You don’t need to be from New York to enjoy Oto Gillen’s current exhibition, “Wax Gourd,” at Lomex Gallery—but it doesn’t hurt. Taken over the course of the last six years, the large-scale photographs featured in the show document the city’s recent past through images we often take in only passively. They are best viewed alone, offers Gillen, who considers moving through them to be a “solitary experience.” From the shadow of a Central Park horse carriage on concrete, to the sun reflecting off a mass of buildings in mid-construction, to live fish in a bucket on Grand Street—these are the things we see in our periphery, eyes glossed over, in our routine passages throughout the city. To pause and hold them in focus, as Gillen does here, relays the intimacy that one can have with the city itself: alone yet surrounded, claustrophobic yet expansive.
In thinking about how to cultivate such a direct experience with the photographs, Gillen created a new method for the collective presentation. Each work is a dye sublimation print on a single piece of aluminum, folded like a canvas, and hung without a frame. Free from ornament or distraction, the images project an abstract space-time. In Wax Gourd, October 6, 2016 (2021), for instance, a dissected melon for sale on Grand Street mimics a 16th-century vanitas painting. The scene in July 4, 2019 (2021) depicts streams of people illuminated by red light on the FDR; whether the mass of bodies represents an episode of dissent and protest is left open to interpretation. Refracting moments of the past, free from chronological order—a past we all know, but are still processing—the images engender a periodization that doesn’t sequence. Untethered to any form of linear progression, they are akin to memories that resurface as dreams. —Esra Soraya Padgett
Oto Gillen, Couple, November 12, 2019, 2021. Dye Sublimation in Aluminum, 42 x 63 x 1 inch. Courtest the artist and Lomex