Polar Expedition
Source:That's Shanghai Author:Roland Fischer Date: 2008-06-12 Size:
Bathed in a surreal silvery light, pearly-skinned women sit in a matte pool of electric blue water. With no reflection, the women appear disembodied as their torsos disappear below the water's surface.

  

Bathed in a surreal silvery light, pearly-skinned women sit in a matte pool of electric blue water. With no reflection, the women appear disembodied as their torsos disappear below the water's surface.

"I am not so interested in the representative qualities of photography documentary or reportage," says Roland Fischer, a steely-eyed German with a penetrating gaze. "I am interested in the visual qualities of the medium; compared to painted images, photography gives you a completely different visual sensation."

In order to achieve this particular sensation for his Chinese Pool Portraits, a series of images shot in Shanghai and Beijing, Fischer employed filmmaker Wong Kar Wai's 王¼"卫lighting designerDiao Guohua. He constructed two pools at two Chinese film studios, which he then ringed with 10,000 watt lights; this barrage of light was then manipulated with numerous reflectors and screens.

It took Diao and his seven assistants two days to arrange the set. "You can imagine that this was not an easy operation," says Fischer, "I was almost afraid that they wouldn't get it – and suddenly it was perfect."

The contrast between the blue water and white light creates a visual tension which forces viewers to consider the concept of polarity: negative and positive space and form, living and dying, body and spirit. However, the point where the subjects' bodies meet the water, where color blends and mixes, suggests a resolution of these polarities.

Though the series could have been shot anywhere, Fischer chose China, no doubt for its wealth of polarities. "This project is primarily about the polarities of life, about consciousness, so it made sense to do it in China [because I wanted] to refocus on the individual."

The theme for Chinese Pool Portraits is, in a sense, a continuation of a previous work, a series portraying Trappist monks and nuns (Nuns and Monks). Part of a contemplative order, whose members lead relatively cloistered lives, their everyday existence is fraught with dualities: body and soul, heaven and earth, and so on. "Everything which individualizes human beings, their hairstyles or clothes, for example, is covered. So you already have this abstraction, this tension. I just pushed it a little bit further in the pool portraits," says Fischer.

The artist describes his work as an exploration of the mystery of identity, of the inside and the outside. That exploration continues in another series called Cathedrals, which constructs an interesting liminal landscape by juxtaposing the interiors of buildings with their exteriors.

Yet another architectural series, entitled Facades, features the exteriors of buildings only, a ploy which prompts the viewer to imagine the interior. But even the exteriors are not what they appear to be. The geometric facades of modern office buildings masquerade as two-dimensional color field paintings. "Art basically functions as a non-verbal language which gives us a lot of information which we cannot find elsewhere," says Fischer. "We can't read it as we would read a text, but we can still understand it. It's pretty much like listening to music."

[Editor] Mark Lee

    Artintern