f&d cartier are a Swiss duo working together as one artist. Their medium is photographic paper – without the camera. The excellent Ffotogallery in Penarth is showing Wait and See, a retrospective of their work encompassing three projects, until 27 July.
f&d collect photographic paper from all over the world. Some of it is very old, and of course the medium is increasingly rare as we move away from the analogue world. Exposing the paper to light changes the paper. So, for the title project, they create uniquely site-specific and time-bound collages of this material. At the start of the exhibition they arrange the unexposed sheets on the wall. Over time, in the ambient light of the room, each sheet changes colour, becomes the picture of the light in the room as it interacts with the specific chemicals with which it is imbued. Even to stand in front of the display for a little while is to change it.
On the first, bigger wall, you can clearly see that not all the paper is the same, and not only in colour. The whitest sheet, on the second row down towards the right,is very fine, originally intended for setting type face where definition is important. The dark blue sheet on the second row up and fifth from the right isn’t paper at all, but canvas. It has turned blue and looks like denim. The second installation, more spread out and delicate, contains some of the oldest square-shaped photographic paper in the world. (The provenance of all the papers used are in the Exhibition Resource File. At Ffotogallery these files are always full of learned information, but I must say this one was particularly intimidating.)
On entering this exhibition it is easy to start by thinking – ok, where are the pictures? These are just coloured sheets of paper arranged with a bit of flair. But as you get closer and study the tiny differences you realise how much beauty there is in the variegations, the predictable and the random, the extra blotches on older paper, small tears, the contrast of gloss and matte. The knowledge that your own shadow is reflected in an ångström change of colour, a minute molecular difference, is a subtle interaction with a complex work which is totally beyond your control. An invisible record is embedded in the slow, inevitable changes that record the room in dark and light for the weeks the papers hang pinned to the wall.
If you don’t get to Penarth in the next couple of weeks, watch out for f&d near you. Well worth throwing a shape for.