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Art review: Shi Guorui at L&M

August 18, 2011 |  7:00 pm

  Shi Guorui, "Times Square New York"
Internal contradictions abound in photographer Shi Guorui’s first L.A. show, at L&M. His work oscillates between the conventional and the spectacular, lulling even as it seduces. Five of the six large prints are elevated views of expansive cityscapes: New York, Las Vegas, Shanghai. Each subject possesses its own inherent drama of scale and density that the Beijing-based Shi does little, compositionally, to enhance or accentuate.

He does, however, use a photographic process that lends these scenes remarkable presence. Each is a unique print made in a camera obscura, a dark, room-sized chamber with a pinhole aperture in one wall and a sheet of light-sensitive paper affixed opposite. Exposures take several hours, at least, and after developing, yield an image with tonal values reversed. The effect is marvelously destabilizing, as of a ghostly X-ray of an urban body, a negative imprint drawn in ash, charcoal, ink and bone. Daytime skies are a uniform flat black, daunting backdrops to searing white signs and structures. The length of the exposures cancels out nearly all record of motion, yet the stillness buzzes. The pictures are palpable traces of psychological extremes — post-apocalyptic gloom and manic gleam.

The photographs have too much in common with the monumental work of Vera Lutter and too little resonance with the qualities that he says drew him to working with a camera obscura a dozen years ago, after surviving a serious car accident. Spending long stretches enclosed in the camera's darkness afforded him meditational intimacy. It affirmed in him the value of slowness, and a fundamental gratitude for life, which led to him titling this series, "Rebirth."

-- Leah Ollman

L&M Arts, 660 Venice Blvd., Venice, (310) 821-6400, through Sept. 2. Closed Saturday and Sunday during summer.

Image: Shi Guorui, "Times Square New York"; credit: Joshua White/JWPictures