Aerating the space

Raïssa Venables © Matthew Vogel

The New Yorker photographer Raïssa Venables is Clearing Space to let us experience the energy we miss in the daily life. She reworks digitally her photographs distorting the shapes in order to create new spaces even an illusion of movement and thus new points of view. Her colours are always vivid and bright giving us the feeling of being in a kind of wonderland but once one gets into her world gets also the perception of the lack of something important in our existence. The movement feeling links to the idea of changing and evolution of existence from the opening of minds. Amazingly Raïssa Venables explains all this brightness is her own vision of the world although for the viewer the first impression of her art is something close to surrealism, to a dreamy world. Probably this dichotomy between artist and viewer makes the view of her work become always the birth of something new in our minds. The exhibition Clearing Space presents also the novelty of working in outdoors spaces for the first time. Until now, Raïssa Venables had always worked on private spaces and public buildings. Even there’s an evolution on her creative process: now she removes all detail she considers a distraction or an excess of information which can be also viewed as a critic to the way we experience our environment in the current days: too much data but few direct experiences and poor reflections. The new spaces created by Raïssa Venables are also a white canvas for our imagination.

Where does your intention of Clearing Space comes from?

An underlying goal in all of my work has been to question the assumptions and stability of our physical space. I want to portray a visual interpretation of the unseen energy we may sense in our surroundings to elevate our minds from the quotidian aspects of our lives.

Clearing Space takes inspiration from Andalusian architecture and the constructive elements of disguise through ornate ornamentation and the use of reflections that distort the buildings. These create illusions of dissolving structural strength & physical matter in order to transcend and transform the material realm.  A distortion of shapes and structure has been a constant element in my work from the beginning. I applied the idea of dissolving structure by cutting out areas of the photographs where both matter and space are depicted; I call this aerating the space. Stained-glass ornamentation also occurs in areas as I focus on the poetry of the negative space in these natural spaces.

This body of work also stems from my frustration with the over-saturation of media and technologically transferred chatter which permeates our lives.  This excessive data clutter causes a lack of participation, awareness and appreciation of our immediate and distances us from the truly important. Love, in-person connection and sharing, beauty, poetry and interaction with the miracle of the natural realm is what matters. The removal of photographic information in my images is a response to that; it allows me to question what is needed in an image to convey its poetic and beautiful essence as well as what kind of awareness is needed when actually in that place.

The first time I saw the photograph titled Aimee’s stairs it made me think on the German 1920’s film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari by Fritz Lang. Not because the use of the light, of course, but for the shapes you create. Obviously, your vivid colors give us a completely different experience. What kind of experience on the viewer are you looking for?

I hope that the viewers experience the space I present in an emotional or visceral way and appreciate the unseen energy of the space depicted. My goal is to offer multiple views and layers of moments in a fantastic manner.

 Your use of the light and colour comes from your real spirit or is more a wish?

It comes from how I see and feel the world and also how I wish it upon others. Color is a strong motivation and love for me in my work. In this latest work, my new color is White, accented by intense color details.

Cubism influences are obvious but has your art any link with surrealism?

Yes, definitely, I have been inspired by surrealism as well as expressionism since I was a student for a variety reasons. One reason being that they both convey that which is beyond our physical world: whether it be a dream, an emotion, a memory or something of the spirit.

In the current exhibition you present landscapes works for the first time. Why this change?

It’s funny because I actually wasn’t thinking of them as landscapes when I photographed the exterior places. I saw them as rooms outside which were dominated by nature. I do see how some of them are more like landscapes though. I think of landscapes as a scene viewed from afar. I hope to still maintain an intimacy in these pieces and a quality of being in the place. The reason I chose spaces primarily filled with natural elements, like plants and trees, was to bring my personal focus back to it and perhaps maybe inspire some others to get more immersed in our environment and the miraculous life of nature.

 What differences you find between indoor and outdoor work?

There’s a lot more to contend with: like photographing in zero degree Farenheit weather, snow falling on your camera, the wind or water shaking your tripod or the light changing too quickly. Being somewhat new to shooting outside, there were many failed photo shoots in the past two years. Recently I decided to start incorporating these flaws from shooting into my newer work to add to the experience and energy. I was comfortable with a more controlled situation indoors. However, there are many unpredictable and amazing things that occur outdoors which add to the excitement. I enjoy how the same place goes through so many different realities in just one day, not to mention all year long.

No inspiration from the human body?

Not too much. Some things come out in the work that reference a human body but it is limited and I keep it subtle. Most of it is subconscious though.

One of your latest series is titled All That Glitters. What’s behind the selection of the spaces?

I was inspired by the excessive decoration in the Duomo of Orvieto, Italy to explore the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane. That led me to photogrpah opulent places, however the opulence was of different qualities amongst my subjects.

How is your relation with reality?

It’s complicated… I aim to have a connected and vibrant reality in all areas. This is easy when I am working in the garden. I am a very sensual and observant person. When it comes to my work, I am questioning possible assumptions of reality in our physical realm; what is truly real both in our physical space, beneath the surface, and our experience of a place, all of which are unstable and changing. Also, I believe a photograph is a new reality unto itself rather than a duplication of a pre-existing reality. Likewise, I appreciate the photograph’s physicality as an object itself.

Could you tell us a dream?

Every so often, I dream of flying over lands at various heights, at all levels, swooping and hovering. A vivid memory of these dreams are the times I somehow can lift myself off the ground, the moments I start to hover above. I recently thought of that feeling while I was working on a piece. I feel like my feet are slightly off the ground when I look at my recent work.

Raïssa Venables | Exhibition at Berlin's gallerie Wagner+Partner from 9th May to 21st June

A selection of images available here

An interview by Juan Carlos Romero
Raïssa Venables website www.raissavenables.com
Photo by Matthew Vogel
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