The following text accompanied the exhibition guide.....
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For several years now Fiona Crisp has been making installations that question the relationship between photographic images and architectural space. Coming originally from a background of sculpture her work hovers between object and image - between the physically encountered and the visually perceived.
Santa Maria is a site-specific installation commissioned for Aspex Gallery in which Crisp took as her starting point the building's former life as a church and it's subsequent conversion to a white cube gallery space. The large-scale photographs were made during a six-month residency at The British School at Rome during the winter of 2001/2002. Over this period Crisp visited a great many churches, returning repeatedly to those she chose to work with.
On entering the gallery the visitor is confronted by thirty-two benches that have been made by Crisp. In order to reach the images, the visitor must negotiate their way around or through the benches whilst being at liberty to pause and use them as seating. The benches are, in one sense, a formal sculptural articulation of the large square floor area of the gallery, raising the floor level to the eye-level of the camera; they are also a spatial expansion of the dense, almost claustrophobic seating depicted within the images. In other respects however the benches are reminiscent of several types of civic space - a meeting hall, a church, a cinema, a lecture theatre - all places that prioritise the act of directional looking for the communal reception of information, entertainment or doctrine.
The images themselves were taken using pinhole cameras. Because a pinhole camera has no lens with which to define a plane of focus, the images posses an evenness of definition more akin to a painting than a photograph. Another particularity of the cameras is that they have no viewing system through which to frame a scene, meaning that Crisp is essentially, working 'blind'. The very careful compositions are thus built up not by the eye but by repeatedly revisiting a place, each time subtly refining the placement of the camera in relation to the seating and architecture, allowing the camera to subvert the visual structure usually associated with depictions of such spectacular religious spaces. Here, the camera often foregrounds the material minutia of the seating or pew that it sits upon, creating a visual and structural foil to the enduring architectural edifice of the church itself.