x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Birgit Graschopf photos on show at Carbon 12

The Austrian artist's current show examines the similarities between the way humans organise into settlements and the microcosm of order found in writhing nature.

Firmament of Flies by Birgit Graschopf.
Firmament of Flies by Birgit Graschopf.

There are few sights as lonesome as that from the window of a plane, at night, while flying over a vast desert. From the hushed, dimly lit cabin, the blackness below takes on a mystic quality.

Birgit Graschopf, one of Carbon 12's emerging artists, plays on a similar sense of foreboding about life seen from above. The Austrian's current solo show examines the formal similarities between the way humans organise themselves into settlements and the microcosm of order found in writhing nature.

Two sets of photographs face each other in the gallery space; Urban Creatures shows blocky maps of 12 old town centres around southern Italy, mapped on to a black background, with the church (which once shaped the town's original layout) removed.

Opposite that are several images of eerie glowing fruitflies hunkered down together on a black expanse.

Comparisons between the two in terms of shape, however sickly it may be to us, is clear: the fruitflies stick together in clumps, even if one or two go off alone. And like it or not, so do human beings.

But there's more to these works. The effect of Graschopf's images is distancing, like gazing down at the patterns of lights in the desert. We feel remote from the manmade formations she captures - they're too uniform to feel human, too random to be entirely devoid of life. This chilling dichotomy continues into the way these fruitflies writhe around; somewhere, if we stare into the void long enough, is a sense of a distant consciousness buried in their senseless automotive search for survival.

Aside from the relationship between the two striking series, Space Forward takes a rather more cryptic turn. The remarkably odd Swarm (2011), shows a horde of ice skaters that were Photoshopped in appearing to lift off from the ground. This spurting fountain of Gore-Tex overcoats, we can only assume, is Graschopf reflecting on the disconcerting lack of gravity amid contemporary life's accelerated speed.

Then there are four vignette-like pieces, again shot from the top down, showing men in fedoras and suits in different positions and casting shadows across a brightly lit street.

Across Graschopf's work here there's the sense of a loss of centre. Everyone and everything appears to be free-floating in space, cut off from the traditional boundaries and spatial perimeters that would make them make sense.

It's a cold, cerebral world that she carves out, and one that takes quite a bit of head-scratching to make sense of - a coherent meaning always seems to be accelerating away from us.

Space Forward is at Carbon 12, Al Quoz, until February 12.