With a long-standing interest in the uncomfortable relationship between intimacy and voyeurism, Middernacht & Alexander are perfectly capable of investigating the psychological aspects of portrait photography. They reflect on how we look at ourselves, how we look at others, and how we look at works of art. The code word here is perception. Their innovations within the photographic medium and their constant search for new models of presentation result in conceptually and materially complex works of art with unique aesthetics. The final result, the exhibition, is a participatory experience. The works do not exist without an audience; they help create an interaction with spectators, a dialogue.
As with their earlier exhibitions Vulnerable Dimensions (2017) and Like Today But More Like Forever (2018), with Am I Ready Now? Middernacht & Alexander link the psychological and the communicative to carefully selected material that underpins the whole. Where their previous work tended to look at how, on a psychological level, the communicative engages with the interpersonal, with relationships between people, this time they turn their gaze inwards, on the intra-personal, on the self.
The exhibition at Barbé-Urbain Gallery combines different techniques and materials and can be seen as a form of total installation. A multitude of mundane materials – including plastic, rubber, glass, and epoxy – form the starting point for works that resemble photography, but are also sometimes more like minimalist sculptures, or large-scale visual interventions in the space.
The core of the exhibition is formed by a series also titled ‘Am I Ready Now?’, in which the duo explores the idea of the ‘self’. The works consist of seven different prints featuring a single portrait of the same person, placed in layers, one on top of another. Each work in the series is composed of the same portraits of the same person, but arranged in a different order. The portraits, which are reminiscent of the South African artist Marlene Dumas, have something insignificant about them and at the same time something penetrating. Each print is produced at very low density, to the point that the images need to be layered in order for the face to be seen. The result is a series of images that question the way we imagine ourselves and how we think others perceive us.
The work raises questions about the accuracy of our perception. Do others see us as we see ourselves? Does changing your appearance ever have the result you want it to? Will others see you as you want them to, or will they come to their own conclusions? And when you consciously seek to alter this perception, does it have the desired effect? Will you ever be satisfied? Will you ever feel complete?
The London-based duo of Sofie Middernacht (°1985, Aalst) and Maarten Alexander (°1990, Rotterdam) have carved out a successful career in recent years as photographers, working for magazines like Wallpaper* and for fashion houses such as Gucci and Rick Owens. They came together to form an artistic duo in 2016, a union that allows them to transcend the boundaries of the medium of photography, combining content that remains consistent, while continuing to adopt and adapt a versatile range of different materials. Their work is situated at the crossroads of spatial installation, photography, and sculpture.
Opening : Saturday 1 February, 5pm - 10pm