Stéphanie Roland, Event Horizon

JTF (just the facts): Published by The Eriskay Connection in September 2019 (here). Softcover, 176 pages, with 42 color photographs. There are no texts or essays included. In an edition of 750 copies. Designed by Rob van Hoesel. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Stéphanie Roland is a multidisciplinary visual artist from Belgium, whose practice includes photography, video, sculpture, and installation. She finds inspiration in the world of science, exploring astronomy, neuroscience, and sociology, and she is particularly interested in “ambiguous zones where confusion between reality and fiction operates.” Roland also eagerly experiments with photographic technology, including thermochromic printing (using inks that change color in response to changes in temperature) and interferometry (using the interference of waves to measure things like black holes).  

Roland has just released her first photobook entitled Event Horizon (in French, l’Horizon des événements). It consists of a series of dark, mysterious, and often mesmerizing photographs that offer an unusual take on childhood, connecting it to a world that hovers between the cosmos, the future, and the realm of dreams. There are no helpful texts or captions, and the book title offers the main guiding reference to the visual flow. In astrophysics, an “event horizon” refers to the “boundary marking the limits of a black hole, nothing inside the event horizon can ever cross the boundary and escape beyond it, including light.” So the color used in the printing of the book, the particular light in the photographs, and the idea of time in flux all seem significant.

The dark blue cover of Event Horizon immediately stands out. The book was printed in blue ink on blue paper, and the final result is quite intriguing. The title appears on the cover in a lighter blue at the top (in English) and at the bottom (in French); the artist’s name, almost unnoticeable in black ink, is placed on the right edge of the cover and continues onto the back. All three edges of the book are also black. The book has a pleasant smell of ink and paper, adding a feeling of physicality to the whole experience.

Event Horizon is a fictional narrative, and Roland quickly immerses us into its dark and unsettling world. The book opens with a simple graphic showing the number 2019 in the upper left corner (we assume it is the current year) connected to the number 2099 at the bottom right corner via an angled line – it seems to represent a jump forward in time. As we move through the pages, the numbers (or years) incrementally move all the way up to 2199, placing the images further and further into the future.

The book opens with an image of a wooden house in the woods, evoking a dark fairytale, and setting the mood for the photos that follow. Next, an empty rowboat, shining in the moonlight, seems to beckon us to take a trip, or leave behind the existing world. 

As the years (and page turns) slowly march by, portraits of children start to appear. Roland’s portraits are calm and distant; the children look like ghosts as they sit still, bluntly staring into eternity. There are no smiles, no emotions, no movement, and none of the bright colors we would expect to find in such photographs. Dressed in simple dark clothes (a black dress, or a turtleneck sweater), they take similar postures, sitting with their arms at their sides. Inspired by Flemish paintings, all of the portraits are shot against black backgrounds with meticulous attention to the light, brightening the faces to the point that they become eerily pale, reinforcing the fictional element of the project. We can’t help but ask: Who are these children and where did they come from? Given the passing time implied by the clock of years, did they somehow grow up too early? Why are they so pale? Has the sun been blotted out, or do they live underground?

The portraits of children are intertwined with images of mysterious places and futuristic landscapes. An image of a floating white horse (the last animal we see, by the way) is followed by a haunting picture of a two-story structure that seems left unfinished, with a space-suited astronaut on his or her knees on the upper floor, perhaps doing some investigation or rebuilding. Does it represent another planet, a shot from the faraway future, or perhaps, the disturbing dream of a child? A sequence of dark, deserted playgrounds (including a metal ladder) adds a feeling of post-apocalyptic dread.

The center spread holds an image of a sparkling sphere reminiscent of a planet. Has our world been transformed? Or have we left for a new home? Soon we see the space-suited astronaut again, trudging through dense forests and jungle greenery, perhaps exploring new territories. Futuristic buildings pop up amid the jungle, massive orbs and greenhouses protectively enclosing older structures. Occasionally, the visual narrative is interrupted by a flow of blue pages (they only have numbers), creating a pause, and a jump forward in time, immersing us deeper in blue. Toward the end of the book, the people seem to have moved underground to live in caves, while an image of scattered grains of rice looks like a galaxy, and shapes of soap bubbles, spirals, and folded foil placed against black resemble other unknowable cosmic elements. 

With Event Horizon, Roland has joined a growing number of photographers who are trying to boldly envision the future using images of the present. The world that she creates is mysterious and recognizable, disturbing and captivating, utopian and apocalyptic at the same time, existing somewhere on the border between reality and fiction. It is at once lavish in its design and sobering in its message, leaving most of its mysteries unrevealed.

Collector’s POV: Stéphanie Roland is represented by Galerie Triangle Bleu (here). Her work has not yet found its way to the secondary markets, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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