Sleight: Clare Strand

Sleight: Clare Strand
Brancolini Grimaldi Gallery, London
27th May until 2nd July 2011

The Italian gallery owners Isabella Brancolini and Camilla Grimaldi recently opened their new gallery space in the centre of London. Located on the first floor of the building on 43–44 Albermarle Street, Mayfair, the gallery can be easy to miss from street level. Brancolini Grimaldi specialises in contemporary photography and video, making it an important place to visit for any photographer. The director, Brandei Estes, brings her previous experience at the Michael Hoppen gallery to this venue.

The show ‘Sleight’, by the British photographer Clare Strand, takes as its apparent subject the magic tricks of the stage magician. Two new bodies of work are added to a selection of images from previous series. An obvious starting point for this show could be ‘Ten Least Most Wanted’, a selection of cuttings from Strand’s research notebooks. Displayed in cabinets at the centre of the gallery, these fragments are encased in clear acrylic blocks. What we see though is not what Strand selected for the scrapbook - the research evidence - but instead we are presented with the backs of these cuttings. We are denied access to information and so left to imagine what is hidden from view.

Strand’s work is based in the factual domains of forensic photography and instruction manuals, and her photographs take on this aesthetic. There is a deadpan delivery of the facts in her typology of tables titled ‘Skirts’. The tables are empty; there is nothing to see. The photographs could be recording the beginning of an event or perhaps the end, unless the action is hidden beneath the tables and under the cloths. The illusions a photographer creates (like those of a stage performer) could be the subject here: a photographer goes under the cloth behind the camera to conjure up an illusion, first in the camera and then in the darkroom.

Photography can be a truthful report or a magic trick. Maybe the subject of this exhibition then is not the magic of the stage performer but the tricks that photography can play. Tricks are explored in earlier photographs and video pieces by Strand. ‘Aerial Suspension’ (2009) and ‘Girl in Two Halves’ (2008) are classic magic tricks presenting a girl floating in mid-air or seemingly sawn in half. Four video pieces (‘Conjurations Films’) explore similar themes but in these the magic is reproduced by moving images (the video pieces can be viewed on Strand’s website www.clarestrand.co.uk), Some of Strand’s photographs are more obscure. In ‘Unseen Agents’ it is uncertain what is going on and what will happen next.

The photograph as document promises to reveal all, but as Strand demonstrates through concealment and absence, a photograph can also mislead us. There is perhaps a nod to the Surrealists in Strand’s work but as David Campany points out, ‘…she is a photographer whose primary context is the medium itself…’(Aperture Fall 2010). ‘Sleight’ is not about magic tricks but about how we can be tricked by the evidence of the photographic report.
Stephen Clarke

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