Tactile Photography

As we advance into the era of 3D printing, where everything from airplane parts to household items to entire houses is being “printed” to specification, the art of digital photography, which renders the three-dimensional plane into two, may begin to seem antiquated to those growing up in this age of robotics. However, no matter the level of technological advancement, even the best robotics couldn’t create The Starry Night without the preset for the imagination that was van Gogh’s or an Ansel Adams landscape as only his eye could.

Artists continue to challenge the limitations of photography’s two-dimensional plane through digital and analog innovations, including 360º apps, lenticular and holographic displays, and sculptures that extend photos out of the frames. It’s difficult for artists who work with photography to find collaborators who will help them transcend the limitations of how an image can be presented. Ever since my work with Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol in the ’60s, I’ve made sure that Duggal serves as an art and science laboratory where artists can experiment freely without worrying about material or substrate constraints, and I’m happy to count many photographers who have challenged the status quo as our clients. One such artist with whom we’re delighted to work is Kirsten Kay Thoen, whose recent exhibit “Plasmatik” opened at a trendy retail boutique in New York’s Soho.

A first glance at her installations reveals Kirsten to be an architect of photographs who engineers the balance between the spatial and the visual with crafted objects that seem both geological and gemological. Her photo sculptures, often illuminated from within, take on the forms of crystals, pyramids, quartz and volcanoes. By meticulously readapting each picture into a tactile physical form, Kirsten creates dual emphasis on the specificity of the place where the photo was taken and the universality of the shape in which it was crafted. Her technique takes her from photographing on site to returning to her studio to transform the images through drawing, prototyping and masking her original source images with templates of geometry to be assembled into forms. She uses plexiglass, metal and wood as structural elements, as well as 3D printing technology and casting/molding custom hardware to assemble image panels. The final pieces are illuminated from within, bringing an ethereal and almost altar-like symbolism to their installation.

Two of Kirsten’s interrelating pieces, “Crystalline Pendulum” & “Crystalline Pyramid,” resemble an abstract hour-glass that depicts ice crystals from a receding glacier in Iceland, which Kirsten captured in their final moments before being absorbed into the ocean. Another of her works, “Volcanic Nonagon,” transforms straightforward images of a volcanic boulder into multiple geometric planes that protrude from the surface of the wall as if floating in space and internally lit as if by an energetic power source from within. Together, Kirsten’s works create what she describes as a “personal cosmology exploring concepts of space, time and matter.”

Kirsten gives this tremendous insight into her work and her process: “My artwork is concerned with the impacts of a rampant digital culture and the dissociative effects of its inundation on everyday perceptions of nature and environment. Given the accelerating role images play in shaping contemporary experiences of nature, there is a heightened value in considering the physicality of images. I began to envision my images of natural sites and elements as having a life beyond their traditional two-dimensional planes, challenging the media’s capacity to embody its subject, while reworking my images into experiential sculptural forms.

“Through a process of embedding myself within phenomenal natural sites, such as California’s Redwood Forest and Kauai’s volcanic landscape, I extensively photograph the landscapes and their elements, returning to my Brooklyn studio to study. The images are methodically reworked into forms inspired by the nature they depict. Often the sculptural works incorporate transparent image panels, which are internally lit. This use of light within the work plays upon the atmospheric and energetic qualities of light within my images.

“My process reveals the photographic image is not the inherent end-point, but a catalyst for further contemplation, as I manifest nature-based imagery into symbolic forms. The fragmented nature of photography is made elicit and utilized as a tool. As I construct forms, geometry functions as a language for time, space and matter. I am interested in phenomenology and the mystical nature of chemical bonds. My work touches on the intersections between the material and immaterial. The photographic images are no longer depictions of nature, but vital forms of their own.”

Kirsten’s works have a metaphysical and a cosmological undertone. Their visceral appeal is so strong that it takes a very long gaze to decipher the layers of meaning embedded within the photographic content and the enveloping shape of the object that contains it. With clever use of industrial and contemporary materials, Kirsten uses futuristic technology to connect us back to our primitive relationship with nature.

As we continue to work with her, we’re grateful for the acknowledgement Kirsten gives us: “I have been working closely with Duggal from the moment I began transforming my images into dimensional forms. It did not take long for me to build lasting relationships and meaningful exchanges with Hope Savvides, my sales rep, and each department I work with. Duggal’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of the photographic medium and its investment in implementing sustainable technologies makes for an eloquent fit with my process. Last year I produced my first large-scale sculptures; it was crystal-clear that I would have been up against a wall without Duggal’s support and extensive capabilities.”

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