August 22, 2017


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Construction sights

Large-scale photographs offer unusual views of unfinished structures

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/4/2015 (873 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Lisa Stinner-Kun documents constructions sites, capturing unfamiliar views that, like the half-built environments themselves, seem tantalizingly incomplete. In Construct, the local artist's exhibition at Martha Street Studio, large-scale prints reveal brightly lit, eerily empty interiors in impressive detail, but they withhold just as much, leaving viewers to complete the picture.

The images are meticulously composed and quietly captivating. Some of their appeal owes to curiosity: building sites are generally off-limits, and looking at the photographs gives the illicit sense of having stowed away until after the work crews have all gone home. Though she doesn't specify her locations, Stinner-Kun favours institutional settings, such as museums and university buildings. Her interiors tend to be airy and anonymous, imposing and impersonal, but seeing them in their unfinished states destabilizes them, rendering them vulnerable and leaving us pleasantly disoriented.

Boxes by Lisa Stinner-Kun

Boxes by Lisa Stinner-Kun

Consciously or not, we expect buildings to guide us through space, to provide clues about function and flow, to let us "know our place" and how to navigate it. Without those clues, we scramble to orient ourselves, searching for any feature that might help guide us. In that state of heightened attention, peculiar arrangements and odd details that we might normally overlook come readily into focus.

Objects acquire vaguely human qualities under Stinner-Kun's observant gaze, hinting at events that have either just ended or are just about to take place. A lone jackhammer bit rests enigmatically on a monolithic concrete staircase; in the absence of human figures, we relate to pieces of equipment like upright work lamps almost as "characters" in their own right.

Lighting in the photographs is often ambiguous, heightening the uncanny mood and making the locations that much harder to place. We never actually see through windows that must be just outside the frame, and even in an outdoor scene, the flat, overcast sky gives little sense of time of day.

In one image, the spray of light cast by a portable work lamp rains on bare concrete like a fluorescent powder. In an adjacent photograph, daylight filters through a red-orange tarp into a high and narrow concrete space, suffusing it with a menacing glow.

Formal parallels emerge between many images. Casual stacks of steel frames and brutalist-inspired concrete walls imprinted with the texture of their wooden casting forms appear like incidental minimalist sculptures. An elevated running track arcs off to the right, echoing a line of cardboard boxes that trails off down a catwalk like abandoned boxcars headed into a mine shaft. The more fanciful geometries of some buildings recall the interiors of giant drywall rhinestones. After a while, one picks up on the subtle patterns of mudded drywall seams and scaffolding.

Stinner-Kun's photographs knowingly tread the line between fine art and commercial photography, but their chilly esthetics and at times stifling composure only intensifies the occasional moments of strange beauty. The images reveal little, at least at first, but they reward a second look.

Construct closes April 17.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.


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