Desolate Diptychs: Catherine Bodmer’s Casas at Optica

Catherine Bodmer at Optica

Catherine Bodmer’s signature photographic style of symmetry, digital manipulation and incongruous juxtaposition can be seen in her series Casas, at Optica until October 13. In this set of color diptychs of empty Mexico City roof spaces, the inhabitants’ presence is only implied. (The artist previously explored empty Mexican spaces in her projects Eje sur and Rio Churubusco).

Bodmer’s photographs are carefully executed and precisely rendered. Uniformly shot from a centered, and linear perspective, something sad and bleak overtakes each depopulated image. It may be the strangeness of a high vantage point where any view of the city beyond is overwhelmingly obstructed by erected roof structures and adjacent buildings. Or it could be the details that signal class differences in the lives of the building’s inhabitants. Nice tiles and Astroturf in one diptych contrast the raw, discoloured cement of another. Likewise, the power boxes and multiple satellites of the wealthy highlight the poverty of water tanks, beer bottles and lawn chairs.

In Casas the diptych form literally places two versions of a reality side by side. Digital manipulations make details recur and disappear in each symmetrical pair: a beer bottle, stairs, a length of pipe, a row of electric boxes. The work is ironic in the way that it challenges what we take for granted about a location (In a like manner, Bodmer’s Déplacer des montagnes and Narcisse played on these incongruities). Your eyes race back and forth between one image and the next to recover the differences and similarities; you question why they are there and what they could mean.

Nevertheless, any single image from these diptychs could surely stand alone. The show’s only single photograph, “Quinto piso (Susanna)” (2011), for example, is just as complex without being doubled or manipulated. In it, two deep rows of concrete sinks face each other beneath a sliver of open sky.  The outside position of this lavatory implies a perpetually warm climate, yet we see no glimpse of palm trees or blue seas. Here, in a tropical setting, is a place of work and hardship. The thematic of invisibility in Casas’ rooftop structures glares out quietly, haunting every photograph in the show.

Optica, Space #508
Catherine Bodmer
September 8 – October 13, 2012

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