Almost There by Aleix Plademunt; MACK and Ca l’Isidret Edicions 2013

Printed Matters

Almost There by Aleix Plademunt; MACK and Ca l’Isidret Edicions 2013

By Amelia Rina February 26, 2014

From artists' monographs to beach reads, "Printed Matters" offers a monthly take by a rotating group of contributors on visual art through the printed word.


In 1909, a man named John mailed a postcard to Miss Essie Turner that she never received. On the back of the card, John scrawled a brief message in cursive: “Dear Friend. Am on my way to the south. John.” He addressed it to Miss Turner in Grindstone, MI, but the post-office stamp shows it was sent instead to Gladstone, MI. The message never reached Miss Turner; instead, 101 years later, it entered the possession of Aleix Plademunt. The enigmatic and extremely tardy postcard sparked Plademunt’s exploration of time, space, and place, culminating in the photo book Almost There.

The individual images may or may not be immediately recognizable, but through the combinations, their significance ignites like the explosion from a door opened to a burning room starved of oxygen.

The influence of the postcard’s arrival could never be synthesized by human intention. You cannot force that kind of serendipity, and you cannot escape it. In André Breton’s 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism, he quoted Charles Baudelaire’s remark that man does not evoke Surrealist images; rather, “they come to him spontaneously, despotically. He cannot chase them away, for the will is powerless and no longer controls the faculties.”1 While Breton and Baudelaire were referring to images within the mind, the appearance of the postcard in Plademunt’s life can be equated to the same reception of unexpected images, resulting in an inescapable captivation of the mind and a need to express them. Breton continues to describe the combination of two “distant realities” with the complete absence of premeditation or consciousness: "It is, as it were, from the fortuitous juxtaposition of the two terms that a particular light has sprung, the light of the image, to which we are infinitely sensitive. The value of the light depends upon the beauty of the spark obtained; it is, consequently, a function of the difference of potential between the two conductors."2

In the pages of Almost There, Plademunt juxtaposes photographs with varying degrees of discordance, revealing the “light of the images.” The individual images may or may not be immediately recognizable, but through the combinations, their significance ignites like the explosion from a door opened to a burning room starved of oxygen.

Presented with a quasi-scientific aesthetic, the photographs include an inventory of objects, interstellar space, abandoned natural and urban landscapes, and vacant interiors. Plademunt expertly edited the sequence, alternating full-bleed spreads and white borders, allowing the images to transition from more conventional illustrations to the illusion of three-dimensionality. His use of white backgrounds when photographing the individual objects not only references collections of specimens, it also creates a trompe l’œil effect, as if the item were really there, while the use of black-and-white film simultaneously negates the realistic materiality. A rough, tetrahedral rock sits on an invisible plane that opens as a gatefold to an image of John’s postcard, the drop shadow giving the illusion of it floating just off of the page. A small portrait of a young man floats on an otherwise all-white, two-page spread, as if in a scrapbook, his facial expression stuck somewhere between cheerful and uncertain. A configuration of three 4,900-year-old bones found in a cave in Catalunya, arranged on a white background, mirror the oblong shape of Andromeda pictured on the facing page. A larger-than-life, preternaturally black fly lies dead next to an ominous photograph of an oddly tall and narrow door, slightly ajar. These pieces of evidence work to draw the viewer in and complicate the space depicted in the book. We forget if what we see is an object, a photograph of an object, or a photograph of a photograph.

With the exception of one portrait toward the end of the book, the absence of human characters in the spaces saturates the work with the sensation of an extraterrestrial scientist’s visual diary, recording the experience of trying to make sense of the remnants of Earth after some event wiped out all other humans. Plademunt treats the landscapes with a democratic appreciation of the potential for fruitful narrative even in seemingly dull scenery. Through a consistent tone of melancholic isolation, the images glow with the insinuations of hidden meaning. The viewer travels in and out of spaces, looking for clues to explain what is going on. The experience is not unfamiliar to many of us, but through Plademunt’s presentation, it becomes dramatized and otherworldly, as if in a dreamlike state where, upon waking, the dreamer can only remember fragments of what was just experienced. Breton wrote: “Memory alone arrogates itself the right to excerpt from dreams, to ignore the transitions, and to depict for us rather a series of dreams than the dream itself.”3 It is as if Plademunt isolated the subconscious from the conscious and we as viewers are privy only to fragments of disconnected memories of a much broader and expansive experience. The most we can do is play detective with the materials at hand.

Plademunt could never predict that he would come across the postcard from John to Miss Turner, its presence snapping into being like the “luminous phenomenon” described by Breton. Nevertheless, Almost There should not be mistaken as an unintentional exercise like the hallucinatory automatic writing lauded by the Surrealists. The book displays precision and sophisticated specificity in the relationships both between the images in sequence and in the book as a whole. Plademunt crafted the photographs to function as clues to secrets about the universe and our travels through it, without ever giving away enough to completely demystify the chaos.

Notes

  1. André Breton, Manifestos of Surrealism (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1977), 36.
  2. Ibid., 37.
  3. Ibid., 11.

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