Beyond Reality

Ludovico Pratesi (ITA version)

In a passage of La Camera Lucida, his famous essay entirely centered on photography, Roland Barthes talks about the subversive character of this expressive technique which reaches its climax, “not when it frightens, repels or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks”.

It is an expressive language which not only corroborates reality through images, but it is also able to evoke other possibilities of perception of the photographed subject through different paths of interpretation, transcending the visible to suggest terrains, which are different and of a conceptual, poetic or philosophical nature.

Through this concept Barthes emphasizes the ability of the photographic language to interpret the world through the eye of the photographer, who doesn’t restrict himself to a mere capture of a subject through the lens, but enriches its meaning by taking an image that suggest the opening of a horizon, in a semantic and symbolic sense.

Thus he creates an open but ambiguous work, which requires the observer to exercise his mental ability and develop all its new potentialities, on the border between visible and invisible, reality and vision.

In other words Barthes’ “ pensive” photography escapes from the need to reproduce reality and charges it with new ways of meaning, which actively involve the observer not just visually but intellectually.

As Susan Sontag suggests, “ Photography has become one of the main devices to experience something, to bestow a semblance of involvement”. Irene Kung’s quest fits perfectly in the category of pensive photography, as Barthes would say, both in a formal and conceptual sense.

The monumental architecture captured by the artist in many cities of the world, such as Paris, Buenos Aires, Rome, New York and most recently Pesaro, are portrayed in a dimension which is suspended almost as in a dream state.

Looking closely, these seemingly trite subjects actually reveal a series of details of an eerie accuracy, that pushes to the limit the high level of realism typical of the lens, and transforms them, as the French philosopher Paul Virilio would put it, in “stereo real”.

It makes everything almost tactile, the perspectives of a bridge on the river Thames, the shining, reflecting transparencies of the Maxxi museum in Rome, or the rows of bricks of the Palazzo Ducale in Pesaro. In its cold and ruthless ability to focus on every little detail, photography gives us the chance to dissect the subject portrayed in that very moment, which Irene Kung knows and exalts at the highest levels.

Yet, despite the hyperrealism of every photo, this work requires us to adventure beyond what is visible, advancing into the magic terrain of the imagination.

Her work requires a mental rather than a visual involvement, suggested by a decontextualization of the places seen by the artist, who carries them into another dimension. In this sense Kung’s poetics step away from that of the artists of the Dusseldorf school such as Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff or Candida Hofer.

Although her eye is captured by urban architecture, Kung doesn’t exalt their eerie and kaleidoscopic complexity. Instead she takes them into a magic and lunar sphere. Kung emphasizes the symbolic character of icons, representative of the city, stripping them of all their mundane features. She draws them out of the context of streets, cars, passersby, trees and houses and projects them into the pure and essential visual field of the eye, which can at last express its symbolic inner essence and deepest poetics. She brings her subjects to our attention in a pure and straightforward manner, to make their understanding more immediate as symbols of an urban identity divided in layersthrough centuries of history.

To our eyes she makes them more human but also more secretive. Closer but unapproachable. She projects them in the innermost and endless universe of our mind, inspiring us to meditate about their nature and their meaning.

So we have seen how ephemeral the visual limits are, which the artist replaces with the expert use of chiaroscuro, combined with fantastic but evocative inserts, through small distortions achieved with the help of new digital technology. Now these symbolic subjects surface from a deep and warm darkness, which allow us to see their features as they establish new and infinite images in our mind. Terribly familiar and magically unfamiliar at the same time. Suspended beyond time and space. Beyond reality, looking for a new reality. One that our eye will keep in the innermost space of our memory. Through this work, Irene Kung shows the soul of monuments distant from collective history and close to everyone’s personal memory. Stopping time through timeless images.