The collection of art is somewhat deceptive. The stark first gallery offers a minimalist display of photographs from Japanese artist Tomoko Yoneda whose series, at first glance, could easily be someone’s holiday snaps: cute, coy couples on a culture trip around Japan and Korea, fall over themselves with self-congratulation. However, on closer inspection there is something sinister present in all of the photos, whether it be the menacing cloud bank that makes the couple blind to their surroundings, or pillars of industrial machinery that loom over them, there is a certain feeling of unrest under the surface of the photographs.
This ominous undercurrent is echoed across the other side of the gallery in Stephen Vaughn’s series, centring round the spectacle created by the tectonic movements of the earth. The most poignant image shows the visitor centre built up around a fault line, with curious onlookers seemingly unaware of the peril they are in. Vaughn’s is a literal representation of the feeling of danger lurking just below the surface, which in its quiet way challenges ideas about our own subconscious.
The second part of the exhibition is perhaps more challenging, but lacks the poignancy of the simple outer gallery. Steffi Klein’s exploration of Japan’s Naiku shrine – so precious that it may not be viewed by everyday people and yet rebuilt every 20 years – is well displayed. Maximum effect is achieved by the contrasted low lighting and bright panels. However, I felt this photographic display fell short of its potential. What could be a fascinating cultural anomaly, insofar as we are so used to equating value with the old and the unique rather than the recently re-built, seems to lose its grander implications in the minimal display.
Federico Camera’s video installation was more successful in the use of minimalism to project a greater theme. The loop of constructed habitats in zoos and wildlife parks from around the world suggests the idea of changing environments for incoming people, turning the merely habitable into the habitat.
Overall, the exhibition is not as elusive as it first seems, but rather will give as good as it gets, taking on significance for whomever chooses to give it such. And to this extent it showcases the great potential of minimalist photography.
By Victoria Urqhart