Miniscule drops of water rendered monumentally

Object Lesson

October 30, 2005|By GLENN MCNATT | GLENN MCNATT,SUN ART CRITIC

What is more evanescent than a moment caught by a photograph, an image formed in an instant snatched from the on-rushing flow of life?

After the shutter closes and the film is developed, a picture can be printed on paper, where it acquires a kind of permanence. But it never really loses its character as a slice of arrested time.

The tension between transience and permanence is basic to our understanding of what photography is. Soledad Salame's Continent of Water, a nine-panel installation of photographs depicting droplets of water enlarged to monumental scale, exploits that tension to make art that challenges and provokes.

Salame, whose commitment to environmental preservation has led her to create a large body of work on the subject, presents her protean drops of water as continent-sized masses to emphasize the critical importance of this vital natural resource - and the danger that it may not last forever.

Her photographs, taken with a digital camera, are installed on solid aluminum panels affixed to the wall with brackets, a procedure that has become popular with contemporary artists in recent years.

Salame's technique is unusual, however, in that her images are not printed conventionally on sheets of paper which are then glued to the panels' surfaces.

Instead, they are physically embedded in the metal itself through an electrochemical process known as anodization. The technique involves creating tiny depressions, or pores, in the metal, which are then filled with dyes to form an image. Finally, the image is sealed under a transparent layer of aluminum oxide only a few molecules thick.

Like any picture, a photograph is an arrangement of colors and shapes on a flat surface. When the image and its support are made physically inseparable, as here, the photograph also becomes a kind of sculptural object, as integral to its material as a stone carving or a bronze cast.

This is what Salame has achieved in Continents of Water. It is an image of nature at its most ephemeral given the monumental permanence of petroglyph, an infinitesimal sliver of eternity frozen in metal. It is the artist's homage to the earth and a heartfelt plea for us to exercise our stewardship of it responsibly.

glenn.mcnatt@baltsun.com

Continents of Water is on view through the end of November at Goya Contemporary, 3000 Chestnut Ave., Suite 210. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Call 410-366-2001 or visit goyagirl.com.

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