exhibition review: renata buziak’s ‘afterimage’
Renata Buziak’s series Afterimage, which was recently exhibited at ANCA Gallery, Canberra, demands to be looked at. No passing glances on your way to the wine here; these are images which grab you and won’t let go. They are vivid, surreal works that draw in the viewer, who curious to explore these alien-like landscapes created by Buziak’s highly detailed imagery. Afterimage is a unique photographic series exploring place, memory and the lived experience of the artist.
Buziak is based in Brisbane and has lived in Australia for the last 20 years, but is strongly influenced by the memories and experiences of her childhood growing up in a small Polish town. It is those remembrances which form the basis of the Afterimage series. As the artist describes, these are ‘unforgettable trips to country sites, forests and lakes; sunlight filtered through the trees and the canvas of a tent; backyard full of vegetables and fruit; the heat and smell of bonfires and hay; piles of coal and a cellar full of preserves in preparation for a long winter; long walks to school through fields covered with white crispy snow’. To create this series Buziak travelled back to Poland and collected plant cuttings from around her hometown to evoke the dreams and memories of her childhood in her photographs. Titles such as Summer Offerings, Hay & Ash and Cornflower Wine immediately conjure up images of this ostensibly idyllic past.
These intriguing works are not photographs as you expect them. In fact, they exist somewhere between photography and printmaking, created using a process Renata describes as ‘biochrome’. In this process organic materials such as plant cuttings are placed on gelatinous photographic paper in high humidity environments similar to terrariums. This environment allows the organic materials to decompose and rot into the photographic paper creating chemical reactions that leave an entirely new image and only a vague impression of the original materials. Effectively, this creates one-of-a-kind photographic prints, monotypes covered in fetid organic material which are then scanned and edited to create the print series seen in exhibition.
Afterimage cleverly juxtaposes a number of elements including abstraction and realism, life and death, the real and the imagined. Initially these photographs appear to be works of abstraction, unfamiliar fields of colour and shape. But on closer inspection reveal themselves to be more like scientific imagery, hyper-real versions of nature as seen under a microscope. Or equally, they can be viewed as satellite images of Earth, familiar landscapes from an unfamiliar perspective. Farming Fields, for example, looks both like an aerial view of divided fields and crops in the country side and the magnified structure of a leaf. Summer Offerings is a striking focal point of the exhibition, a still life with no life. A memento mori to a long ago summer rendered in rich earthy yellows that seduces and transfixes the viewer with our own reflections of life and death.
The experiences and milestones of a life lived and remembered, represented by the plants and material collected by Buziak, are left to decompose and rot. Her final photographs become memorials to memory and potentially make comment on the way we change and morph our own memories throughout life. Details disappear, or are enhanced and in the case of Buziak’s photography the result is a sublime and fascinating series of images that challenge the viewer to look twice and think again.