The triptych Transmutations was produced in 2008. The text that accompanies this work was written by the curator Alistair Robinson at the NGCA (Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art) in Sunderland
Corinne Lewis’s series ‘Transmutations’ maps the point in which, to use her words, “the man-made and natural worlds collide”. Her photographs of the process of transformation of matter from one fundamental state to another – here from liquid to solid, from water to ice and back again –reveals a set of astonishing complex patterns inherent in natural processes. The intricate geometries of condensation, crystallisation and evaporation are, of course, uncontrollable and outside human agency, but nevertheless it is only our imagination and agency that can reveal and begin to make sense of them. Water is the basis of all organic life: accordingly these are the processes upon which all other life depends, though which we are normally ignorant of. Such geometries have been the objects of study for artists as diverse as Robert Smithson and John Ruskin, but Lewis finds novel ways of uncovering their complexity and beauty. ‘Transmutations’ squeezes new meanings from the very oldest of phenomena, by examining changes in state which have occurred for billions of years with mythical references, and by re-presenting them using 21st century media. Lewis’s deployment of photography makes it akin, on one level, to sculpture: her idiom renders tangible and visceral the basis upon which life continues. Her idiom also returns us to the fundamentals of the photographic image. As she has noted, the word photography literally means ‘light-writing’, and her works are unique artefacts, each image printed and adhered directly onto sheets of glass which are seen proud from the gallery wall. This procedure renders each work into an almost animate body: it requires us to negotiate it like sculpture, by moving around it as it reflects and refracts light differently from each angle. This delicate play of light imbues the object with the sense of a life embodied directly in the surface, and ourselves as witnesses to a process taking place in real time, rather than as observers of a ‘decisive moment’ – a slice of time from the past caught by the photographer’s skill in isolating it from a ceaseless flow. There are two complications. Firstly, Lewis’s mode of presentation almost makes each work into a memorial or monument, so that images of liquid become concrete, graspable artefacts. Secondly, under each image – under ice, as it were – are either texts or found objects. The texts are semi-opaque and semi-legible, and we are only able to grasp fragments from them. Our understanding of this imaginative space is momentary or fragmentary, akin to that of the natural world. Lewis presents nature as a rebus-like puzzle which can never be deciphered in its entirety.
Alistair Robinson NGCA