With thousands of suns mapping his dreams, Christopher Bucklow's luminous photographs use light to delve into something darker. Indigo Clarke
"If I dream about someone I make a 'Guest', Christopher Bucklow explains simply of his ongoing photographic series. "The figures are all people I know, some are friends, others are enemies that visit me in my sleep." While Bucklow's deceptively complex works may appear all bright-light and beauty, behind the dotted silhouettes and diffused colour are esoteric ruminations on identity, dualism and consciousness.
Charting the figures haunting his dreams through-life size pinhole photographs, Bucklow's 'Guests' examine that big unknown – the subconscious. His art is so unquestionably pretty though, that what's directly on the surface fascinates his audience, even if it's what lies beneath that inspires their creator. In the tradition of the Expressionists, his 'Guests' can be experienced and enjoyed without consideration of their conceptual underpinnings. Their radiant good-looks have even seen them labelled neo-Romantic – an (arguablyundesirable) insinuation Bucklow waves away maintaining he is a "narrative rationalist", albeit with Romantic inclinations. "In terms of subject matter, I am Romantic," he admits, "We all are – any of us who peruse individual knowledge."
While they may be, quite simply, pretty – they're in no danger of being simplistic, "Appearances can be deceiving,"Bucklow warns. "The 'Guests' look uncomplicated and positive, but they came out of very murky waters… They didn't just emerge from a feel-good place, but from ;self-analysis and continual research." Talking at length on the motivations and methodology behind his work, something many artists shy away from Bucklow betrays his background in art history and theory – he was an art historian with the Victoria and Albert Museum for 15 years before practicing as an artist professionally and initiating the 'Guest' series in 1993.
Each work in this series is a one-off photograph created using a gigantic hand-made box, with thousands of meticulously placed holes tracing Bucklow's sub-conscious apparitions. Every hole (and in each image there are 25,000 representing the number of days making up the biblical life-span of 70 years), captures a single shot of the sun and sky – so that, rather poetically, each 'Guest' consists of thousands of suns and skies overlapping. "Like so many things," Bucklow recalls, "these works started small and developed into something big – physically and conceptually. I was crazy about astronomy and astrophysics when I was a boy, so incorporating the sun into my work seemed a logical step - I wanted an object or phenomenon symbolic of the conscious (or in retrospect perhaps unconscious) psyche."
Well-versed in phycho-analysis, Bucklow follows the belief that everyone and everything in ones dreams reflects aspects of themselves – so that while these works may be renditions of others, they function intrinsically as self-portraits. "Most of what we are IS unconscious, the 'Guests' are me redressing the mind-body split – unifying them," he explains. "Making art is a way of finding out about that 90% of us that we have no knowledge of. I see my work as a continuing investigation into, and deconstruction of, the unconscious self."
Viewing "consciousness as a phenomenon of nature," Bucklow rejects the dualist notion that mind and matter are distinct entities (a concept initiated by the Ancient Greeks and popularised by Descartes in the 17th Century). His entire oeuvre to date, beginning with his early sculptures, has been a reaction against this perceived, "mind-body split and general unease with the role of the human mind in, and its impact on, nature".
The 'Hosts' series or 'ugly sculptures' as Bucklow refers to them (created before his "Guests' series was underway), were living sculptures made by gene-splicing plants. "I was altering breeds by grafting, and making genetic mixes not meant to go together," he
remembers. "They were meant to be self-portraits – a fusion of two things, the mind and body, that are perceived as separate – but that I see as belonging comfortably together. Creating the plant sculptures was sticking my finger up at public opinion, at the notion that certain acts, such as genetic engineering, shouldn't be allowed because they are viewed as 'unnatural'. It's not that there isn't a legitimate argument against certain technologies or advancements," he asserts, "but the onus of opinion should not be on whether science - a product of our minds and inherently part of nature – is 'unnatural', that is like believing our minds to be unnatural. I'm very distrustful of the rhetoric society spins."
Finding that ugly could only take him so far, Bucklow succumbed to the influence of beauty to attract attention. "I soon realised my purposely unappealing sculptures were easy to dismiss" he reveals, "I found I wanted the persuasive language of beauty in my work – so I began my photographs with the sun. Beauty is a powerful tool – if you make your work beautiful and people want to engage with your work then you have power over your audience. You don't want people to be indifferent, so why not use beauty as a device?"
While his sub-conscious is awaiting a new 'Guest', Bucklow is immediately caught up yet again with light. "Light can be an overused metaphor – I have overused it myself! It is so natural though, that it is hard to avoid. Right now I am painting Diogenes - the Greek philosopher who was profoundly sceptical about motives, honesty and self knowledge… And what is he famous for?" Bucklow asks finally, "wandering around in broad daylight with a lantern, looking for an honest man."