“Do you want to look at the wall… or do you want to look at the valley?” Ettore Sottsass goadingly asks the viewer. He is not expecting an answer but rather gives a voice to his photography and the increasing senselessness he experiences within the status quo of his profession as an architect. Jesse Wine confronts the viewer with a similar (non)-choice before his photographs, wherein we are only permitted view of the bottoms and the tops of plants growing in the wild.
Both series of works developed from the artists’ travels to foreign destinations. Due to a turbulent relationship between Sottsass and a Catalan artist in the beginning of the 1970s, his sojourns in Spain became more frequent. What at first was a sequence of drawings of simplistic utopian architecture, produced in exile away from the stress of his office in Milan, soon developed into a photographic project titled Metaphors. Subcategorized into various chapters including ‘The designs for the rights of man’ and ‘The designs for the destiny of man’, Sottsass carefully staged design-metaphors in the wild landscapes he would explore during his clandestine weekend getaways. Sometimes his interventions are barely noticeable, at other times they are radically intrusive. In his photographs, Sottsass addresses the provisional structures just as much as the nature surrounding them as irresolvable doubts he poses in respect to architecture. The questions asked in the pencilled subtitles can never be answered by means of rationality but rather give infinite space to further sensorial and instinctive enquiries. The series found its culmination in the display of all 51 Metaphors at the 1976 opening exhibition of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, New York.
Similarly, Wine reprocesses his fascination and tactile concerns about his medium of choice through the use photography. Whether capturing the ripples of a stream (as seen in his work Kbye shown at the RCA in 2010) or extending his interest in footwear beyond the kiln by cataloguing shoes spotted in public on his Instagram account, there is always a haptic and visual nod to his ceramic oeuvre. Stemming from the series Human Dreams, the two photographs featured in this exhibition were taken on holiday on the Turkish Dacta peninsula using a half-frame camera, with the halved exposure width that is responsible for the black strip dissecting the images. While this allows for an economic ‘creative outlet in an unfamiliar zone’, as Wine explains, it also enables the artist to bring to the fore the elements he wishes to draw attention to. The battered bark of a trunk, for instance, recalls the undulating surface of his vessels, while the disparity between the parched bottom of the palm and its lush top mirrors the fluctuations and interchanges between glazed and unglazed elements visible in several of his other ceramic works.
Ultimately Sottsass’ introductory quote can be read as a prompt… do we look at the two-dimensional or the three-dimensional space ahead of us? If translated into the choice between looking at the photography or the ceramics of Sottsass and Wine, the result could arguably be more similar than one would initially imagine.