Chiara Valci Mazzara

.DOC! PhotoMagazine / section Contra DOC! Curation of the sectionArtists in Dialogue: Urs Lüthi and Mia Gourvitch and author of the text 3T(W)O1,  DOC!Photo Magazine, section: Contra DOC!, Issue #47  ISSN: 2299-2855

Artists in Dialogue: Urs Lüthi and Mia Gourvitch

3 t(w)o 1

The numbers (from the origin 0) and 1 to 3 appear and recur throughout the multiplicity of the photographs, as well as – at a closer look – into the duplicity, the otherness, the exterior, the interior, the space between. They, in some way, anchor an idea to the ground, whence it forms the notion of the continuous flux of the time.

The prevailing sagacity expressed through the consideration of the present within the flux of time, the use of self-portraiture, the undisclosed intimacy and the sharpness which blinks to the irrationality of life in the photographs of both artists – perceived through different yet relatable angles – redeems our perception of the intelligible reality. The photographic works occupy a position at a boundary or threshold between presence and absence, between self-reflection and self-portraiture, between bodies as subjects of the discussion and as subjects removed from the frame, perceived even more as there. They capture a moment, where and when the viewer is enabled to grasp the difference of the “similar from the identical,of the metaphorical from the real.”*

Photography is – by nature – led by some urgency to isolate a time frame, or a glimpse, the matter, the shapes, the signifier, the signified: a body, an empty room, a nocturnal landscape; it depicts details, swifts from within the refraction of the images of the protagonists, narrates proximity or unravels around broader realms.**

The self-representation, the choice of the vessel – the body of the artist – through which the self-discernment and its implications are represented together with its characteristics, is the act that lies beneath the pieces of Urs Lüthi. Those elements generate a shift from the intimate to the public, the personal to the universal, they suggest an alternate poignant reality. The signifier being steady, the perspective challenged.

Figuratively, in the space between the photographs and the numbers 1, 2, 3 – respectively: “the lonely”, “the better”, “the way to go on with” as in One Is a Lonely Number (Lüthi, 1973) – Lüthi intertwines a parallel echoing between the self and the whole. Moves around the duality of perception and depiction. Suggests a path, bends the representations of the self-references. The external world is enclosed and reflected by his own image: by the multiplication of it. The refraction of the images develops into the sea beneath, from the body to the surrounding. Where words and numbers float still. Where questions are posed in the form of statements or the facts hint a much wider discussion.

The multiple images of Self-portrait in Six Pieces – the double of 3 – are a movement from inside out, from the inner realm to the repetition of different images; it is a context which revolves around the series of portrayals of the artist in various poses, making faces, with a black stripe on the eyes, isolating the body, acting on the face as only the eyes of the viewer would have a view, the subject/s of the photographs do not stare back to the public or wear(s) sunglasses. The artist draws the attention to the postures, bending his body/ies on the map of the photographs. He creates a sub-spatial space, in a sub-timing time where the inner selves are suggested to be next to the outer perceivable self-awareness we have, of what surround us,of the gestures we observe the artist is engaging with.

In the 2 single self-portraits of Lüthi, there’s the duality of the self – pictured widely differently – through a choice so brutally honest hence neither fragmented nor polished. It is him: 1, as the bust and as the protagonist of his photograph with flies invading the frame. It is life, outlines of his face, with insects polluting and populating the image. There’s irony and reality as well, in Self-portrait (Brachland/Wasteland) (Lüthi 2016) and there’s sharpness and realism in Self-portrait from the series Universal Order (Lüthi, 1991) as if life – “the better one of the artist” (sic Lüthi) – would be too short to be taken too seriously, to bow to the unoriginality of the mere phenomena. Through Lüthi’s irony, his self-irony, we are confronted with questions about life, its representation as a comprehensive experience charged with provocative aesthetics and humorous, melancholic and narrative inputs: “man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is,” Lüthi suggests a frame in which “there’s life and death, and there are beauty and melancholy between.”***

The sense of the otherness and the space between two bodies are also there, witnessing the encounter, the intimacy,the playfulness (The Sun Shines also in America and Self-portrait with Uli, Lüthi, 1977 and 1980, respectively). Here we get a glimpse on the life of the artist, his relationships, the quiet disorder of the human intimacy, the softness and the vulnerability of the interactions, the private dimension, undisclosed through the shutter. The 1 Sun, that Shines also in America (Lüthi, 1977), gives the title to a piece where 2 bodies complete 1 movement towards the ceiling – moving as one – and 2 pairs of eyes are looking at the camera. The 2 self-portraits with Uli picture 1 movement towards each other, closing up on the life as being in the moment.

