This exhibition, titled “Observation Point,” is the first solo show in the UK of the midcareer American artist Zoe Leonard. In the three main galleries on the second floor, Leonard has installed her subtle projects to be in discourse, like a whispered conversation, as is her typical style.
The most compelling piece is Arkwright Road (2012), which transforms the vaulted Victorian space of Gallery 3 into a gigantic camera obscura. The room’s windows are entirely blocked out apart from the surprisingly small circular aperture and lens on the center window. The constant traffic, cyclists and pedestrians coursing past the art center on Finchley Road, at the junction with the title road, are projected upside down in the gallery onto a 30-odd-foot wall and the curved ceiling, turning the hectic street into a quiet vista for contemplation. Conveying the simple essence of photography, the work is a million miles from the operatic version of the medium so familiar today in the contexts of art fairs and industrial-size art galleries.
In the architecturally plain Gallery 1, Leonard has tacked up a mere handful of unframed gelatin silver prints from a project carried out over the past 18 months, Available Light. To create these black-and-white images, the artist broke the “first rule” of photographic technique—as art historian Briony Fer puts it in an accompanying exhibition pamphlet—by shooting directly into the sun. The results are hotspots of white surrounded by grays, with no other imagery. Here, Leonard continues her longstanding exploration of photography’s materiality and the passing of its analog form into obsolescence.
Gallery 2 houses Survey (2009-12), a development of Leonard’s wall-based piece You see I am here after all (2008), which was shown at Dia:Beacon, N.Y., from September 2008 to January 2011, and which presented over 3,000 old, found postcards featuring photographs taken from the observation points of Niagara Falls. Survey comprises some 6,000 postcards, stacked in uneven piles on a workaday trestle table. Viewers are asked not to pick up the postcards but to ponder the work’s organizing criteria: each pile consists of images of the falls taken from a particular vantage point, and is positioned so as to roughly correspond to that vantage point’s location in relation to the subject. On one wall, Leonard has stuck two identical postcards showing a rough stone building declared to be the “observation point” for a canyon in North Dakota. The witty image shows the thick-walled structure in the center of the frame, obscuring the ostensibly grand view. On the opposite wall are holes made in the installation of a work by Hanne Darboven for the previous exhibition that Leonard has left unfilled. With this understated gesture, Leonard calls forth the almost invisible artistic and conceptual patina of the space.
Photo: View of Zoe Leonard’s Arkwright Road, 2012, camera obscura installation with lens and darkened room; at Camden Arts Centre.