Heliography, the 2013 solo exhibition at Finch Lane Gallery that introduced Matthew Allred to a wide Utah audience, was both revealing and limiting: it revealed an engaged mind with the ability to physically encapsulate abstract spatial and temporal concerns; but that single exhibit could not possibly begin to contain the ideas that are present in the mind and sensible perception of the artist.Clinamen, a current installation of the artist’s work at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art (UMOCA) is more comprehensive and thorough, although not complete. It is a demonstration of the cognitive conceptualizations of the artist, as he grapples with subjects that create his reality and introduce to his realization ideas of scale and measurement and how we, and he, might understand reality through tactile contemplation. His work is incredibly nuanced, yet vastly infinite in its implications, and is an important and valuable contribution to the critical understanding and artistic dialogue that it perpetuates.
So much of art history cogitates temporality by capturing immediacy and the moment. Allred’s single point perspectives in Heliography — photographic images exposed for days, weeks, and months — are the polar opposite to this viewpoint, yet they document reality as much as the immediacy of time. The artist says it explores in a temporal scale what is normally the purview of cinematography — time lapsed — and condenses it into a single image. Instead of a fragment of time, he says, “this is the mass inclusion of time, 24 hours, six months. What you are seeing is the motion of the earth’s rotation.”
There is an element of the ephemeral to this mass condensation of the 4th dimension, and this is the “mark of decay as these images are recorded, these large gestures of time,” states Allred. For example, “Heliograph 12-0612-009” (2012), has a trace image of a mountain to the distance and an industrial railing running through the fore silently, but in fact one can see the resonation of six months: the deep indentations of the many courses of sunlight passing through at so many degrees, the marks of weather that leave a palette of color, and the chill of the atmosphere that leaves the piece beautifully hushed. By contrast, “Heliograph 11071602” (2011) is but one day. The landscape looks alien, with tall forms and abstract space, but critical is the clarity of the clear blue sky, the darkening of the horizons, and one bold beam of light streaking its way through. One day in the life of the sun.
Clinamen at UMOCA revisits Allred’s Heliography series and expands the dialogue from where that series left off. Had one only seen Heliography, one might think temporality was the extent of Allred’s fascination with universal elements. This is the essential reason of the importance of the comprehensibility of the installation. Exoplanets, the second series on display at UMOCA, has nothing to do with temporality, but there is a distinct commonality between the two series, with regard to play of scale and proportion — in the case of Heliography with time, in the case of Exoplanets, size and distance.
In Exoplanets, each of the small circular photographs (of what look to be planets of various sizes and elements) appear, at first glance, to be quite genuine; but after further perception makes a bold statement, the viewer finds that these are instead Allred’s representations of planets — actual planets, outside our solar system, discovered through visual detection, but whose actual appearance is unknown. “We know something exists,” Allred says, “but we really don’t know what we’ve only glimpsed.”
Instead of examining the universe on a temporal scale, in Exoplanets Allred is intrigued by our understanding of physical scale. Since the planet exists light years away, we can only know it through an instrument, and then only vaguely. So Allred has used another instrument, the microscope, an inversion of the telescope, to create what can only exist for us in the imagination. Using the most elemental reductions of textures, pattern, contour, rhythm and color he finds in everyday objects, he creates a credible representation of a massive, though distant, object. But, according to Allred, his experimentation is not fragmented from the truth, and his use of scale is not a simple play of form. The artist brings up the notion of fractal geometry and that, as he says, “molecules are created in a similar fashion as universes. I am looking down towards the minutia and up towards the grandeur. It is a question of microcosmic vs. macrocosmic.”
Finally, in a scale that is all encompassing and entirely universal, Allred’s last series, Atlatl, explores destruction and creation, their essential relation to all conceivable order, and the state of flux in reality. The primary piece, “Eta Carinae” (2014), is the first in a cycle of analogue photography — light sensitive materials exposed to fire or explosions. “This piece is named after a famous nebula, the birthing ground for stars, matter, and elements,” he says. “There is a sensitivity here that is being surpassed and abused. I really like that ‘Idea’ on a grand scale. I wanted to mimic the ideas of stars exploding, kind of destroying space and then recombining through chemical processes. The entire thing is alive. The piece is alive since the paper is still sensitive to light. It’s still in flux as well.”
Allred’s fascination with the elemental basics of photography has led him to an expansive exploration of time, space and understanding. The tools of his trade allow him to explore universal ideas, to bring the expansive nature of the universe into the four walls of a gallery or museum. These ideas are powerful and they are real and they are genuinely discovered organically in the mind and through the method of the artist as he works from phase to phase. One can only admire his integrity, learn from his understanding, and look forward to the fruits of his future, which, at 30, has just begun to reveal the deeper colors of life, and manifest the palette of what lies ahead.