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Art for Breakfast: James Casebere’s Flooded Hallway

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At first, I was struck by the geometry of the space in the picture. The bright spotlight holds the walls accountable for its mystery. Rectangles and triangles descend upon each other. A void forms between the two halves of spotlight, splitting the image in two. At the center the far wall is framed in the light through a doorway. The wall is pushed further into the background. A color photograph that is so almost black and white — a world that seems out of the movie Pleasantville. Or perhaps more accurately, Der Untergang. Eerie.

James Casebere is a photographer interested in the emotive and psychological qualities of architecture. The work deals in illusion — for each shot, Casebere constructs a miniature replica of a space that interests him and that model becomes the subject of his photograph. Often Casebere’s inspiration comes from the particular history of the space. Through lighting and faked floods, Casebere imbues spaces in the images with the rich psychological depth of the original.

On a visit to Berlin in the mid-nineties, Casebere was struck by the excitement and energy in the city. Berlin was rebuilding, recovering. Though understanding this urge to renew, Casebere was haunted by the devastating history that was being glossed over. To express this complexity, Casabere took on a space literally beneath the city — the bunker in which Hitler hid out for his last few days.

This was one of the first photographs in which Casebere used the effect of the water along the floor, which has become a signature theme in his current work. The intent is to heighten the emotion and psychology of the space. These qualities are not often associated so closely with architecture. Architects are supposed to be analytical beings, logical and omnipotent. But we live our lives in rooms. Space is charged with the intangibles of memory and impression. Casebere’s unusual methodology scrutinizes and isolates these ethereal qualities.

Hitler worshiped the ideal. His reign exploited Greek and Roman art and architecture as evidence of the moral superiority of the Aryan race. This sinking bunker is pale and perfect, even in defeat. Haunting.

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Image information:
James Casebere
Flooded Hallway, 1998-1999
Dye destruction print
48 x 60 inches & 92 x 113 inches
jamescasebere.net

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About Author

Margaret Rew is the gallery director at Howard Yezerski Gallery by day and fledgling writer by night. She graduated from Tufts University in 2011 with a degree in Art History and Political Science. Her daily art blog, artforbreakfast.org, chronicles the story behind, beneath and within one piece of art every day.

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