Dan Holdsworth’s latest series, ‘Spatial Objects’, is being shown for the first time at Southampton City Art Gallery. However, the exhibition contains more than the photographer’s most recent endeavour and also includes works from two major projects of the past five years: Blackout (2010) and Transmission: New Remote Earth Views (2012). It is an amalgamation of past and present work that reveals Holdsworth to be an artist who continues to develop and innovate, intrigue and disorientate.
Holdsworth’s ability to transform geography into abstract landscapes is immediately presented in the five photographs selected from ‘Blackout’, a series of negative images of Icelandic mountainous terrains. Through both analogue and digital processing, the final photographs are at once dazzling and intimidating to behold. Glaciers appear as luminous forms set against a sky entirely consumed in darkness, carrying a forcefulness that demands to be noticed. Even more powerful are the two close-up images of the terrain, printed to enormous scale that almost overwhelms. Our attention is brought to geometric shapes, which dominate both works entirely and prevent the viewer’s eyes from resting comfortably on any single area of each photograph. The effect is surreal and dizzying, yet impossible to prevent; it’s unimaginable that anyone could stroll past such immense images without taking a moment to pause and feel their impact.
This sense of immensity carries over into ‘Transmission’, a project completed two years later. Here Holdsworth appropriates topographical mapping data of the American West, presenting aerial perspectives of locations from Grand Canyon to Yosemite. These images of uninterrupted terrain take on abstract qualities, allowing us to read it as more than a documentation of landscape. Each work provokes confusion not only over the subject matter, but even over the artist’s chosen medium. Larger, highly textured images could be easily mistaken for three-dimensional castes, whilst the smaller, greyscale images appear as pencil sketches at first glance. There is undeniably a multiplicity of meaning at play within Holdsworth’s work.
Neither ‘Transmission’ nor ‘Blackout’ can prepare us for the ‘Spatial Objects’ series. Immediately different from the previously desaturated work, ‘Spatial Objects’ is immersed in colour. The highly textured nature of earlier work is rejected in favour of incredibly vague shapes printed on perspex slabs. As geographic forms are distilled into ambiguity, the barriers between reality and imagination dissolve. As with most of Holdsworth’s work, it is not simply a case of moving from one image to the next with a small nod or murmur of appreciation. ‘Spatial Objects’ presents a challenge to its viewer, a space within which the audience must think and observe for themselves. The abstraction of landscape is prevalent throughout the artist’s oeuvre, but here reaches new heights and commands closer attention. It is a subversion of physical structures into the obscure that both captivates and confounds.
Throughout each section of the show, you find yourself slipping further and further into a dizzying world which eludes easy categorisation. A single image, taken from the series ‘Forms FTP’ (2013), concludes the exhibition and initially appears to offer a respite in its simplicity. Not so fast. Upon closer inspection, it is in fact a diptych, flipped vertically on one side. What appear to be low valleys on one side of the image are peaks on the other, rendering the details of the subject matter impossible to determine. Through the simple effect of rotating an image, our entire sense of perception is sabotaged. Just as you think yourself closer to understanding Holdsworth’s world, he sends you straight back into its depths, leaving you in a mixed state of confusion and admiration for sublime work that dances between the real and the imaginary.