UK based Writer & Photographer Cameron Williamson explores Rebecca Scheinberg’s series – Tohu va Bohu, representing one viewers unique understanding and interpretation of the images.
Washing tablets in beguiling lagoon hues, colourless pills between white fingers decorated in textureless red nails, hollowed windscreens forming a web of glacial tinged cracks. These lures punctuate the darkness, materialising into forms we recognise in the work of Australian born photographer, Rebecca Scheinberg. Her series, Tohu va Bohu, shows what emerges from the formless black void, as if light was given again. The work references the book of Genesis from which the title originates; ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters’. Yet in the commotion these images continue their perpetual performance, past the confusion, and on into the black.
The actual translation of Tohu va Bohu varies, which becomes interesting when considering the dualistic existence of both the relatable and the distanced realities within the works. Scheinberg is presenting us with meticulously constructed scenes that could well be hyperreal monuments at the edge of a precipice of a consumerist world; where lipstick rises from a ghostly salt lake, where the boundaries of such a platform are made up of the crumpled and cracked metal flaking at the folds. It is as if Scheinberg is drawing together an entire world of these commodity objects and attesting to them being total manifestations of a process of production.
Her application of the advertising image draws comparison with the work of American artist Christopher Williams. Known for using the language of advertising against itself, he attaches traces of a movement away from a sublime, indicated by the dirt on a models feet, the moles on the body of a lingerie model, or the bruises and blemishes on apples. Scheinberg, however, seems to utilise the advertising image for generating a desire for the tactile and perfect, to reconfigure it in way that presents us with an image far beyond what we would expect of these objects, imagined or otherwise. The images remain remote to us, familiar yet intangible, seductive and unsettling. As we try to align ourselves with them, they recede from this encounter further towards objects of desire, restricted by this unapproachable threshold to always be desirable. One suggestion for why this distance emerges is that the images are being perceived as superlative objects, thus applying Roland Barthes’ notion from The New Citroen; as ‘perfect and without origin, unimaginably smooth and held together by their wondrous shape’.
Smoothness is always an attribute of perfection, as it’s opposite reveals a technical and typically human assembly of parts. But this smoothness pervades the obvious textural association in Scheinberg’s work. It becomes associated not just with the body, but with the landscapes of multiple surfaces able to trap light. One of the large scale prints in her arrangement is a flower bouquet. It is lit in such a way so that its original colour display completely recedes from perception; instead it is rendered in hues of cyan and magenta, working its way through to an ominous, deep red. The inability to locate and distinguish these new casts from the original, presents us with a new object free of a production process. A bouquet that could have been rendered and produced by a 3D printer is now infinitely reproducible.
As objects, such as these flowers, are pulled away from their context by the operation of photography out into Scheinberg’s dark world of things, their use value dies. This allows the estranged objects to be entered into a ‘visual flotsam’, of floating pieces that suggests a wreckage. This is echoed in the arrangement of the work in exhibition, where images of differing sizes lean against one another, partially concealing others. It suggests a type of ecology of images where the relation is key, but also where the narrative that is usually associated with photography is fragmented.
Therefore the viewer encounters the images as a kind of web of associations, where one imagines multiple shifts in this web taking place on repeated viewing of the work; the threads that stretch between the physical blackness and the spacial distance forming themselves from unattainable desire, confusion and continual dissatisfaction. Consequently, there exists a constant, overarching chance that the darkness bordering the print could steal the content back into it, and in this way the blackness that surrounds much of the work is tumultuous and chaotic, akin to the world described as Tohu va Bohu.
Cameron Wilson is a freelance writer and photographer. He is currently studying photography at London College of Communication and wrote this article for Wandering Bears – 2016.