French artist Adrien Missika began his studies in law at the Sorbonne in Paris. Four years later, he turned his back on a legal education to study photography at the Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne (écal). To some degree he has also rejected this discipline, as his recent work engages less with the photographic techniques he was taught at écal, but rather an attempt to use the simplest means to create an image.
One such example is ‘Einfühlung’, 2004-2009, a work comprising of images that depict modernist housing developments across Europe. Shot using an old mobile phone, the vague pixelated results are left untouched. Another work, ‘Space Between’, (a series ongoing since 2007), shows craggy, lunar and post-apocalyptic landscapes; Missika envisages a scene, goes in search of it, yet will happily construct it from props if the real thing proves to be wanting. The series ‘Fabriques’, 2006-2009, also comes about as a result of pilgrimage, but this time Missika goes in search of artificial ruins constructed in the tradition of the English and French landscape garden, landscapes which have since become truly derelict.
The trickery employed in ‘Space Between’ originated in Missika’s earlier ‘Postcards’, 2006, in which the artist sought to create the ideal sunset, mountain peak or forest shot. Clichés, kitsch and bad taste do not deter him; after all, they are in the context of one’s perception of landscape and bring about heightened expectations. ‘Postcards’ responded to such expectations with saturated images of liquorice tree trunks, cotton wool clouds, and a light bulb sun reflecting on a black plastic sea. ‘Space Between’ continues in the same vein; when it proved impossible to access Barringer Crater in Arizona and clear the area of ant-like tourists, Missika used a decoy created from polystyrene and paint. The artist tends to work in three stages: an initial research phase, a journey to find his subject often far afield, and then on completion of the journey a posteriori in his studio. Missika’s aim is not to deceive the viewer—the staginess of his images are self-evident—but rather he works in good faith to create a picture informed by the histories of art, cinema and photography.
Missika sees ‘Space Between’ as a work about photography, but it is also about perceptions of materials and mass. In the Present Future section of Artissima, Turin, 2009, the work was shown in an exhibition design by Stephane Barbier Bouvet, a fellow graduate of écal and co-founder (along with Missika, Benjamin Valenza and Jeanne Graff) of 1m3, an exhibition space in Lausanne. Barbier Bouvet’s design was created from off-cuts of marble slabs, stacked to create shelves for 14 photographs. Its solidity contrasts with the ephemeral or imaginary masses in the pictures.
As Walter Benjamin famously noted, the work of art and perception of it were changed by mechanical reproduction. Certainly, the revolution in the creation and dissemination of images has been followed by another one in which images in previously unimaginable volume are distributed with similarly incredible speed thanks to digital technology and the internet. It is no secret that we are inundated with visual (and textual) information, and against this altered backdrop, previously existing notions of, and the value awarded to, authenticity and craft are put into doubt. When one’s reality incorporates the instantaneous sending of pictures across the globe, that reality inevitably becomes denser, and faithful documentation can no longer be relied upon to constitute an image that accurately describes an experience. Missika does not strive in vain for traditional and elusive singularity; he embraces the complexity of authorship, both in what he presents and what the viewer brings to his work. This is not to say that Missika is unskilled, the reverse is the case. But his works are not crafted in isolation, nor in an attempt to resist the surfeit of visual information in the world. He moves lightly between sources, media and the technologies at his disposal, and in the same way, collaborates with Barbier Bouvet when it enriches his presentation.
The German title ‘Einfühlung’ is borrowed from psychology and aesthetic theory, a term connoting ‘feeling in’ or empathy, often applied to differentiate between sensory and aesthetic experience. Missika’s images portray modernist blocks from across Europe in a romantic style that echoes the optimism of the era, while the poor image resolution of his early Nokia phone camera is kind to buildings that have outlived their popularity. It also blurs the heritage of the site, since bulldozed, to create these monuments to progress.
Missika’s input as photographer is reduced to the framing, his equipment is almost obsolete and the buildings are crumbling, yet they appear to pay homage to the art historical canon. Tension between monuments of the past and their fates (and between novelty and endurance) is explored again in the ‘Fabriques’ series, documenting 2- and 300 year-old garden buildings built for the whimsical amusement of landowners who had scant regard for architectural integrity, and who simply desired a picturesque ruin. History has been unkind to these structures; while they retain their advantageous positions in the landscape, they have been abused by being enclosed, being blocked up, or are simply overlooked and ignored.
More than a century ago Henri Bergson wrote about time and our appreciation of it in response to Kant: ‘What duration is there existing outside us? The present only, or, if we prefer the expression, simultaneity… We observe outside us at a given moment a whole system of simultaneous positions; of the simultaneities which have preceded them nothing remains.’ Duration does not exist in space; it exists in the mind. In the intervening period, however, instantaneous communication and its effects on our existence have transformed our perception of time, as well as that of the work of art. In a world where almost everything that is, and once was, can be digitally present, Missika’s works fuse past and present simultaneities. Perhaps we have evolved since Bergson’s time.
‘Grand Prix’, 2008, is a two-minute video loop of short shots tracking round the abandoned Sitges-Terramar racing track in Spain that was constructed in 1928 and had a short and contentious racing life. The track, though disintegrating, retains its dramatic form; silent curves and straights seem to beg for a fearless driver, like Steve McQueen or Graham Hill, to do it justice. The shots are short and precise, and their dynamism jars with the movement of weeds growing through the concrete, moved by the wind. Silence makes the gap between past and present yawn wide, yet the past is still tangible. Human figures are rarely to be found in Adrien Missika’s works, as is the case in ‘Grand Prix’. Their absence pervades the scene. Missika does not need to incorporate the people themselves in order to make work about lives in a changing, imagined and possible world.
Aoife Rosenmeyer is a writer based in Zurich
Adrien Missika, solo show, La Rada, Locarno, Switzerland, 20 March–24 April