Since the early 1990s, Liz Deschenes has produced a singular and influential body of work that has done much to advance photography’s material potential and critical scope. Making use of the medium’s most elemental aspects, namely paper, light, and chemicals, she has recently worked without a camera to produce mirrored photograms that reflect our movements in time and space. Her carefully calibrated installations of these pieces have probed disparate histories of image production, abstraction, and exhibition-making, while also responding to a given site’s unique features.
For this yearlong exhibition, Deschenes has produced a new body of work, reconfiguring the Walker’s seventh-floor gallery with a photographic intervention. Eliminating the room’s temporary architecture to reveal its east-facing windows, she has allowed natural light into the space and installed a series of free-standing rectangular panels. Some are the result of the artist’s distinctive silver-toned photogram process; others represent new experiments in digital pigment printing on translucent plastic. The artist produces her photograms by exposing sheets of photosensitive paper to the ambient light of night before washing them with silver toner—a process contingent on temperature and humidity. The resulting images offer a foggy, mirrored cast, reflecting the viewers who encounter them as well as the spatial context of their display. Since these materials are prone to oxidation, Deschenes’s photograms “develop” slowly over time, changing color and sheen.
More recently, Deschenes has begun to employ digital pigment printing on acrylic to produce large blue monochromes that can be viewed in the round. Her chosen colors are derived from the printing industry’s Blue Wool Scale, a professional standard used to gauge the lightfastness of pigments ranging from textile dyes to oil paint. With a surface not unlike the texture of ground glass, these new pieces capture and refract incidental light, suggesting a photographic calibration of the gallery’s space.
The temporal and spatial implications of these two imaging processes—one alchemical and reflective, the other digital and absorptive—find a particular context within the history of the Walker Art Center and its seventh-floor gallery. Her title for the exhibition, Gallery 7, which is the former name for the current Medtronic Gallery, orients us toward the past. Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes’s original designs for the Walker’s 1971 building and curator Lucy Lippard’s 1973 group show c. 7,500, featuring work by an all-women roster of conceptual artists, were also important points of departure for Deschenes’s intervention here. Finally, the artist has chosen to fit the space of her installation with a picture-rail hanging system reminiscent of the one used in the Walker’s now demolished 1927 building, further collapsing the institution’s spatial histories of site and display.