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Portal, Chaussee 36, Berlin, 2021

PORTAL (2020-2021)

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.

                     - Alexia Timmermans