Luisa Lambri

Fotogalleriet, Oslo, Norway.

For someone who photographs architecture, Luisa Lambri's influences are surprising - Elke Krystufek, Francesca Woodman, Cindy Sherman and Karen Kilimnik, all heroines of stagy yet intimate self-portraiture. It makes you wonder what such (frequently painful) images could possibly have to do with Lambri's cool photos, which she took in buildings designed by the Finnish Modernist architect Alvar Aalto.

However, Lambri's photographs are not 'about' Aalto any more than they are 'about' architecture - she treats her apparent subject matter with a great deal of irreverence. Lambri has been in Finland as a recipient of a studio programme scholarship and approached its national icon with a tourist's sense of duty and lack of commitment: you get the feeling she could have been almost anywhere, as long as 'anywhere' contained some interesting spaces. And so, inevitably, the images are all about herself and her presence in the rooms - a kind of self-portraiture.

Which is not to say that these photographs are blatant projections of herself. Like John Cage, who thought of memory as a rather overrated faculty, Lambri shies away from autobiographical disclosures. These are not 'her' rooms: they are still, in a sense, Aalto's - poetic, streamlined mediations between inside darkness and outside light. If they are portraits, the question remains unanswered as to who they portray, for the images are certainly not about who Luisa Lambri 'is', but perhaps more about who Aalto allows her to be in the spaces he has created. As her images reveal her preoccupation with a particular feature of a room, a type of persona emerges which seems particular to the space. She is the subject of a momentary and phantasmagoric adaptation, and obviously takes pleasure from the ways in which her imagination shapes her movement through the world.

So whose is the persona revealed in this exhibition? Appearances tell us she is a woman who only half draws the curtains of huge windows against the cold, and who seems to revel in the protection of muted half-light. Perhaps she feels that the dim light is flattering or perhaps her surroundings make her feel fragile, make her tighten her shoulders and cling to thin metal railings when walking down stairs as if overwhelmed by vertigo when faced with the shiny reflections in the smooth walls; to lie down on couches and obsess for hours about the patterns of lamps and beams in the ceiling.

All that can be said with any certainty is that she is a woman whose sensitivity to her surroundings is not entirely devoid of gesturing. For all its humanist 'warmth', for all its seemingly innocuous emphasis on user interaction and sensory experience, Aalto's architecture has at times been described as evocative of stage sets - a reference to the ways in which his dynamic use of light can create an almost illusionistic space. Traces of such illusion are everywhere evident in Lambri's photographs, not as an interpretation of Aalto, but in complicity with one possible effect of his work. Lambri documents the way in which these spaces seem to produce a persona whose sense of exposure, of being caught in the play of light rather than being safely enclosed between walls, infuses even her most subtle emotional states with a hint of unreality, that we, perhaps through a lack of any better word, describe as 'theatrical'. This is what is remarkable about these photographs: Lambri uses the mechanism of adaptation to explore not who she thinks she is but who she may, perhaps, be about to become.

Issue 53

First published in Issue 53

Jun - Aug 2000

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