Floating World (2016)
Kublai Khan had noticed that Marco Polo’s cities resembled one another, as if the passage from one to another involved not a journey but a change of elements. Now, from each city Marco described to him, the Great Kahn’s mind set out on its own, and after dismantling the city piece by piece, he reconstructed it in other ways, substituting components, shifting them, inverting them.
Italo Calvino Invisible Cities
Central to Gersht’s work is an examination of the evolving nature of the camera. Traditionally a device that recorded what was in front of it, it has now become something that creates our world rather than documents it. Since the digital revolution the speed of information transmission has compressed both time and space. We can now immediately see images of events as they are happening on the other side of the world, and the technology that makes this possible is now available to millions more people than ever before. This has profound implications for how we see and experience what is outside of us. Nothing remains fixed for long; everything is in flux. Where does reality occur?
In November 2015 Ori Gersht visited Japan and photographed the Zen gardens located in and around Kyoto. Created to reflect the essence of nature, not its actual appearance, and as aids to meditation, these gardens are self-contained worlds within the wider world. They are both real and metaphysical places, where time stands still. For Gersht they not only represent an alternative to our image saturated ‘world in flux’, but they are also symbolic of a physical and spiritual displacement that resonates with his personal history. They are places that hover between a utopian ideal and an everyday reality.
Within Kyoto’s Zen gardens Gersht chose particular places to photograph where natural forms are reflected in water. During the post-production process, in an attempt to perfectly integrate the reflection with the reflected objects - what he calls the virtual with the material - Gersht inverted his photographs and fused them to create new spaces that hover between material and virtual realities. The resulting photographic prints are fundamentally dependent on something that exists in the physical world, but because of the melting together of tangible reality and its reflection, they are not literal depictions of it. We are presented with the absence of the object of representation. The photograph becomes the thing that exists, an image of the folding of space and time.
The title that Gersht has chosen for his new series, Floating World, can be interpreted in various ways. The term – ukiyo in Japanese - usually refers to the urban lifestyle of Edo period Japan (1603-1868), especially the pleasure seeking aspects of it that provided an escape from the humdrum of everyday life. Today the beautiful woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) from this period are amongst the most famous examples of Japanese art. Ukiyo is also a homophone with the Japanese term for “Sorrowful World”, the endless cycle of birth, life, suffering, death and rebirth from which Buddhists seek to escape. In Buddhism there is a parable concerning the wind on the water. When a gentle wind disturbs the still surface of the water in a pool the reflections on it are broken into shimmering patterns. The world seen reflected on the surface becomes a fractured image. The viewer becomes lost in the complexities of the reflection and it is only when the wind drops and the pool becomes still again that it is possible to discern what lies beneath the surface of the water. By interleaving space and time in his Floating World photographs Gersht exaggerates the disturbed appearance of reality’s surface, just as the wind does the surface of the water, and invites us to think about what is beyond, behind, and within it.