Refraction features Containment, a site-specific work originally commissioned for the FotoFocus Biennial 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as new photographs from the Prospect & Refuge and Ink on Paper series. These various photographic projects range from architectural to sculptural to two-dimensional, each acknowledging strategies of seeing. Refraction explores the relationship between illusion and reality by exposing the deceit inherent in photographic image-making while engaging in philosophical and material play around slips in translation.
Refraction refers to the change in matter or information as it passes through one medium to another. Refraction occurs when our experience of the world is mediated through photographic images. Engman states: “We see more than we would have, and there is value in that. But the thing, person, or place that is imaged is also irrevocably changed. Photographs resemble and seem somehow in proximity to places and moments we cannot access in ways we wish we could. This produces a continuous and oblique kind of yearning for what we wish could be present or more fully understood,” resulting in a mental projection through which we fill in the gaps, adding detail or meaning.
Containment is an ambitious, immersive installation that permits viewers to experience Engman’s manufactured “architectural landscape” process, which has been used to create the photographs in the Prospect & Refuge series. This constructed environment becomes a means to present a photograph that the viewer can physically enter. From a single vantage point when looking into the room, the photo will appear as it was originally captured. Inside, or from an alternative angle, the viewer will see how the photos have been stretched to provide the perspective illusion. Over three hundred individual prints were used to turn the space into the image of a stream in a forest.
However disparate-seeming the methods and formal approaches of Engman’s photographs, his themes are shared: all of the works can be thought of as meditations on the limits of the singular point of view. Engman is invested in keeping the viewer engaged in questioning their assumptions and habits about seeing.
Los Angeles-based artist Chris Engman received his MFA from USC Roski School of Fine Arts in 2013 and BFA from the University of Washington in 2003. Recent exhibitions include the FotoFocus Biennial 2018: Open Archive, Cincinnati, OH; Prospect & Refuge at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA; Second Sight, New Representations in Photography, Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, CA; The Claim, High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree, CA; Staking Claim: A California Invitational at the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA; and NextNewCA at the Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA. Engman’s work is held in collections internationally, including Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA; Houston Fine Arts Museum, Houston, TX; Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA; Sir Elton John Collection, Atlanta, GA; Microsoft Collection, Seattle, WA; and the Cleveland Clinic Collection.