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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Slap Bang Wallop

I promised you all something intelligent, instead I wrote about how I don't know anything about rock, got a few band names wrong and put up some pictures of clothes and textiles. So here is my attempt at an intelligent sounding piece of art-spiel.

Nicolai Howalt's Car Crash Series is a collection of photographs studying the aftermath of car crashes and what seem to be potentially fatal accidents involving cars (no, really?). While Howalt does photograph 3 different sides to the car crash; the interiors of the cars post crash, the airbags during inflation and after inflation, it is the final collection that sparked my interest. The sub-set titled Abstraction explores the lethal crashes effects on the body-work of the cars, and transforms the twisted and chewed metal into rich, poignant landscapes, that even outside of their context of the crash somehow seem morose.

It is because of this strange emotion attached to these abstractions that I can't decide where exactly Howalt's work sits, is it documentary photography? Or do the complex ideologies and concepts attached to each image tear it away from this genre and pull each photo into modern abstract art or perhaps even installation work. Indeed, Howalt's pieces while beautiful independent of their context, can only truly be appreciated for their depth when the contexts are understood.

The destructive beauty of each of Howalt's Abstraction photographs forces the viewer to explore their own emotions in reaction to the consequences that lead to this photograph being possible. We all know that for this beauty to exist, something terrible must have happened. While we don't know fully the extent to which the crash caused pain and loss, I find myself instantly assuming that nothing bad could have happened, even though the evidence here overwhelmingly supports an alternative view. Howalt's work forces us to face the duality of this situation, we are presented with something beautiful that has a horrific past. Are we as spectators, willing to forget that past to appreciate the beauty of the present?

For me however, half of the beauty of each piece lies in their terrible context, and so separating the two feels nigh impossible. Without the sense of sorrow and dread behind each photograph, there is nothing to juxtapose the lively bright colours and sharp textures with, and so the depth of each photo is lost. Without their context, the photographs don't provoke any thought, and it is the fact that I could stare at each photograph for hours on end without reaching a conclusion that makes each so interesting and therefore beautiful to me. 

To see more of Howalt's wonderful Car Crash series visit his website, where you can also find other collections by the artist and an impressive list of his shows.

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