WARREN VANCE: Faux Revolution



25 Oct - 19 Nov 2006



A headstrong dreaming-machine—cobbled together from spare parts left over from the Enlightenment, evolutionary science and industrial-grade steel—was brought online during the reign of Queen Victoria.   

This steam-age cyborg of technology and mysticism woke up to the smell of revolution and a taste for new worlds. Equipped with a mirror and a lamp, it implemented a survey of its surroundings.

Like a camera lucid-dreaming, the spectral images within Warren Vance’s FauxRevolutionare double exposures of terrestrial and imagined landscapes. Symbolically, they bear the emblems of Romantic landscape painting, with the small seeds of human activity pitted against the giant bloom of a star-filled night’s sky. Their visual potency reflects those uncanny dimensions tapped into by Surrealist photomontage, as well as so-called spirit photography, known in Japan as Nensha, and commonly referred to as Thoughtography.   

Unlike B-Grade hoax-photography, Vance’s use of photographic double exposure techniques are not intended to trick the eye, but to entertain the oculus imaginationis[1]—the eye of the imagination—as it oscillates between more than one imaginary location. In a piece titled Tears, water droplets on a plate of glass have been superimposed over the vast interior of an empty London Cathedral. The cathedral looks like a warehouse, the pulpit a forklift. Whilst retaining their obvious status as ordinary water droplets, they appear also to have a kind of collective sentience, like a pod of whales, or a fleet of inquisitive alien creatures. What happens to the tears and the sweat of a thousand congregations? In Vance’s work, they gather and float, quickening the molecules of fossilised architecture and disappearing through the upper vaults into the heavens.

In Gateway the wrought-iron silhouette of a Victorian lamppost is backlit by a wall of murky hell-fire red. The lamppost is a central, looming figure, a glass-headed god with its light turned off, skulking in the antechamber of a subterranean cave. Dead winter trees reach out from behind the wrought iron structure like the dendrites in a brain-cell. Three scales of time are captured here: geological, vegetable and human. The gateway in this image is perhaps the permitter fence of upon the threshold of human life and universal time. Optimistically, the gate appears to have been left open.

In The Realm, the glittering image of a jewel-encrusted crown shimmers in a forest of spring blossom. The Kohinoor Diamond would indicate that this is the crown belonging to England’s Queen Elizabeth II, yet this glossy magazine-hallucination is a transcendentally ancient symbol caught in a compact mirror. The squander of monarchic wealth and power, combined with the talent-quest cheapening of majestic regalia, has obfuscated the symbolic potency of the crown image.

Within the tarot, and within contemporary adaptations of the Jewish Kabbalah, the crown represents a unifying force between divine and terrestrial realms, delineated by intersecting lines within the metal cross—or Cross Pattee—of the headpiece.  As a symbol of power, the crown is a receptive garment, collecting for the soul of a province and not merely as a cap of authority.

Although drawing upon religious relics, sites of worship and iconography, Vance’s photographs dance smartly away from acute religious reference, instead reaching back through a lineage of theological and majestic imagery to something more primordial: responding to collective and phenomenological experiences that have been encoded by symbolism over hundreds of years, and that are cyclical across time within a variety of cultural settings, rather than just recycled on a whim.

[1]Robert Fludd, Utruisque Cosmi,(1617) cited by Marina Warner in Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) pg.174