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Light up to Light Touch

In a world where the power of an image has great resonance, Light Touch presents an alternative way to rethink photography and light. Departing from the premise that light is virtually omnipresent, the work of five artists is brought together to showcase their explorations on this element and its presence in the physical world.

Chrystel Lebas (France-UK), Heidi Morstang (UK), Marja Pirila (Finland), Lynn Silverman (Baltimore), and Frank Hallam Day (Washington, DC) are present in this exhibition organized by Maryland Art Place (MAP), curated by Liz Wells and produced in partnership with The Society of Photographic Education Conference 2014 (Baltimore City), and the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport.

Instead of a museum, gallery or other typical exhibition space, Light Touch is on display at the International Pier of the Baltimore Washington International Airport. The exhibition premieres on February 12th and will last through June 22 of this year, with the official inauguration ceremony held on March 5th. The Cultural Service of the Embassy of France has provided full support to Light Touch, as have EDF and Frame Visual Art, Finland.

Amy Cavanaugh Royce, Executive Director for MAP, and Chystel Lebas, the French artist included in this exhibition, spoke to the Cultural Service in regard to Light Touch and their own perspectives on art today.

With an academic background in music and classically trained cellist, Cavanaugh Royce recalls that she “grew up in a family of visual artists; therefore, I have always had a deep respect and appreciation for the visual arts.” At the forefront of MAP since January 2012, Cavanaugh Royce would like to encourage dialogue in contemporary art on an international-local level. In this respect, says Cavanaugh Royce, “producing Light Touch at the BWI Airport is a great start.”

This is, however, not the first time that Chrystel Lebas has had a show at an airport. She tells us that her work Blue Hour was exhibited in the BMI business lounge of the Heathrow-London Airport and was curated by Artwise. “I find this particular space [an airport] interesting and challenging at the same time. It is a place of transitions and passage in time. Travelers do not choose to stay and linger in the waiting rooms, however, the gallery space within an airport offers a place of wonder and discovery that will surely bring another dimension to the idea of travelling,” explains Lebas.

Upon receiving her baccalaureate from the École Estienne in Paris and receiving her diploma from the ENSAAMA – Olivier de Serres (École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Art – Design), in addition to her spending a year at the Beaux-Arts in Paris, Lebas began to use photography as a medium. There was, however, a turning point in her career, which was obtaining a scholarship from the French education ministry to study in Krakow Academy of Fine Arts in Poland. “This is where I truly discovered photography and how I could use it to record the passing of time, especially during such transitional period in 1989 and the repercussions that were felt on Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” shares Lebas.

Back in France, Lebas explains, “I had the chance to meet the right people at the right time guiding me through the art world. The Master in Photography at the Royal College of Art in London was another defining encounter with a wider photograph community, were I could immerse myself in debates around the subjects and wider issues on photography.”

The exhibited works of Chrystel Lebas in Light Touch were made in response to the Domaine of Bel-Val, in the Ardennes region of France and is affiliated with the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris, a center dedicated to learning and exploring nature surrounded by free-roaming animals. “I focused on one view that I studied at a variation of times and seasons", describes Lebas. “I was looking at a landscape that was barely changing, yet the variation was in the expectations and observations of a landscape charged with a significance relating to the idea of enclosed nature, almost like a man-made nature to serve man’s own purposes.”

Lebas is currently working on a project with the Natural History Museum in London, researching a collection of glass plates, photographs of botany and landscapes around the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 20th century and that belonged to Sir Edward James Salisbury. “I will be re-photographing the landscapes 90 years later”, explains Lebas. “My influence for this project is mainly looking at the use of photography in science and its challenges, as photography in its invention was not an accurate tool yet contributed to ask questions around representation.”

She explains that more than one artist has had an influence on her, and that it would all depend on the time, place and context of the works. “The writings of Gaston Bachelard, however, have always been in the background and have influenced the way that I perceive landscape. I have also been looking extensively at the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and the ideas around the sublime.”

With 33 years in the art world, MAP is an organization devoted to the presentation, promotion and exposure of contemporary art and artists. They organize between five and seven exhibitions a year, as well as supporting a platform for discussion regarding current contemporary art practices through their Speaker Series. “Baltimore is a city with a great deal of talent that should be shared with the rest of the world,” declares Cavanaugh Royce. “If MAP can create one pinnacle moment that alters an artist’s future for the better, then we have done our job.”

Baltimore has a vibrant and thriving visual arts community,” continues Cavanaugh Royce, “One could easily say that one of Baltimore’s major attributes is the arts, from the Baltimore Museum of Art to our colleges like MICA and Towson to the cornucopia of small venues producing interesting work throughout the city. I find Baltimore artists and Baltimore venues to be experimental and forward thinking. They take risks. It would be wonderful for Baltimore to be a point of destination for the contemporary visual arts.”

Do not miss the opportunity to see Light Touch at the BWI Airport, whether in transit or just as a visitor. The only baggage needed is the expectation to be surprised.

For more information on Light Touch, please click here

Article by Diana Murray Watts