Bischoff Soren Black, a three-person show at Oakland's Johansson Projects, brings together photographs by Brice Bischoff and Tabitha Soren with multimedia pieces by Ellen Black in a tasteful group installation. All three artists use various natural landscapes as starting points in their work, but the best pieces in the show examine those settings as sites for imaginative fabrications. In Bischoff and Black's works especially, the many artistic decisions evident in their making -- some transparent, others obscure -- give the pieces their allure.
Bischoff's photographs, staged in Los Angeles' Bronson Caves, are the most dramatic works in the show. Initially excavated to provide the building material for the city's roads, the caves were frequently featured in films, mostly low-budget science fiction and western flicks. The fascinating real-life history of the Bronson Caves could overshadow an attempt to make work on location, but Bischoff's large-scale and lustrous prints hold their own.
Brice Bischoff, "Bronson Caves I"
Bischoff has used the caves as a backdrop to create long-exposure photographs with large sheets of colored paper as props. Actions made with the paper are recorded as hazy evidence; the photographs show caves covered in colored fog, shimmering movement, and strange auras. In Bronson Caves I, the dark opening of a cave appears as if tinted by stage lights. Bronson Caves X shows a tunnel through the rocks, a swirling arc of colored paper neatly echoing the opening of the cave at the other end. The works reference both Hollywood fictions and, similarly, the ease with which the ephemeral can be made substantial.
Tabitha Soren, "Panic Beach"
Next to these magical images, the realism of Soren's Panic Beach photographs is a slight comedown. Using a film camera on a tripod, perched precariously close to the surf, Soren photographs the roiling ocean. The images are pure water -- there is no horizon, nowhere to rest your eyes without getting pulled back into the swirl. Adding to this is an unsettling inversion: the images are all printed upside-down, intended to capture the disorientation of being knocked head-over-heels by the power of a wave. Acknowledging this flip takes only a moment, however, before the rest of the show beckons with more substantial visual fodder.
Ellen Black, "Ocean Beach"
Black's pieces provide the actual motion that Bischoff's and Soren's still images only hint at. Three looped videos play on small screens mounted inside extruded sculpture-like frames, resembling futuristic museum displays. In Former Recreation Area, small figures stroll about the ruins of the Sutro Baths while the water trapped in the old foundations sizzles and flickers. The composite-like quality of the video makes it appear to represent both the past and present simultaneously.
In Ocean Beach, crashing waves move frenetically while the sky is patterned with the red, green and blue stripes of antiquated technology. And in Last Summer, strange pods hover over oblivious beachgoers, their homes possibly submerged in the distance. Time collapses on itself in Black's works. In this near future, which looks remarkably like our present, humanitarian disasters exist alongside incredible technological advancements.
Soren's photographs capture fleeting moments of impressive natural force, producing images of beauty, but Bischoff and Black step beyond wonderment to create works that are documents of their own creative processes. Their experiments and propositions offer viewers the chance to regard the original natural settings -- the dark caverns and crashing waves -- as well as attempt to follow the conceptual paths the artists have forged.
Bischoff Soren Black is on view at Johansson Projects through October 15, 2011. Visit johanssonprojects.com for more information.