From clock time to internal time | David Stroband

For Hans Wilschut looking is a critical undertaking. He cannot be simply labelled an observer.
He focuses on those elements that guide how we view the world. For many years now, light, colour and shadow have been the basis for his photoworks.

These are not ordinary photographs; they are sculpted photos, photoworks. Still today, photography suffers from a documentation stigma and by coining the word photoworks, Wilschut safeguards the autonomy of his work. It is large-scale and physically captivating, able to hold its own in any given space.
Wilschut was recently in the United States and Canada where he shot a lot of new material. During his sojourn in New York City he created a number of works that testify to his fascination with urban environments under a night sky. Specific aspects of the city are recurring elements in his work, like brick high-rise buildings, straight, endless streets and the abundant wooden water towers. Yet, these urban elements are not the most dominant factor in the work, but rather how they relate to the immense skies above. The sky, that could be defined in general as residual space, here is an integral part of the photowork. Where people rarely present in Wilschuts work, the nightly emptiness of the city is dynamically expressed by an overwhelming amount of artificial light (both interior and outdoor lighting), which often literally seems to connect the city and the sky.
In these nightscapes one finds meandering, sometimes bright, rising streaks, passing through the sky. Their oscillating, many-coloured forms are sharp in contrast to the softer hues of the endless sky. There is something threatening about them, these almost fiery lines. It’s as though they’re aiming to blow through the tranquility that has settled over the city, while at the same time they remain visually fascinating. These luminous line drawings have an unpredictable characteristic about them; they sometimes make strange aerial twists or seem to vanish in the landscape. Wilschut photographed in neighbourhoods on the outskirts of the city, near airfields. These lines of light are in fact from the floodlights of low-flying airplanes, grazing the neighbourhood skies.

Wilschut took great care in choosing the perspectives from which to photograph this nocturnal urban world. Buildings come into sight behind leafless tree limbs or two large smokestacks. Or the sky appears out from under a viaduct. Sometimes the angle is from high up or the photo may be taken while peering up through a pair of nicely shaped branches. Moreover, these photo images are rich in light-dark contrasts and strange colourful nuances. Consequently, it’s no longer about recording a situation but taking a given reality and reconstructing it. Wilschuts use of digital technology presents the viewer with a familiar image with strong artificial attributes. The skies are a mesh of light and darkness, unrealistic colours (bright blue, light green, or a deep blue purple). The brightly illuminated windows of the buildings in this work become gridworks of coloured patches. The world presented here is unreal and false. It is both aesthetic and alienating, at times even horrifying. Occasionally, because of these threatening streaks of light and odd and sometimes alarming skies one gets the idea that Wilschut photographs film sets of disaster or horror B- movies. While looking at these works the viewer is consistently thrown off track. Or could you be looking at a poetic scene from a science fiction movie?

This staging element has in fact been characteristic of Wilschuts photography for years. Midway through the nineties, he photographed in natural light and reworked the negatives in an anolog way, chemically. In so working, Wilschut could for example, emphasize the contrast between dark and light or change the characteristics of colours. Even in those days the pure documentary or time-based aspect of most contemporary photography was notably absent from his work. Back then, Wilschut once said, my work aims at changing the notion of time, from clock time to internal time. Internal time is immeasurable, moments can appear to last for centuries.

Here illusion and the unreal play the leading roles. The elements like colour, time, light and space are here characteristically more autonomous. The atmosphere in Wilschuts earlier works tends to be more dreamlike than the spirit found in his most recent work. One photowork from the earlier period in which shadows from a tree fall visibly across a wall looks almost painterly. This idea stems not only from the photos bizarre shades of colour but also through the grainy, multi-coloured particles the imagine was created from. A series of works taken in various religious interiors (circa 1995) show the effect of back lighting flooding into space through, for example, an opening in the roof, a windowpane or a door left ajar. Daylight reflecting up off a marble floor becomes blinding and creates, so to speak, a certain emptiness or a white spot in the viewers perception. These pictures have spiritual connotations whereas in his more recent work, while principally still being made in the same way, these associations are less. In a photo of a glaringly, illuminated snow ring on a hill top or of a sports field covered by a blinding white layer of snow, where adjacent floodlights shine directly in your eyes, it’s as if your powers of observation to these specific locations are obstructed. The lighting seems to wash out its environment. This is an invitation for free interpretation. Here, the viewer is allowed space to look through the shrill whiteness and see what he or she wishes to see. Wilschut regards white as a sculptural apparition and in fact, as an abstraction. The reflective light functions as a film screen and holds no further connotations.

Wilschuts approach in comparison with his earlier work is far subtler and less aesthetically forced. His recent photoworks are decisively spacious and this because they no longer originate from a detail but take in expanses. These are over-all pictures and your gaze stretches out to the horizon. Also, the surface structures of the photos have changed. They are sleek and less painterly. The work takes on a cinematic in its presentation of fragments from a wider time span. The lighting streaks through the night skies are a good illustration of this. The space in these recent photo images is conducive to building interesting fields of tension. The reality of the city as we know it is destabilized through the autonomous use of colour, the unexpected viewpoints and the artists play with focus.
The city takes on the appearance of a scale model where the use of artificial light is exaggerated. Everything seems to be synthetic and it’s as if nothing is normal. This world is reminiscent of the cardboard and paper fake realities in photographs taken by the artists Edwin Zwakman and Thomas Demand. These two artists commented on the cultural landscape by showing interiors believed to be real but in fact were fabricated on a photo-set. Hans Wilschut exhibits photos taken in real life situations but works them to such an extent that they become almost abstract. His photoworks are distinguished by transitional, tempting fairytale like light and radiant colour. It appears as if he’s double billing the dark side of beauty and the light side of darkness.

One of Wilschuts own statements is critical enough in its openness to do justice to his recent work: My fascination is with the area between staring and dreaming, the dozing zone; a place where ones attention for the concrete outside world turns inward. I look for images that activate the riches of slumber.

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