Ellen Hartwell Alderman has spent the last few months working on an independent art space. Located near the corner of Ogden and Carroll, and with a dual curatorial focus on art and architecture, the aptly titled Alderman Exhibitions is a welcome addition to the group of more professional alternative spaces such as 65Grand and Devening Projects + Editions. For its inaugural exhibition, Ms. Alderman brought in new work from Raquel Ladensack, a Chicago photographer currently completing her MFA at University of Illinois at Chicago.
Ladensack’s photographs have a lot to do with using distance in composition and emotional impression. Her work is split between pictures that are shot so close up that the subject blooms into abstraction, and photos zoomed and cropped at such a distance and in such a way that her landscapes flatten and collapse. The formal techniques link well with Ladensack’s eye for atmosphere, and some of the best images convey an observational hum between present stillness and distant action.
This difference is best shown in Ladensack’s Shifting Ground I and II, an excellent diptych showing Atlantic waves crushing against a distant Icelandic seawall. At the bottom of each frame is the top of a sill or balcony which serves to both separate the viewer from the scene, and to creating a double awareness of the natural violence over there and constructed safety over here. This separation turns the landscape into something to like a caged animal, to be viewed but not experienced.
Being from a place in the world so clipped to a grid that even the biggest views are highway etched with one-point perspective, this distant flattening effect makes such works as Shifting Ground or Iceland II lose some of their landscapiness and turn into something else. Likewise, near works like Liminal Space, Untitled, and Egress flit between still life and abstraction, playing off of the representational trust inherent in photography (i.e. I am aware these objects would be recognizable if only I could recognize them). There is some of James Turrell here, most directly in Iceland III, but generally too in many others where the natural world is used as a route into abstraction.
Approaching abstraction through representation seems to be a popular topic of conversation in the art I’ve been seeing in Chicago. It would be easy to place Ladensack alongside Heidi Norton, another photographer whose works collapse space and distort distance; or even with painter Andrew Falkowski, particularly in his Crowns series. It is a good conversation to see, and Ladensack brings to it an appreciated and functional atmospheric angle.
I give it a: