Lauren Semivan’s Photography : Door into the Dark at David Klein Gallery, Detroit, MI
Lauren Semivan is known in Detroit, New York, Paris and beyond for her atmospheric, lyrical, semi-abstract photographs that comprise hand-drawn backgrounds, iconic objects, and, occasionally, her own body. In my past writing about her work, I’ve landed repeatedly on poetic metaphors for context. Semivan’s works have always felt, to me, like poems- narrative, balanced from top to bottom, musical in rhythm, expanding quietly into the psyche. Her new work, currently on view at David Klein Gallery in Detroit, feels similar, and deeply different. What was once an open-ended narrative has become a closed loop, meter circling in on itself, flowering in dark and solitude, like prima materia in an alchemist’s vitrine.
It makes sense that the title of her show at David Klein is “Door into the Dark.” The title is meant to define photography, as Semivan explores it. She describes the medium as “…both a tool for escape, and an instrument for self-knowledge.” The vanishing of grounding, recognizable objects and spaces in her work bears out this description.
Semivan’s photographs are delicate webs of diamond-hard form. The curves, swoops and taut wedges of space that her carefully constructed environments conjure have always gestured at a vision beyond language. There has previously been a roster of familiar objects placed within her compositions, however, that give things a narrative, documentary feel- feathers, tables, a metronome anxiously dangling from a string. While some objects inhabit Semivan’s new work, more and more of her compositions are given over to amorphous, mute twists of fabric and slashes of paint. It’s as if she’s making the passage from logos to eros- from evoking words and stories to bringing images to light that one can’t navigate with language, that come from a place of pure feeling. This is a brave transition- it’s up in the air whether her pictures can hold the eye unmoored of the evocative objects she’s relied on, hitherto, to ground us in her rippling, canny vision.
Semivan’s own body flickers in and out of the works in “Door into the Dark,” as it has periodically for the last several years. Her face is never fully seen beyond a glimpse of profile. Her costumes, like her environments, are amorphous and billowy, and offer no grounding in specific time or place- the woman who wanders through Semivan’s photographs could be living next door, or long dead. Her wind-swept clothes and hair rhyme visually with their backgrounds, making the figure both an unsettling presence and just another formal element. Her presence is disconcerting in the same way figures in the images of the Twentieth Century photographer Frederick Sommer are- seeming to merge with their environments, more like ghosts or sentient features of their landscapes than individuals. Like Semivan, as well, Sommer experimented with indistinct, unsettling vignettes of beautifully placed, disparate objects and tense, shallow spaces that are grasped with emotional instinct, rather than verbal.
“Door into the Dark” is a truly stunning show that draws the viewer deeper into a quiet, interior place where words and story slowly drift away. The technical mastery of Semivan’s photographs, with their deep, velvety blacks, uncannily focused surface details, and atmospheric directional forces, is well worth lingering over.
“Lauren Semivan: Door into the Dark” is on view at David Klein Gallery in Detroit from February third through March tenth, 2018.