Evan Penny - Reviews & Essays


Panagiota: Conversation, 2007–2008

The two shoulder-length portraits in the Panagiota series have a natural complexion and realistic hair. Yet despite this proximity to reality, the woman being depicted is not clearly recognisable from any perspective. Viewed from the side, the wall-mounted portraits have been compressed into a fifteen-centimetre-deep profile. From the front, they flow out to a width of 275 centimetres. This wondrous figure is underscored by an auraticising title. The Greek first name Panagiota means “all holy”. Yet, as is the case with L. Faux, it is doubly coded. The play on deeper religious meaning collides with the simple fact that the model’s name is Panagiota Dimos. She is also an artist and, as chance would have it, in her circle of friends, which includes Evan Penny, she is called Penny.

Photographs again served as the source material for these portrait sculptures, yet they were not conventional ones. Rather, the artist used a technique developed by the Canadian architect and photographer Michael Awad. While conventional film cameras break up action into individual moments and then assemble them into sequences, Awad’s time-based camera does something completely different. It takes a single picture over a longer period of time. While the aperture remains open, a roll of film is exposed while spooling from one side to the other. Evan Penny used this camera, without the aid of a tripod, to record Penny Dimos in thirty-second sequences while they talked.

He produced images that trace three superimposing sequences of movement: that of the film, that of the portraitist and that of the portrait subject. The resulting distortion transforms the woman into a discontinuously flowing stream of shapes and colours. Eyes, nose and mouth are elongated, displaced – they bulge, shear off, in order to bulge again and ultimately terminate. Panagiota’s features are only recognisable for brief moments in several places. Are we not accustomed to understanding sharp images as an expression of calm, and blurred images as an expression of motion? In contrast, in Penny’s photographs, taken over a period of time, image sharpness is a special occurrence that only happens occasionally. Even when the portraitist and the subject of the portrait are both in repose, the image blurs due to the movement of the film. It evaporates even more distinctly when both partners in the conversation move in opposite directions. Only when all of the movements happen to coordinate in a certain way does the portrait congeal for an instant and become absolutely clear. This occurs, for example, when Penny stays still and Panagiota moves parallel to the film. Thus, the image created using Awad’s time camera yields a subtle visual transcript of the course of the conversation. Brief moments of harmony, where all of the movements flow into one another, manifest themselves as clearsighted accents in a discontinuously distorted overall course of action. A slight vertical riffle effect along the course of the image serves as a reminder of the mechanical artefact of the movement of the film. The two-dimensional images achieved in this way challenge our concept of the human being as influenced by photography. And yet the sculptures are even more disturbing because they appear as movement that has solidified into matter, fleeting and at the same time physically present.