No Light (2019)
Essay by: Marian Cousijn
A game of order and chaos
Jurriaan Löwensteyn carefully removes large sheets of heavy paper from a folder. It has wondrous images, deep black on white: velvety structures, ripples, circles. Some are reminiscent of the circles that arise when a stone is thrown into the water. Others on psychedelic fluid slides, or the effect of an LCD screen being pressed too forcefully. The lines are so fine and the black is so black that your eyes hardly get a grip on it. The images seem to pulsate, vibrate and fade before your eyes. It is unclear what we are looking at. A print? A painting? A digital photo? In any case, it is something I have never seen before. The series, started in 2016, is called No Light.
We are in a former soup factory in Koog aan de Zaan, where Löwensteyn has a studio. Gray walls, gray floor, a large work table in the middle. A customized camera hangs above it. Löwensteyn turns off the light and switches on a laser light. A clear, violet circle of light falls on the tabletop. He takes a glass - an ordinary Duralex glass, from which he just took a last sip of water - and holds it in the beam of light. A beautiful spectacle of stripes, waves, rays, ripples and concentric patterns unfolds on the tabletop. Löwensteyn explains how he captures the enchanting but fleeting play of light by means of lightsensitive paper. He mounts a glass plate under the camera, onto which he drips various liquids: glycerine, bleach, vinegar. They all break the laser light in a different way. He continues to experiment until he has found the perfect image. A time-consuming process: sometimes it takes days before he has found a composition that he is happy with. On the one hand he works very precisely and carefully, on the other hand he likes to be surprised by chance.
Perfect and let go
That way of working, letting go of the contradiction between perfectionism and control, is typical of Löwensteyn. In 2005 he started the series At Night, in his own words his first serious photo project. For this he mounted a camera above his bed, which automatically took a picture every half hour at night. The artist turns out to be a wild sleeper: unconsciously he makes all sorts of interesting compositions with his body. The starting point in this project has also been carefully determined, with a great sense of aesthetics. The technique is controlled, the stark white sheets contrast with the black background, which makes the body seem to float in nothing. The images have something classic, the fabric expression of the dramatically draped sheets is reminiscent of Baroque painting. But the rest is a matter of letting go and waiting: the photos are not staged, since the artist had no control over his sleeping body. For A Tribute in Crystal from 2016, he created fragile clear blue crystals on copper wires with copper sulphate. For this artwork too, Löwensteyn initiated the chemical process with the greatest care, while only partially influencing the result. In the final finish of the artwork, he is then again the ultimate perfectionist. Löwensteyn: "I think that is very important. All my works are gems. "
Driven by curiosity
Löwensteyn started making art as an autodidact at a later age, in addition to his work as a set designer and furniture maker. The craftsmanship that he masters in this is clearly reflected in his art. All his projects are driven by curiosity. One of Löwensteyn's first works of art, Monochrome Alley (2006), arose from a fascination with black and white photography. What would it be like to live in a world without color? In search of an answer, he built a miniature version of an Amsterdam alley, completely in shades of gray. You would think that such a colorless world is depressing, but surprisingly the effect is calming. At the invitation of a hotel on the Warmoesstraat, he furnished a completely colorless hotel room, complete with a wooden floor in grayscale, gray fruit and an aquarium with gray shrimps. It was the most popular room. After that first project, a search for an own style follows. Löwensteyn is experimenting with a selfbuilt dark room, with UV light that leaves images on wood, with the shadow of light bulbs. Every work of art is just as carefully executed. In addition, they testify time and time again to a fascinating line of thought. A good example is a untitled work from 2016, in which the artist captured the filaments of a light bulb by means of UV radiation in sunlight on paper-thin oak veneer. The work is full of double layers and smart inversions: from light and dark, from radiation and shadow, from fleeting and permanent.
