Margaret Street Gallery is back on form with ‘Today I’ve Been You’ by Christian Vogt. A mini retrospective of sorts, the show explores some of the main creative strands of this renowned Swiss artist photographer’s latter career. Vogt has been active since the sixties and, though still clearly prolific, there is the sense of an artist nearing the twilight of his career here. With this show Vogt has curated a series of connections and juxtapositions between different recent projects, thus creating a coherent overview of a singular vision.
The display in the main space positions several works from his ‘Skintones’ series, in which cryptic but sentimental messages are printed onto flesh, next to either landscapes or other abstracted fragments of the body. A decaying canvas on which a body had been painted greets the visitor in one instance. All presented in muted grayscale, there is a pleasing consistency, both aesthetic and thematic, binding these disparate elements and materials together. Scales differ, as do pairings and presentation.
(See Top Photo)
It’s not immediately clear, but what seems to link this work is a bleached opacity, a purity that masks a wealth of emotions and existential longing. Vogt’s imagery emerges out of light and not darkness, but what saves it from the trap of sentimentality it teeters so close to, is the sense of a rugged, forceful spirituality underpinning a delicate and light collection of images. If this sounds vague it is because the quality of the work rests on a silent ambivalence that is essentially indefinable. Light then, in both senses of the term, but weighty.
In his accompanying exhibition notes Vogt states :
‘Some of the works deal with the ‘skin’ – perhaps the most intimate of surfaces.
It is that which separates inside from outside.
The concept of polarity has been influential in my work – the polarity of “inside” and “outside” perhaps the most continuous…’
In contrasting his materials, hinting at the spirituality of a mountain range and carnal skin as canvas for the interior, Vogt makes of photography an accomplice in the slippage between what one sees and what one feels. These images rather than show, merely illustrate what cannot be seen.
This is an end of career show in which drawing from a large body of work allows the artist to present the undercurrents of his or her career. It’s inspirational to see such idealistic work in an age when to aspire to purity is frowned upon, and especially from an artist advancing in years. Work from other projects, equally poignant, is on display on the lower ground floor so be sure not to miss it if you visit. Highly recommended.
Words and Installation Images by Kerim Aytac
‘Christian Vogt :Today I’ve Been You’ @ Maragaret Street Gallery until July 6