Imaginary View at Somerset House
Imaginary View is an exhibition of pieces created by photographer Dan Tobin Smith and designer Rachel Thomas – a pair who have already collaborated successfully for more than a decade, including on commercial commissions for companies like Orange and Stella Artois.
The show is currently on display at the West Wing Gallery of Somerset House, an exhibition space that emanates a feeling of tranquillity with its inclusion of period features and its peaceful setting away from the noise and bustle of the busy Strand. Subtitled A Photographic Folly, the exhibition consists of a body of photographs of polystyrene forms, which imitate architectural structures and details, including bridges, columns and archways.
Tobin Smith and Thomas’s inspirations for the pieces are described as including early 20th century Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico, as well as abandoned Hollywood film sets. But at a first glance it is the architecture of the Classical civilisations, in particular the Athenian Acropolis, that immediately springs to mind.
The photographs are monochromatic, but it’s hard to tell whether this is a result of them being shot and printed in greyscale or simply the effect of capturing the white of the polystyrene against a pale background. One exception is a piece in the second room where the composition is lit from below, causing the details to take on a romantic, slightly eerie glow.
The works convey a sense of purity. The polystyrene is clean and sharply cut with the camera picking up on the fine texture of its surface. The imagined cities are carefully composed from precariously balanced blocks, which will never fall as they exist in a suspended reality where no living thing can intervene.
The scenes display abandonment similar to post-apocalyptic photography, although the emptiness in these pieces isn’t saddening. The artists have created a serene world where the lack of human inhabitants is somehow natural and desirable. The sole purpose of a folly is to be admired, and the West Wing Gallery provides a tranquil and reflective environment in which to contemplate this in.
Imaginary View is at Somerset House until 9th February 2013. For further information or to book visit the gallery’s website here.