out of analogue photography’s feel and texture. The works are presented on the white walls of the gallery without frame or label, an approach that accentuates the colourless vibrancy of the photographs.
Natural Sources opens with a collection of works that explore the overarching expanse of the sky, and our place in it.
A photograph of contrails curving into the distance beyond a plane window is presented on the wall perpendicular to a wispy portrait of a lone cloud under a full moon.
“These photographs are the entrance to the exhibition. They are traces of light,” Lempert says. “They hopefully show this photographic understanding, maybe, like drawing with light.”
The pinched silhouette of a falcon soaring overhead, meanwhile, is hung in the corner against a photograph of a fruit pigeon roosting in a person’s hand. The grouping delightfully contracts the distance between flight and the human hand.
“It’s also like it’s not the falcon in hand but the pigeon,” Lempert says, while stifling a chuckle.
There is a specificity to the falcon, as well.
“The photograph was taken on an island in Greece,” he says. “I always wanted to see this falcon. It has an interesting biology. It breeds in autumn, when normally birds are done by then. They breed then because in autumn, the birds migrating to Africa pass through the Mediterranean, so they have their major food source for this period.”
Moving forward and coming a nose away from the photograph of the cloud evokes the molecular fabric of the roving aerosol. The photograph, hung in the corner of the stouter hall, is repeated, in a much smaller scale in the end of the L-shaped space, again tugging at the concept of distance.
The photographs between the two clouds explore everything from the fluidity of water in motion and the coarse chaos of sand, to the branching dexterity of plant life. In one work, Lempert substitutes film for a flower petal, setting it against the light of the processing machine for minutes as opposed to a flash. The end result is a fractal bloom of light caught within the petal’s fibres.
“I use the flower as a negative,” Lempert says. “What you see here is not the grain of a film but the cells of the flower itself.”
Travelling and exploration are integral to Lempert’s process, and through his works, the Hamburg-born photographer seeks to capture the natural world in its most diverse contexts: from their habitat to the museums, from the zoo to the urban environment, in remote places or banal settings and situations.
In a photograph of a painting, he captures a close-up of water twirling out of an upturned bucket with ribbon-like grace. The photograph captures the shimmering threads of the canvas as well as its fibrous texture. Presented after the work developed from the flower petal, it evokes yet another resonance, this time a textural one.
“This one uses the simplest form of photography,” Lempert says of the following photograph, which enlarges grains of sand with a stunning abstract touch.
“You take paper and put some sand on it,” he says. “It’s ordinary sand collected from a beach somewhere in Italy. The beach had an Etruscan temple. Some of the sands are probably from Etruscan times, the pre-Roman times.”
Lempert’s photographs also seize interesting transformations within a plant’s life. In one photograph, he captures dewlike droplets of water hanging on the tips of clustered plant leaves.
“It’s not actually dew,” he says. “It’s kind of a different process where the plant actively ejects those drops of water. It’s like pumping.” In another photograph, he captures a dandelion as it sheds the seed heads on one side to the breeze. The seed heads on the other half, meanwhile, are left intact in a perfect semicircle.
With Natural Sources, Lempert invites viewers to contemplate the minuscule and expansive beauty of the natural world, while drawing poetic visual alliterations between the disparate works.
Natural Sources will be on display at Grey Noise, Dubai until March 31