The bed, the light, the objects, the night, the ‘0’ as a gate of time that has been and the time that will come: the constant flow of transformation, the phenomena in flux are contained in a bedroom. They are part of Mia Gourvitch’s script of Film Noir Affair (2015), they compose her Self-portrait (2015), they surround the steps of the viewer walking through Room No. 1 (2015). All that was and will be  transpires in the rooms portrayed by the artist, intertwined with the spiral of the continuous transformation of all the phenomena.

Georges Spiridaki moves in a realm similar to the sensitivity of Mia Gourvitch by reasoning: “[my] house, is diaphanous, but it is not of glass. It is more of the nature of vapor. Its walls contract and expand as I desire. At times, [I] draw them close about me like a protective armour (…) But at others, I let the walls of my house blossom out their own space, which is infinitely extensible.”**** As of how the poet describes the house, the walls it is formed of, Gourvitch reflects on the nature of the interior landscape as an expanding organism, which contains the constant flowing of life and beings and which breathes. All that is inside the walls, as well as what is comprehended in the photography’s frame is transient, in motion, alive in the duration of it – and immediately after – belonging to the world of phenomena.

There are traces, evidence, the ephemeral data of what once happened, the absence of the artist in her self-portrait. And all of what is mentioned above is much more than indications, much more than the presence, what stays is the proof of the self and it portrays the flow of what was and is not yet but will. We can almost touch a normally ungraspable breathing space, a leaking one, where reality seems to lay still but is in motion: dimmed by the light, the blankets, the outlines of the curtains.

In her self-portrait, Mia Gourvitch removes the formal protagonist of the scene, one’s own body. The artist doesn’t leave any other option than to be inside, imbued with her work, in medias res. Mia doesn’t depict herself, she chooses a room and then she feels she was there. Only afterwards this piece becomes her portrayal. So how can we help but look for clues? She’s in the spherical element up high, central, above the bed. Or in the diagonal portion of light entering the room. Or at the other end of that phone, not yet picked up, on the nightstand.

She seems not to be interested in deconsecrating the subjects of her pieces by not giving her attention to the time that has been and the one that will come. She rather moves towards a “reconsecration of things”, of objects, of the liminal space, of the flux.*****

The mountains immersed in the night – like the rooms floating as on a velvet backcloth – intertwine the intimate, enclosed, interior space with the exterior. In the series Fruits of the Night (2017) polar concepts such as light and shadows, the elements of transformation and the liminal, black and white, life and death revolve around the zero as the notion of the initial condition and, at the same time, one of the time as perpetual transformation.

The sensation of ephemerality given by the nocturnal landscapes opens the viewer’s perception to consider the realm of all of that is possible. Infinite possibility is pictured, the images are ephemeral as the content in them, it is a blink of the eyes, it is the fruits of the night that were and could be.

The artist doesn’t divide the past from the future, she implies a stream of possibilities, infinity, the night as the prefiguration of a twisting spiral, the notion of time as a stream of events, back and forth ‘in tempo’.  Because in the moment in which the phenomena is captured it returns to the ephemeral, in the stream of events. All mutates, and for Mia photography does too, becoming transitory.

The Stone (Gourvitch, 2017) captured in the studio, as if suspended, floating in the dark background, feels like the junction between the two external and interior worlds. Like the layering of Trash & Roses (Lüthi, 2002) ties together the colours of the temporary beauty to the remains of the time consumed.

Chiara Valci Mazzara


*Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007), p. 465.

** Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, edited by Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, translated by Wade Baskin (New York, NY: The Philosophical Society, 1959;reprint: New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 1966).

*** Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935–1942, translated and edited by Philip Thody (New York, NY: Knopf, 1963).

**** Georges Spyridaki, Mort lucide (Paris: Éditions Séghers, 1953), p. 35.

***** Oswald Stack, Pasolini on Pasolini: Interviews with Oswald Stack (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1969).