Michael Flomen – Jennifer Couëlle

[Fall 1995]

Galerie Vox, Montreal
May 27 to June 25 1995

Elegance is what first comes to mind when crossing the threshold of Galerie Vox where Montreal artist Michael Flomen has exhibited a series of twelve black-and-white photographs under the title Imminent Ground. The type of elegance that comes from assurance, from the combination of a well-defined subject-matter, the resolution of its formal presentation, and technical mastery. Flomen’s landscapes, which look more like moonscapes, but are in fact snowscapes, are convincing. They are a world of detail come to life through an astutely dramatic use of framing and lighting.

Representations of eroded matter-at times blatantly abstract (when shot at very close range) and at others, theatrically figurative (not unlike photographer Holly King’s staged and surreal landscapes of the 1980s) – appear to exist in silence, enveloped by an aura of insistent and somewhat disquieting mystery. Mounds of soiled snow set against richly darkened moonlit skies (for the most) take on various topographical features. And although one can sense the contrived character of Flomen’s desolate three-dimensional environments, artificially isolated and seemingly enlarged by the camera’s varying viewpoints, the very material from which they are modelled (snow) is plainly natural. The dialogue between nature and culture is constant. And it is undoubtedly in the subtle and imaginative manner of representing this relentless dialogue that lies the strength of this artist’s work (recalling a similar sensitivity in the oblique yet poignant rapport between man and his environment in the photographs of Pierre Blache [see CVphoto no 31]).

While some of the more figurative images add to the effect of a pervasively soiled environment by discreetly revealing extraneous elements, such as what appears to be the grid-cover of a sewer (White Plains, 1995), a piece of crumpled cloth (Day, 1994), or other objects conjuring up the idea of garbage, images such as Manhattan (1994) or the starry, jewellike Field (1994) simply emphasize the formal and inherently abstract qualities of the snow itself. In the latter, more markedly minimalist, nature appears as an awe-inspiring element worthy of aesthetic contemplation. And then there is the melted “snow sculpture” Friend (1994), an anthropomorphic representation halfway between a portrait by Arcimboldo or Modigliani, a geometrical construction imbued with humour and a distinct feeling of gentleness – an unusual feat for a pile of dirty snow… Somewhere between minimalism and surrealism, between geometrical and lyrical abstraction, Flomen’s photographs prod the imaginary for a more lucid take on reality. The meandering means this artist adopts to put forth his commentary on the subjugation and annihilation of nature by culture is remarkably refreshing.