Reconfiguring the Photographic Process with Maya Rochat

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A Rock is a River, Dark Water© Maya Rochat

“How can you be a pioneer in your own time if you’re copying the successes of the past?” We investigate the Swiss photographer's new exhibition, which challenges established forms

Who? For most photographers, the printing stage is the final part of the photographic process. However, where the Swiss artist Maya Rochat is concerned, a trip to the printers means a fresh opportunity to play, and distort her work through further experiments and abstractions. Layering a whole array of digital and analogue print technologies, materials and processes into each piece she creates, Rochat explains that the “recipe” for her work is simple – she doesn’t have one. In fact, she says, anything goes, and the only constant is her “build and destroy” attitude. She sprays broad, open swathes of coloured paints on top of photographs, douses them in bleach or chemicals and scratches into their surfaces before feeding them back into the printer, and onto paper, plastic and metal. The results are richly layered and alluring, often hypnotic, pieces. Rochat is a graduate of the photography programme at Switzerland’s prestigious ECAL – a school that simultaneously introduced her to the magic of photography, while also laying bare the restrictions of the medium.

What? A solo show of Rochat’s works entitled GIVE ME SPACE opens this week at the Peckham-based gallery Seen Fifteen in London. Featuring what Rochat describes as her “first really non-figurative pieces,” the show will feature new images printed on aluminium that she created with the help of a metalworker, and a number of works made in collaboration with Idem Paris – a French lithography studio famous for making work with David Lynch.

True to her bold signature style, visitors can expect to find Rochat’s newest large-scale works completely enveloping the space, with pieces suspended from the ceiling, pasted onto walls and creeping across the floor. “It’s going to be one giant collage of overlapping visuals and sounds,” Rochat explains. “I’m spending the days leading up to the opening within the gallery space with Vivienne Gamble, the curator, and we’ll be intuitively experimenting with different layouts and installation ideas.” Rochat often looks to “activate” her work beyond the traditional boundaries of the gallery wall through an immersive mix of installation, moving image, sound and sculptural or performative displays – a drive she says is “about bringing a show to life, and inviting the viewer to get more deeply involved in viewing the works." On the opening night, she has invited Buvette – a musician from Paris – to accompany her in putting together an evening of live performance, sound and projection within the space.

Why? Rochat isn’t interested in perfection – her aesthetic has a rough edge that invites us to reconsider conventional notions of beauty. How far she can push a piece into abstraction, removing it further and further from its original state, is what drives her. “I would like visitors to GIVE ME SPACE to get a sense of the ongoing slow process of images mutating,” she says, “but in a gentle, poetic way.” The title of the exhibition is intended to be symbolic of her long-standing frustration towards the traditional codes of photography. “At some point I started to get the feeling that the options for photography were very limited – it’s usually always linear series and linear presentation. There was a disconnection between my own vision and the professional expectation of some people working in the photography field to repeat the formats of great photographers before us. I have no frustration with the history of photography – the frustration I have is with my own opportunities to make an impact. How can you be a pioneer in your own time if you’re copying the successes of the past? I want my images to have a contemporary context. I want them to be images for today.”

GIVE ME SPACE runs from December 1, 2016 until January 22, 2017 at Seen Fifteen, London.