Shape shifter: decoding Barbara Kasten’s perplexing Plexiglas creations
The classical confines of London’s Thomas Dane Gallery have been reinvigorated with a vibrant new survey of Barbara Kasten’s abstract works. On view through 25 May, ‘Intervals’ comprises a tightly edited overview of the Chicago-based artist’s oeuvre, which spans four decades and counting. Contrary to her stature, this is, in fact, her very first UK solo show and is testament to both her drive and inquisitive nature.
Kasten often refers to her work as ‘painting in motion’, which feels apt. Her practice involves assembling large geometric constructions using props crafted from light sensitive fabrics such as glass, mirrors and metal, and then photographing them in her studio. The conclusion is dynamic, theatrical and often perplexing. Light bounces from form to form, creating an intriguing spatial interplay between line, shape, colour and shadow.
’Construct VI D’, by Barbara Kasten, 1981
Most recently, Kasten has poured her energy into transforming her photo-art stills into moving images. In Revolutions (2017), she reveals a playful mixed media projection in which light is filmed moving through a large-scale set of her signature components at three-minute intervals. ‘It took many sessions to get it right,’ she said. ‘In the end, my assistant and I developed a coordinated technique for filming that became a sort of dance routine.’ The work, which was inspired by the suprematist drawings of Kazimir Malevich, was beamed into the entrance of the space, throwing bright geometric shapes across the walls and ceiling. ‘It looks a little faded by day, but at night it’s really something,’ she added.
In the adjacent room, a small selection of early prints from her iconic series Construct proves just as compelling. Conceived during the late 1970s and early 80s, the series drew upon her enduring affinity for constructivism – consisting of staged theatrical tableaus that were captured using a large view camera. Elsewhere, her use of neon Plexiglas in the more recent photo progressions Collisions (2016) and Transpositions (2014 - 2016) is sure to intrigue viewers, who can attempt to decipher which forms are physically present and which are simply Kasten’s clever illusions.