From beautiful to good
Back to the large sheets on the table. After the clear explanation of the creation process, I understand better what I am looking at, but it remains difficult to put into words. They are not prints, but unique paintings made by light. No paintbrush has been used, no pixels, no printer: it is a fleeting moment caught on paper. It is impossible to recall that moment and make the exact same image again. You feel the enthusiasm of the artist who, after a long search, managed to capture exactly the right composition. The work is reminiscent of Rayographs, the beautiful compositions that Man Ray made in the early 1920s with photosensitive paper. But also to much earlier photography, from the time when the medium only just existed and people experimented with it to their heart's content. These nineteenth-century pioneers were not concerned about whether they were practicing art or science: they were purely driven by curiosity, fascination and a love of beauty. And so it is with Löwensteyn's work. You are ignited by his wonder and his love for beautiful images. He turns the world upside down: in this way he built a camera where the light does not fall in, but rather out, and a construction that turns his studio into a reversed camera obscura. The tension of contradictions can always be felt: transience and eternity, light and darkness, directing and releasing, control and coincidence. A balancing act between order and chaos.
Slowly but surely, Jurriaan Löwensteyn feels more comfortable in his role as a visual artist. "I will probably never be completely sure about my work. But I do notice that I am more and more convinced: previously I thought it looked good what I made, but now I find it really interesting. My work has shifted from beautiful to good. "
No Light (2018)
No Light (2016)
Analogue photography, light sources, large scale self made camera and Baryta paperNo Light (2016)
To look at light as the give and distance of the world, to conceive it as the ultimate giver of presence by paradoxically showing its contrary: darkness. This is the predicament posed by Amsterdam based artist Jurriaan Löwensteyn.
In his new series of images, the artist explores the artistic potential of artificial light emanating from old-fashion light bulbs – a banal domestic object whose importance we often ignore in our daily life. Not only does he questions conventional perceptions of light, but also established techniques of creating images based on a photographic process. Far from being simple representations of light, the images selected for this exhibition confront viewers with a complex phenomenon that gives new ways of engaging with textures, surfaces, and contrasts.
By tapping into the metaphorical use of light and darkness, Jurriaan Löwensteyn bypasses the longstanding paradigm of looking at the two elements through a lens of simple contrasts; instead, he shows how darkness unexpectedly appears as a projection of light. Light is not implied in these images as a natural phenomenon in the physical world, but as an invention in its own right. The effects of artificial light are contrasted with the physical properties of natural light in order to produce a figuration of light that is paradoxically projected onto the paper as shadows. Therefore, NO LIGHT confronts viewers with the manifold expressions of light as the shadows of a process.
This new series of sensitive images, the artist transforms light from the giver of presence to an element that sets forward darkness as a thing that makes absence an irrefutable presence. The critical inversion is performed through an innovative technique where the artist uses a large walk-in light box in which a light-bulb is placed close before the lens. Unlike traditional photographical techniques that rely on the existence of a negative image, Jurriaan imprints the shadows resulting from the exposure directly onto the photographic paper. The forms produced through this process border on the abstract, while all the time subtlety retaining the essence of the object’s figurative presence. The technique is original as it is challenging in its execution, as there can be only one copy of the image and a long process of creation. In the end, what Jurriaan Löwensteyn series of NO LIGHT makes us see is the shadow of light projected directly on paper - shadow of light as absence made psychically present.
Maria Rus Bojan
At Night (2012)
Digital photography, 60x80cm
The series explores the relationship between the human body, consciousness, and folds. The photographs are taken every half an hour during one night, tracing the artist’s erratic sleep pattern. Drawing on the aesthetic of the baroque, the images show the artist entangled in a succession of sumptuous white folds, projected against the bed’s dark sheet.
Shipyard, Stockholm at night, SE (2005)
Digital photography, 30x45cm
Alessandra, Rome, IT (2005)
Digital photography, 30x45cm
After the Flood, Ostia, IT (2005)
Digital photography, 30x45cm