Museum of Photographic Arts

San Diego, CA


photo: John Hazeltine


Rare Fusion: Susan Rankaitis


The Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) presents Rare Fusion: Susan Rankaitis in its newly remodeled facility in Balboa Park June 4, 2000 through August 20, 2000. (left: Digit, 1997-98, combined media on photographic paper, 23 x 19 inches)

The exhibition -- presenting work from the last decade -- explores the artist's rich and layered imagery, her unique melding of natural forms and technology and her extraordinary handling of photographic materials.

In a rare merging of disciplines, the Los Angeles-based artist/photographer forges an altogether new visual language with which to consider the compelling and vast symbols of physical science, technological inventions and the structure of the natural world.

"Fragments of photographs, scientific diagrams and mechanical objects are embedded within the luminous metallic surfaces of her work, lending clues as to their larger meaning," said MoPA Curator Diana Gaston, who organized the show in cooperation with the artist. "Densely layered with information, her imagery functions as a collage of contemporary culture, scientific coding and the artist's autobiographic references. Like viewing the reflective surface of a daguerreotype, her images do not reveal themselves immediately, but take time to unravel. Fragments emerge and then retreat again as if in a pool of chemical fluid, challenging the viewer to look closely for the images contained within. Her sensuous surfaces reveal the very workings of the photographic process and the chemical reaction of silver. Her treatment yields a surprising range of color--greens, blacks, lavenders, golds and umbers--mimicking the tones of the desert landscape as well as the patina of industrial materials." (left: Salt lake Piece, 1998-99, combined media and photographic transparancies, ca. 12 feet high x 8 feet diameter)

Rankaitis' working methods all but deny photography's ability to produce multiple prints, choosing instead to employ the randomness and chaos that exist in the natural world. Each piece is unique, rendered through multiple printings, multiple negatives, and a complex layering of photographic chemicals painted onto light-sensitive paper. Some images utilize as many as 100 negatives. Her enigmatic imagery is culled from scientific journals, newspapers, and her own landscapes, as well as scavenged mechanical parts.

Fascinated by the possibilities of chaos and complexity theory, and genetic coding, Rankaitis delves into the scientific image bank, borrowing symbols, striation patterns and diagrams for her own purposes. She appropriates these curious symbols as a means of visualizing them, thereby bringing them a bit closer to the physical world that they describe. (left: Blue Complexity, 1998, combined media on photographic paper, three horizontal panels, each approximately 49 x 129 inches)

"Seen together, the work from the past decade reveals the artist's intensive and ongoing exploration of scientific theory, technological developments and biology," said Gaston. "Responding to the mystery and sheer poetics of science, Rankaitis' imagery is steeped in its language. She renders it in lyrical and abstract forms, indexing, reorganizing and igniting it in the process."

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