Viewing the Open is a large colour photograph mounted on aluminium. It was taken at night with a large format camera and long exposure. It is an image of a large, empty yard surrounded by buildings. A small portacabin in the upper right corner indicates that it may be the site of building works or used as a car park during the day. The surface of the yard fills most of the picture. At the top of the image, two ramps lead up and out of the frame. Between them, the yard surface ends abruptly at a column-studded brick wall. Further sections of brick wall jut into the yard at the upper edges of the image. The scene is illuminated by the sulphurous yellow and orange tones of city night lights. These confer a sensual beauty on the rich texture of the yard’s otherwise unremarkable surface. Segments of cracked concrete, shining yellow in the foreground, emerge from darker areas of pock-marked tarmac. Puddles of water are sinister black or reflect the light shining from buildings not visible within the frame of the photograph in patches of white edged with a lime green glow. Fragments of dark grids in these reflections indicate the structure of the surrounding buildings. Blees Luxemburg has transformed a scene of urban decay into an abstract study of colour and texture through the use of light, a subject traditionally central to photography. The forces of nature, manifest through the water that fills the potholes, and other forces of decay (such as time) combine with synthetic lights to produce a seductive, if surreal, aesthetic. On the earthy bank of one of the ramps, an abandoned traffic cone points up from among the weeds. This incongruous reminder of everyday reality increases the uncanny atmosphere of the image.
Blees Luxemburg moved to London from Germany in 1990 to study photography at the London College of Printing (1990-3) and the University of Westminster (1994-6). Her work has focused on urban night scenes in London since the mid-1990s. An early series Women at Night (1994) depicts women (often the artist) in the vulnerable situation of waiting on deserted city streets late at night. The images were shown as posters in the advertising boxes at bus stops in London’s East End. In the series Chance Encounters 1995 Blees Luxemburg photographed herself and another woman as they approached strangers in the City of London’s Square Mile. In subsequent series, the city itself, denuded of human presence, became the subject of her photographs. Taken at night, Blees Luxemburg’s photographs are made with long exposure times using the ambient light sources provided by the various forms of neon and other night-time illumination in the city. These result in her characteristic synthetic lime green, fluorescent yellow and sulphuric orange tones. At first such modernist structures as tower blocks, 1960s council estates, car parks, empty sports grounds, urban motorways and building sites were the subject of the photographs. Viewing the Open belongs to a series of fourteen photographs taken between 1999 and 2000. They were exhibited in London in 1999 and 2000, at Laurent Delaye Gallery, under the title Liebeslied meaning Lovesong. Blees Luxemburg was inspired by German poetry, particularly that of the Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843). For the artist, her title Das Offene Schauen, or Viewing the Open, refers to a place of openness connected to Hölderlin’s notion of the abyss (Abgrund) which represents both the blackest depths and a place where there are still traces of once present, but now departed, gods. It is also the space where an encounter may take place and therefore a site of a potential for hope. Blees Luxemburg sees the site in this image as a place where time zones collide. Old buildings and decaying concrete bear memories of the past, while the grids visible in the puddles suggest the likelihood of new corporate development.
Viewing the Open was produced in an edition of five plus two artist’s proofs. Tate’s copy is the fifth in the edition.
Liebeslied: Rut Blees Luxemburg/ My Suicides: Alexander García Düttmann, London 2000, reproduced (colour) pl.4 [pp.12-3]
Roy Exley, ‘Rut Blees Luxemburg’, Art Press, no.253, January 2000, pp.75-6, reproduced p.75
Michael Bracewell, London – A Modern Project: Rut Blees Luxemburg, London 1997