Arts Reviewer, Lizzie Kaye, shares her thoughts on Photofusion’s latest exhibition
Unsettled is the culmination of five years of work by photographer Isabelle Pateer. In her first UK show, currently hanging at Photofusion, Brixton, Pateer presents a series of images from her documentary project, which visualises the decline of the small villages and the reclaimed land near Antwerp port on the border of Belgium and the Netherlands.
The region is the victim of both the dramatic growth of the port and the economic crisis. Plans for industrial expansion were shelved, leaving the remaining inhabitants of the area on uncertain ground; especially as yet more residential land is swallowed up by the EU-mandated construction of nature reserves to offset the stuttering industrial growth.
Pateer captures the desolation and isolation of the area and people in a series of large-scale colour photographs using both portraits and landscapes. The exhibition is a clever mix that resonates because it plays to our sense of fascination with dying places. The landscape shots are undeniably beautiful, with a post-apocalyptic feel, though with a complete absence of any futuristic gloss. Looking at them, the feeling that life was abandoned here is very strong, despite the evidence to the contrary in the forms of power lines, cooling towers and other urban detritus.
Except life wasn’t abandoned. People still live here. In the portraits, the very human effect of such rapid industrial growth can be clearly seen. People stand in empty rooms still showing signs of the lives that were once lived in them, with the figures taking on an almost ghostly quality, as the bewildered remnants of a disappeared community. Two of the most powerful images were Car Box and Kirsten, the former appearing as a wilderness with a door into an alternate urban world, and the latter a beautiful portrait of a young woman standing in a river, perfectly framed by the government-ordered natural world that is making her home unlivable.
The exhibition gives plenty of room for these large prints to breathe, and allow the viewer to really absorb the delicacy of the imagery. Pateer has a lightness of touch and poetry to her photography that makes what appear to be the bleakest of images, such as Icons, seem almost romantic. With the clock tower of an old church framed by neatly stacked shipping containers, the impression is that the encroaching industrialisation is non-negotiable.
Any and all space will be given over to the pursuit of a capitalist ideal, whatever the cost. There is an acceptance in the images and, even in those portraying people, a stillness that suggests a pervading silence, as the sounds of human life fade in favour of an industry that has not materialized and a natural world that has not yet reclaimed what has been set aside for it. As a whole, the exhibition leaves you with a sense of detached melancholy, softened by the beauty of the images. It runs until 26 April and is definitely not to be missed.
Pateer’s works has been exhibited internationally, and has also appeared in IM magazine, View Magazine, Rearview Mirror and many other publications. In late 2013, a book will be released of Unsettled, which was also supported by a grant from the Dutch Fund Anna Cornelius. Pateer lives and works in Belgium and the Netherlands, and more information about her work can be found on her wesbite
Photofusion is the Brixton-based gallery and photographer’s space that provides a plethora of services, as well as exhibiting work from emerging artists and new work from those mid-career. More information, and opening times, visit their webiste, follow on Twitter or find them on Facebook.