There is a significant backstory to the captivating new large-format color photographs in Ricarda Roggan’s recent exhibition “Set/Reset.” While traveling in Cyprus, Roggan stumbled upon some defunct, dust-covered arcade games in a burned-down bar. Premised on simulated speed and daredevil adventure, these once-rousing video machines had long since become silent relics. Even if they were still working, their formerly cutting-edge technology has been totally eclipsed by digital counterparts. Preserved like cultural fossils, the bereft games appealed to the Leipzig-based Roggan, who has previously discovered tremendous potential in empty attics and wrecked cars.
For the series “Reset” (2011), featuring five works, Roggan photographed these machines in situ but built a “set” around them out of transparent plastic tarps and strong lighting, effectively erasing their surroundings and creating a mysterious, abstracted environment. In Roggan’s lush, ultra-detailed photographs, you see nothing of the bar, nothing of Cyprus, no local signifiers. Instead, you see partial views of inscrutable, enclosed metal structures with bucket seats, steering wheels and screens. They seem mobile in time: unearthed remains from the remote past or science-fiction artifacts from a postapocalyptic future.
Roggan, who is deeply interested in things that people once used but have since abandoned, has a tremendous eye not just for details, but also for how three-dimensional shapes, textures and surfaces behave when photographed. Reset 1, a side view, shows matching seats with curving backs and two steering wheels that face dual monitors in a faded and sullied red chassis. The blank screens appear as dark, inky voids, while the plastic scrim in the background is all glaring, white intensity. Reset 2, claustrophobically filling most of the frame, was taken from behind the same seats; it emphasizes just how black and implacable these screens are.
The images suggest utopian dreams that have ended badly, and they are also oddly touching. Here are seats that once held thousands of bodies, monitors that once riveted thousands of minds; but now the games are merely abased, divorced from the human. With Reset 7, it’s tough to distinguish just what you are looking at. White light slants onto the steering wheel and part of the dusty seat. The back of the machine becomes an almost abstract suite of black, soft crimson and bright white shapes. This photograph is terrifying in its loneliness and desolation.
For “Set” (2011), a series of three images, Roggan shifted her attention to the area that she made from plastic tarps. With the arcade games removed, this apparatus assumes a new life as a rickety, yet also luminous and ethereal, structure (a room within a room or a transformational chamber). These photos offer cloudy glimpses of the surrounding space while the supple, illuminated plastic surfaces become quietly bedazzling, partly abstract images in their own right.
Photo: Ricarda Roggan: Reset 7, 2011, C-print, 471⁄4 by 59 inches; at Eigen+Art.