The place around us is shifting.
There is never just one sense of time that prevails – especially in the art-making process. What the audience sees in the gallery is the result of a constellation of objects, images, ideas, and sounds that push and pull against each other for meaning. The best artists allow for this conflict to happen, distill it into an art experience, and then hope for even more conflicts to take place with the audience – something we often call “dialogue.”
The U8 photographic series by Sheffield-based artist Victoria Lucas negotiates this process through the use of compare and contrast. It starkly juxtaposes function, memory, time, and place through images of unpopulated subway staircases. The objective truth is that the U8 subway line in Berlin, Germany has 24 stops, is 11.8 miles long, travels north-south, was originally called the D-line, and is home to numerous secret unused stations and tunnels. It is part of one of the most complex and efficient subway systems in the world which according to Wikipedia has a daily ridership of 1,360,000.
When I think back to when I lived in Berlin in 2002, the U8 conjures images of Turks, Americans, Brits, Kenyans, and native Germans – a real “Ich bin Berliner” sensibility. The train and its ridership remind me that Berlin is a metropolitan city above all else; it is a place where people live so that they can chase ideas and dreams. For anyone who has been to Berlin, they know that subway system and its staircases are integral to how the city functions.
But Lucas’ staircases are empty. By focusing her imagery on the built environment, the work moves away from what the story is to what the story could be. This idea of potential complicates how the audience is to infer intent from Lucas. With or without knowing the pre-text of Berlin, the images fall into the territory of ambiguity. Why is this place abandoned? What do the signs of life (graffiti, trash, electricity) indicate or reflect? Is this monument or narrative?
In the end, we need only to realize that memory is curated and therefore is always wrong just as it is always right. Either way, it cannot be trusted as objective. But while memory is fallible, it is true and necessary to how we interpret things. As such, it is essential to how we develop our perceptions. It is in the space between the interpretations where interruptions such as Lucas’ work lives.
As a point of understanding, everything in this work deals with transition despite its stillness. The emptiness of the photographs emphasizes the ephemeral nature of experience. The nature of the metropolis – that being, the large-scale community – paradoxically dictates that people must consistently engage with one another in order to make decisions to that will compel us to leave those same people, situations, places, events, ideas, and so on.
In March 2013, Lucas will come to Philadelphia for ten days and photograph staircases along the Market-Frankford subway line. In April 2013, she will present three of these images alongside three U8 images at Grizzly Grizzly for her exhibition, Interruptions. This exhibition furthers her investigation by extending her site to a global scale; drawing parallel similarities and differences between cultures.
Grizzly Grizzly is a Philadelphia-based artist collective with monthly exhibitions and programming. As practicing artists ourselves, we hope to create innovative shows by playing with our own curation process. With Lucas’ exhibition, we saw the opportunity to pair two cities, Berlin and Philadelphia, and to create a dialog about memory and the built environment through a very still aesthetic.
We view the work that we do at the gallery as an extension of our individual artistic practices. Utilizing many of the same creative problem-solving skills that we use in our artwork, our intimate understanding of the studio drives our discourse.
We would like to thank Victoria Lucas for sharing this body of work with us.
Grizzly Grizzly, Philadelphia, PA