Portal, Chaussee 36, Berlin, 2021 | curated by Alexia Timmermans
PORTAL is a solo exhibition by Bastian Gehbauer, featuring an eponymous body of work of
eleven black-and-white photographs. A continuation of his visual language, Gehbauer’s Portal
series (2020-2021) draws on his interrogation of abstraction and representation, principles of
architecture, and notions of the sublime. Ordinary objects and places from his everyday surroundings serve as a point of departure for his reduced geometric compositions, where surface meets
depth, and light meets its shadows.
Detached from time and space, they form a backdrop to the unknown, at once blurring and
expanding notions of representation and perspective.
A meditation on what abstraction within the
photographic medium can be today is a constant in Bastian Gehbauer’s practice. His photographs, which he often refers to as “mental spaces”, suggest rather than disclose,
imbuing seemingly ordered, vacant or static scenes with a sense of enigma and lyric sensibility.
His pictures appear as spontaneous, everyday impressions, yet are meticulousl thought-out mise-en-scènes of light and space, which aspire to question what’s beyond the explicitly shown. As observed in PORTAL, Gehbauer counterbalances his often rigorous handling of
composition and light with a cinematographic quality veiling the images in a mood of secrecy.
As suggested by the series’ title, Bastian Gehbauer uses the metaphor of the portal as an aperture, a transition from one place or instance into another, into a three dimensional reality beyond.
His portals – a door, a window, a screen, ... – function as architectural thresholds dividing spaces
of inside and outside, here and there, in front of and behind, past and presence. Straddling the line between the figurative and the abstract, Gehbauer uses high resolution
exposure techniques in order to render the visual reality – ordinary objects and spaces – into minimalist, nearly monochrome compositions of intersecting surfaces and lines. By delineating areas of light and darkness with high optical clarity Gehbauer enhances the
three dimensional quality of the pictorial field, expanding it into space. The windows in Scheiben, Zugang and Schwelle (all 2020) as well as the doors in Front (2020)
and Spalt (2021) can be understood as portals to the outside world that plunge our view into a
vast expanse beyond, into nothingness. With their ambivalent meaning for being both means of
passage and barriers, the doors and windows, for Gehbauer, are an invitation to introspection.
Also the screen in Monitor (2020) or the wall in Standpunkt (2021) can be read as frames that limit
the view beyond, as in-between-worlds. Both photographs are indicative of the artist’s continuous
exploration of light and reflection on various levels: whereas the shadows in Monitor (2020) appear as pure formal elements creating depth, in Standpunkt (2021) they also suggest a projection of
the observer, a dialogue with one‘s own shadow.
The rooms in Areale (2020), Brüstung (2020), untitled (2020) and Fuge (2021) further epitomise
Gehbauer’s pursuit of organising pictorial space through geometry and order in his aspiration to
spawn expressions of the sublime. In these four works, Gehbauer schematises space in minimal
simplicity, carefully staged in two-tone compositions of high contrasting black-and-white, or in
purely white planes merely distinguished by their shadows.
Despite their strict formal aspect, the images evoke a sense of quietness, solitude or suspense: an empty classroom, the infinite void of an office space, a sterile bedroom – spaces,
which may act as “vehicles of one’s individual‘s psychology”. As such, the narrow aperture in the
ceiling’s panel of Fuge (2021), more than raising questions as to what’s concealed behind (cables,
fans and alike), can be read as a portal to another, metaphysical dimension.
Ultimately, we can look at Bastian Gehbauer’s photographs as near-abstractions, simultaneously
concrete and illusionistic, hyperrealistic and dreamlike, matter-of-fact and enigmatic. In his personal approach towards synthesising abstraction and representation, Gehbauer extends the very act
of seeing and contemplation.