Impressions from my friend, Jonathan Qualben’s, private, untitled exhibition of his mysterious underwater photographs. Saturday, October 5, 2019.
The artist’s self-imposed home gallery, can be an unforeseen scenario of unintended consequences. Was it a genius loci, or was it infortunatus est? The artist’s objective to explore his resolve was baffling because the work he presented was to me a solid exercise of photographic excellence and innovation. So, the whole extravaganza of showing an untitled, but mostly thematically unified, body of work under the umbrella of his house’s sanctuary was conjectural at the outset. The household circle invited by an artist to his home will either secure him the thumbs up, or, in order to avoid being uncomfortably eulogizing, precariously missing.
As informal as the show was intended to be, it suffered the lack of clear approach. Arriving could be accomplished two-fold: one could enter there through the main street doorway, or using the backyard access. Either way one arrived – which in itself was cryptic, if you were not part of the artist’s close circle – the experience of the exhibit presented itself in a different light. The front door’s arrivals were quickly engrossed by the supernova of the show: enclosed by an elegant white frame (all other pieces were framed in black), a submerged female figure in a freeze-frame fetal position, whirled in the Spanish-esque revolution of colors. The backdoor entrees must had contented with smaller, less bodacious depictions, but were gradually submerged into the bona fede show.
Confronted with the uncertainty of the mysterious concoctions of bursting water, colors, and female figures involved in high-voltage underwater convulsions, I was struck with the ostensible beauty of the compositions. But, simultaneously, I was also astonished, almost mystified, as to how I should respond to this cathedral approach to photography. Depicted bodies were bronzed in a moment while involved in a strangely alluring ballet. The omnipresent air bubbles that peppered the compositions were suggestive of life, or of a struggle to be alive… I could almost picture the photographer towering over a stormy water pool filled with agonizing models eager to please the master, l’art pour l’art…
It were these depicted battles that I perceived subconsciously as being perplexing, if not distracting. The visions of an artist creating in front of his canvas, or, in this case, a photographer behind his camera, were gone. The aiming, composing, and triggering the device, in order to expose the moment in time, were drowned in the bubbles of the survival instinct of the toiling models that deluged the esthetics. Yet, I was sucked in the now and the turbulent of the kaleidoscopic drama. Almost like the metaphorical vulture. Now, in this moment, in front of us, happens something that we attempt to decipher, decode, unravel. Something that is disturbing as it is alluring and seductive. All of the above, and also how did the photographer take these pictures? Was he underwater, or above it? How did the models tolerate the experience of being submerged?
These uncertainties were with me long after visiting the show. It surely was a sign that I was moved, that I was stirred emotionally, which I appreciate, cherish and value as an asset while at the gates of an art Mecca. However, I could not help myself but wonder if I would feel much better if it was just another art show where I could easily surround myself to the safety net of artistic prerogative of the creator without feeling contrived. I felt pigeonholed in a peculiar invitation. I felt alienated (yet not antagonized). Ultimately, I felt visually elated while strangely critical about the artist’s choice to bypass the inferential.