These Phantoms Incessant:
Thomas Julier’s Glorious Lies
This is the stuff of the city. Brick and glass facades. Scaffolding and peeling paint. The ornamental: the forced natural and graffiti and carved stone and signs and lights. The collective idea of a place so proud of its collective idea. Always hiding in its own reflection, or shielding itself with transparent drapings. Here, in desperate song, public images are cropped and flattened and emptied of their humanity, while maintaining their culture. The barren branches of a snaking tree hover within the plane of the shifting variations of a blue-gray plate glass grid or endless brick is punctuated by columns of casements, equally pushing as it is pushed by other constructions. It is a city unhinged, ethereal on Earth. Yet, this is how it is, how they are: no manipulator besides a certain sight. This is New York freed of its inhabitants, and without people 2012 looks like now and looks like always. Separated from a horizon of any kind the works are compositions defying depth. Considering nothing is truly timeless: these are perennial, like the constancy of the seasons and situations captured. The opening buds that electrify a park for only days each cycle. These flat fields of color and light have been recorded at a place and moment, transcending both for the near perpetuity. What ties these lies together is a commitment and dexterity at removing the inherent weight of the world. New York, this is your last chance.
The general theory is that time ceases to exist without gravity. Within these images the curvature of spacetime has disappeared, shapes and textures float on their own without any force pulling them to a central core. The chipping stucco of a giant unpierced wall advances to a level right beyond the branches in front of it. The power of the red on white sign is absorbed into a facing reflection, abstraction formed by the concrete. The further from a gravitational center the more sluggish the clock. Our feet age faster than our faces. Here time slows approaching disintegration, depth follows suit as everything merges to a common field. Remarkably, the mind knows what is going on. One reads the idea of where layering and space was or should be and yet it has somehow collapsed under the artist’s handling. We know these images, have been there, see the components daily- in reality or otherwise. One architecture reflecting another, a light blue screen around a construction site, cherry trees blossoming in a park: but this knowledge does not compete under this play of light. These perceptions are change and relativity.
Light is important here. It’s what tells us time is moving, but the mastery over it makes it hardly move at all. Mid-winter morphs into Spring and then towards Summer, but the seasons and their corresponding dated titles are just one more subject flattened in with everything else pictured. Half a calendary revolution is made to feel complete. What about the weather? If it never changes does it even exist? Is it captured in the collapsed fields with everything else, or does it escape like a deferred dream? The understanding and control of natural light is what makes these visions possible. The slow crafted knowledge that, with a little crop, shadows and the lack thereof can yield a pictorial flatness of a supposedly deep and vital urban place. The artist stalks, waits, knows and strikes. Except not. A majority were captured on one day, some within seconds of eachother. The creator is not some patient predator, but a well practiced machine who catches immediately upon recognition. In a matter of a few hours we travel from the reflections of text and towers against glass veneers, to the flattening and illusory mirroring of new growth and onto a mixture of the two. But, here we do it quicker and it’s still then and now and still. In each the vistas of the city are harnessed to show a blockage. The parks are used for space and the organic, but the space is always thrown back and caved in against the man made. Here the light, dimmed even when one is allowed to see blue sky and sunlit flora, compresses these works as a whole. Even within a group, a selected entirety, no gravity or magnetism is felt between. Light is employed, just like dates, as an illusion of time and place and their opposites. All of these are deceptions anyways. The specific and the not.
The lie is allowed by the mechanical. The gridded screen on the digital camera, where no viewfinder even nods to nostalgia anymore. One’s personal biological rejected by the possibility towards an automated perfection. The ability to level and crop immediately available. These moments are just that- what you see when you capture is what we get. Here the traditional is rejected for the now and this is true throughout the oeuvre. There is no wistfulness for technology lost, or a fetish for the future. As with these images, there is a cold hard present, one that travels through our timelines continuously repeating the mantra that now is like always and forever. What a sign he gives us that the first is taken the day after the bankruptcy of Kodak. We are given no funeral, these are the official start of a new era, one that never had a firm beginning. Everything is a moment worth capturing for posterity now. Finally we are allowed to see form where so much crass clutter and content and animal litter has always been in the way.
Look at that coldness that coats these. One doesn’t erase eight and half million people by accident. All traces of the daily, that which defines a place in the immediate, are gone. Culture remains. Icons remain. Maybe there’s nothing more arrogant than spurning the human from the city of our time. Except succeeding with elegant ease. The specific is so hard to find, but when it’s allowed it’s full force. Windows of the religious, stone figures pretending to mirror each other as they dance between church and state, buildings we’re so close to being able to place. Why detach the human from the urban and leave these aspects? Flattening such strong content and replacing it with nothing. 30 Rockefeller Center rockets to the sky, more green screen or painted backdrop then symbol of a promised prosperity, lingering holiday lights dance and dazzle in a unified field. The cosmos are so bright they pierce stone now. This is a symbol so strong, America’s glory during a low. But not now. Sometime later Stieglitz photographed it critically as moody and dark. Film Noir to our backlot King Kong. Here there is no critique or optimism or any animal emotion at all. Emptied under this handling what we are given is this: this was built, it looks like this, it exists. Sort of a like a tree, flowers, text, carved stone. Maybe it’s not just the human, the animal is gone too. These are the groves that we were warned us about. Here is a silent spring where flora flourishes under rigid control and fauna does not exist at all.
It feels like these images are full of contradictions and yet specifically they’re hard to find. In quoting Mallarmé for the title of the volume Thomas Julier has insisted that this conflicting nature is vital to these works. Look here: these deceptions are sensitive and bold, but no delusions are held. It is only despair that forces us to celebrate them. Or look at the choice between glorious and glorified. Nothing is raised above the level of what it is. There is a constant rejection to make more of something and yet within this photographic suprematism we are presented with dynamic compositions of geometry and color and space. Texture and form are ends in themselves. Everything else has been removed so we can finally see this and it’s been there all along. We live our lives at the brink of the vast void and instead of confronting it we whisper in each other's ears. How else to explain a lie, but by telling the hard truth? Everything around us is desperate and sad and beautiful and, anyways, this melody is all we’ve got.
Mitchell Anderson, July 2016
These Phantoms Incessant: