Counterpoint: The Clarity of Costas Picadas
by Donald Brackett
“The photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
The magic lantern we know as the camera first delivered a shockingly real reproduction of reality as early as 1827 by the French artist Joseph Niepce. Over almost two centuries, its startling conveyor belt of aesthetic growth (from glass to tin plates to paper prints) continued apace to include depictions of actual movement in cinema, then the cathode screen and eventually today’s digital computer terminal. Enter Picadas.
Welcome to the future history of photography: a utopia of pure images, a somewhat surreal realm in which our presumed yet arbitrary borderlines between the real and the imagined are deftly erased by the aesthetic prowess and technical skill of the artist. These splendidly pale gems are chromogenic prints, colloquially known as c-prints, but they are digital c-prints, where the image content is exposed through lasers rather than chemicals. Created in limited editions of five, with variable scales, and face-mounted to plexiglass, they are also invitations to a fresh kind of visual experience, one consisting of crystal clear clarity.
What Arbus did for faces and figures, the Greek-born and New York-based Picadas seems to do for places and buildings: he reveals their inner essence by rubbing gently on their surface qualities to unearth from beneath their architectural facades either their secret countenance or their psychic landscape. His dream-like vistas, with portions either fading into or out of diffused optical focus, offer the viewer a whole new and vastly expansive dimension of hidden significance. They are retinal balms that soothe the weary eyes of our digital age, and yet they too are also digital gifts, pulling us into the otherworldly architectonic realm of the everyday world we inhabit.
Picadas, who grew up in Athens before studying in Paris and eventually gravitating to the ultimate conceptual country of America, has wholeheartedly embraced the work of art in the age of digital reproduction, to update Walter Benjamin’s fine study of the visual aura. He masterfully uses technology, including photoshop techniques, to push photography towards its next frontier: the photograph as a seductive phantom in a meticulously designed zone of precisely calibrated ethereal visions. The subtle power of their visual charms is often quite breathtaking: they evoke the very core phenomenology of photography itself.
The three principal bodies of work presented here, the Aether, Hyperbola and Voids series respectively, all beckon us into a totally familiar and yet utterly alien nexus of humanly inhabited netherhoods. They explore a domain reconstructed from the raw materials of our world yet transmuted through the artist’s imagination into new world, one at once inviting and forbidding in its austere elegance. He unveils a sequence of mysteriously lux-collaged urban landscapes whose inhabitants seem to have abandoned their dwelling places and vanished into time.
His oneiric (from the original Greek word for dream) vistas provide literal expression of the original meaning of the word photo-graphis: writing or drawing with light, in this case, with hyper-precise laser light. These three bodies of work are veritable celebrations of clarity itself as content. Being what I might call an imagineer, an engineer of images, his aesthetic agenda is a very straightforward one: “I like to create emotions in the viewer, which are then followed by their asking of certain questions. While considering these questions, the viewer can experience a kind of stopping of time: it is when time stops that magic starts, and with it, the open opportunity for enlightenment begins.”
Aether, a classical element in Greek mythology, was thought to be a material filling the lofty regions of the universe above the terrestrial sphere, an upper sky which also filled every speck of matter in both space and throughout time. It personifies the universal substance. The great thing about enlightenment is the fact that it can also often be so damn entertaining, as in the calm splendour of “Aether 3” and “Aether 6” for instance, with their mysterious dolmen-like stone and ghostly shed with no entrance. These are liminal, or threshold experiences par excellence.
Hyperbola, in classical mathematics, is a type of smooth curve lying in a plane and is one of three kinds of conic sections formed by the intersection of a plane and a cone. The original Greek word means over-thrown or excessive, as in extremis or at the very limit of potential encounter. “Hyperbola 3” and “Hyperbola 11” each register a cool-headed variety of extremity however, with their box-like structures confounding the concept of interior or exterior and also offering up a perplexing riddle of reflections.
Voids, especially the cosmic kind, are vast spaces between filaments which contain very few or no galaxies, and as such they have come to be associated with vacuums or emptiness and space without matter. Far from actually being empty however, they form the supporting basis for which anything at all can ever exists. As such, his “Voids 11” and “Voids 4”, throb with the paradox of offering more than one void: a tree, rock and wall interacting with their surroundings and baked by a sunlight so intense it scorches our vision. Likewise “Voids 6” and Voids 1” also create a theatrical stage set feeling where a recurring character in his works, “the wall”, is an actor in a dramatic monologue for silent stone voices.
For Roland Barthes, each photograph was a veritable “certificate of presence”, one which embodies time in a spatial manner. Equally true of Picadas is the mesmerizing fact of being a document of absence, in which any trace of habitation is willfully withheld. I suspect this is because we ourselves, as the viewers, are the only dwellers in this serene and spooky reverie-soaked domain. Besides, all the potential human dwellers of these agora-like spaces appear to have collected together all at once into one spectacularly funneled crowd scene in the figure-filled “Hyperbola 2”.
The stillness in these exquisite images makes it difficult for me not to be reminded of the poet Goethe’s charming definition, that music is liquid architecture and architecture is frozen music. This artist appears to be exploring what is known as the architectural uncanny, structures both very familiar yet alien, witnessed as in a waking swoon using the polysensorial gaze: a visual experience that stimulates both the senses and the intellect simultaneously. Thus, his photographs feel to me like melting timescapes, since they so clearly examine what Bachelard called the poetics of space.
These three principal bodies of work also convey to us the allure of three other ancient Greek concepts: Apeiron: that which is limitless, boundless, indefinite, and without boundary; Aletheia: a personification of the unconcealed, a symbol of disclosure and truth; and Kairos: meaning the right, critical and opportune moment, there being two words for time, chronos (sequential time) and kairos (the right time for action).
Picadas images are all about the poised magic of kairos, perhaps especially the boldly quiet interlopers in this curated selection, the sudden bursts of colour contained in two pieces referencing Tachyons, hypothetical particles that move faster than light and contravene the known laws of physics, and Quarks, a type of elementary particle making up the constituency of all matter everywhere.
Thus “Tachyon 13” and “Quark Tunneling 14” both bring us back by circuitous navigation to the realm of the optical unconscious: a subtle place where painting first intersects with technology, and they do indeed resemble theatrical painterly excursions into an alternate reality. As I see it, his primary artistic interest is how to bridge the gap between inner and outer reality by reestablishing the dynamic equilibrium that governs their relationships.
As he himself puts it so very well, “In my photographs I examine and reveal the ways in which one can freeze both space and time by re-contextualizing different parts of reality and recombining them in new ways. The result is that both objects, and even situations, can be transformed into a kind of sculpture, providing us access to new knowledge about the nature of our reality.”
In keeping with that basic photographic tenet but also uniquely distinguished from it, in the case of Costas Picadas, his photographs are still secrets about a secret, except the less they show us, the more we know.
Costas Picadas’ Breathing series is part of an ongoing exploration of metaphysical textures in the universe. Inspired by a biblical passage that suggests breath is what powers all life, the artist investigates this possibility in all matter. From building installations to individual moving images, the Breathing series imitates patterns of human breath that embody a deep dimensional expression. Comprised of multiple layers that shift and twist, and emerge and recede, the artist symbolically examines quantum physics theories of expansion and contraction of the universe. Through abstract imagery and hand-painted particles, each monochromatic picture offers a distinct breathing pattern. While some particles cyclically push forward and float back in measured counts, others surge ahead with a burst of energy, only to decompose into empty space. Flickering in between hints of focus and galactic swirls, Breathing series aligns itself with the process of transformation, tracking energy as it changes metabolisms.
Costas Picadas’ photographs are an exploration of science, philosophy, light and energy. His ethereal images capture a morphing universe comprised of abstracted forms, vibrating particles, and floating fragments. Working primarily with a monochrome palette, Picadas blurs internal and external space through stunning dimensional expression.
_ Heather Zesis
VIEW BOOK 'QUARK TUNNELING'
Indepth Arts News:
"Investigations, an exhibition of photographs by Costas Picadas" 2000-07-19 until 2000-10-25 Queens Museum of Art Queens, NY, USA
The Queens Museum of Art presents Investigations, an exhibition of photographs by Costas Picadas, July 19th through October 25th in the museum’s satellite gallery at the Bulova Corporate Center located in Jackson Heights, Queens. Widely exhibited in Europe, this is Picadas’ first solo exhibition in the United States.
Investigations is a unique compilation of photographs with an unusual origin. Their initial function was to assess and document the legitimacy of insurance claims involving property damage. Picadas manages to create unique imagery filled with artistic charm in his efforts to provide conclusive evidence of such damage, identify cause, and verify the authenticity of the claims.
The exhibition consists of six large scale (40 x 60 and 30 x 40 inches each) color prints in diptychs or triptychs. Although Picadas does not manipulate his photographs in the usual sense, his work can be seen as an extension of the genre of constructed photography that began in the 1980s and is practiced by such artists as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, and Gregory Crewdson. He appropriates existing images, taking them out of their original context, and re-mixes them into fictive narratives.
A native of Greece, Picadas studied at the Ecole National Superieur des Beaux Arts and Ecole du Louvre, both located in Paris. He has displayed his works throughout Europe and has authored two books- Septenaire and Nomades. In addition, one of his works was included in the P.S. 1 exhibition Crisscross.