The party's over
David Robinson: Wonderland At Photofusion, 17a Electric Lane, London SW9 until 8 November
In a recent study of Gran Canaria by Andreas Gefeller, pointedly called Soma, both title and text express disdain for the so-called 'masses', describing their hotels as 'factories of pleasure', while the images gorge on the photogenic unreality of the architecture and its denaturalised environs. It's a productively duplicitous relation to the subject matter.
David Robinson's images of tourist destinations, collectively entitled 'Wonderland', range from the grandeur of the Kennedy Space Center to the dank-looking shabbiness of the World of Robin Hood in Nottingham. As in Gefeller's photographs, the human subject is conspicuously absent - almost the only people to figure in these colour-saturated vistas are made of Lego (a bloated brick family picnicking in Windsor Great Park). But apparently Robinson doesn't share Gefeller's disdain.
Typically, he is situated at the perimeter of his chosen sites.We look onto these landscapes of pleasure through fences, walls, gates and foliage, barely able to see the attractions, and seemingly unclaimed by any desire to do so. The images' compositional complexity thwarts any clear delivery of these, evidently only notional, destinations;
but also, on occasions, collapses their photographic representation into a pretty, but loaded, pictorialism.
In Arizona, for example, Robinson's interest is in a biosphere pod. He positions us on a dirt-track under a bright wintery sky with trees obscuring the structure. The image's proximity to traditional landscape painting (formal and colour harmony), combined with the dominance of the local vegetation, seems to privilege a less-refined biological world - not the the biosphere's ideality.
If the exhibition title sounds cynical or ironic, the pictures themselves don't feel judgmental. In part, this is because our stalling at the threshold is legitimised by the lacklustre nature of the locations themselves, and not through the self-elected superiority of our witness. In Robinson's work, the material conditions of the tourist spectacle look inelegant and, on occasion, burdened by inertia. There's even an air of redundancy. A sense that the party, whatever was being celebrated, is over.
Images of Elvis' Graceland, the Parthenon (in Tennessee), and Moscow's Park of Economic Achievement look particularly forlorn. Robinson tends to include the various mechanics that support these places (scaffolding, lights and the down-to-earth regulatory street furniture of signs, walls, fencing and roads). Through their presence, the actuality of the local disrupts the potential for escapism.
As the catalogue notes, the vista format of Robinson's prints undermines the assumption that a single 'Cartesian' subject orchestrates these visions. However, unlike the exhibition display, the catalogue starts with four images of ticketing ephemera laid out on a settee and tables (travel passes, tube maps, entrance tickets), which suggests this work is primarily a personal journey into global tertiary space. And, like a number of Robinson's aesthetic strategies, it reads like a small act of localised resistance against the notion of a single global subject.
Paul Tebbs is a writer in London