Except from: AFTERGLOW Exhibition Essay

by Gary Warner

Written for AFTERGLOW at DRAWSPACE, Sydney

June 2024

“...make something out of nothing, in attempting which [the artist] must almost of necessity become poetical.”

— John Constable, personal correspondence, 1824

Aidan Gageler is particularly interested in the potential for works of visual art to induce feeling rather than recognition. He uses combinations of photography’s archaic processes, ‘exhausted’ print papers and sheet film, and digital software to coax images from emptiness, to bring images into the world rather than to snatch them from it.

Online, he searches out recipes for photo processing chemistry and sources boxes of unwanted photo materials. For example, colour stock from the 1950s and, incredibly, photographic papers from the 1880s. Most of the boxes he eventually receives have been opened by previous owners and contain leftovers. In silence and complete darkness – no safelight – Aidan carefully opens each gift from the past. He uses his sense of touch to ascertain the contents and their condition before processing individual sheets in three successive trays of photo-chemistry.

The once-only process is blind, fuelled by anticipation, anxiety about the resource's limited nature, and an active imagining of time passed since the media’s original production and his activation of its image potential. Each packet has been exposed to its environment since first opened, and each resulting image, completely abstract, is nonetheless an index of time, place, and unknown narratives.

You will notice the presentation in unusual frames designed and made by the artist. This material exploration, which began as a gentle provocation to academic arguments about the violence of the frame, has become a valuable strategy of engagement that works to hold the viewer a little longer with each image object.

In Aidan’s carefully prepared and presented images, there is no viewpoint, no moment in time, no static position from which to view, no comforting sense of scalar relationship. These cognitive anchors are absent, and we are adrift, wondering, surmising, seeking a way to ameliorate the uneasiness of not knowing. Or responding to suggestive forms, beguiling colours and curious details from a place beyond language, from somewhere else within the complexity of self.

Generous Images: The Work of Aidan Gageler

by Benjamin Clay

Written for The Giver

May 2023

Aidan Gageler employs antique processes to produce abstract works, allowing traditional substrates and exhausted chemistry to lend their quirks and failures to each image. Made without a camera, these works are ungoverned by intelligible markers and avoid being read as pictures or symbols. Instead, they open up the possibility of being felt or experienced, affordances offered commonly to music but rarely visual art. 

Rather than the culminating gesture of 1820’s science experiments, Junko Theresa  Mikuriya notes in A History of Light (2016) that photography is “only the material  manifestation of that which has always existed.” The philosopher names light, time, and chemistry as these eternal ingredients and recognises our age-old urge to summon or collect them as seen in Western theology. Assuming this speculative approach to the history of photography, Gageler employs old apparatuses to bypass the traps laid by familiar seeing, and to locate his artmaking in an alternate regime. How this avant-garde gesture is backward looking is of immense interest. Despite the perception that expanded photographic practice is peripheral to hard and fast documentary approaches, we find that it predated and provoked the development of the latter. 

By reclaiming this history, the artist considers the allowances of an inscriptive, rather than descriptive kind of imaging whereby photographs are notably made and not taken. They are conjured softly into being much unlike their lens-based counterparts, which capture, take and shoot their subjects. Such makerly tactics ensure that the resulting images are without a referent (scenes or happenings from which they derive) and exist as primary subject/objects in and of themselves. Gageler’s darkroom, therefore, becomes the site of and witness to event-making and its simultaneous documenting. In this instance, he must rely primarily on his sense of touch, so as not to prematurely expose the light-sensitive substrates. We notice the image-makers return to rely on things tactile, as opposed to the privileging of sight that has characterised Modern knowledge-making. 

The Giver offers its audience an encounter with photography in its most immediate  form, inscribed only (and slowly) by light, time, and chemistry. The body of work  celebrates the medium’s capacity to refer exclusively to itself and prioritise its own  object over those accumulated by the world around it. The series’ title borrows from a 1993 novel of the same name by American writer Lois Lowry. In her pages, Lowry  conjures a world devoid of emotional investment, described at lengths to present strictly in black and white. Colour is introduced gradually to the story after one resident finds themselves able to hold space for more complex feelings beyond those reduced to a simple binary. Glimpses of possibility are revealed to the protagonist as they learn to occupy the vulnerable spaces shy of certainty and apathy. 

Like Lowry beforehand, Gageler celebrates the opportunity inherent within this premise and the character’s willingness to be exposed to life’s poetry. Following his first interaction with the novel in high school, the artist returned to it as a young adult and recognised its renewed relevance. As a series of non-objective photographs, The Giver offers us a series of doorways into our own minds. How the amorphous surfaces are perceived differently by their various audiences is of endless fascination for Gageler, who himself notes their dual operation as things to see and portals to see through. Built into this mechanism is the potential for failure should a particular work yield no response from its viewer. This susceptibility is intrinsic to darkroom photography, which is constituted in part by periods of latency that reveal intended or unexpected results. In its failure to obtain even the slightest likeness, The Giver offers up the opportunity for unhurried reflection over time.