Delphine Burtin: Encouble at Benrubi Gallery, New York

Untitled, Encouble (#15), 2013

Untitled, Encouble (#15), 2013

The word “encouble” comes from a Swiss expression meaning “to trip over something disturbing.” Delphine Burtin uses the work, as the title of her exhibition, to refer both to the objects she uses in her works and to the unsettling final photographs. This Swiss photographer likes visual accidents, tricks of the eye. This series, on view at the Benrubi Gallery through October 24, was also her graduate project at the École de Vevey in Switzerland and the subject of a self-published book nominated for the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation First Photobook prize in 2013. Burtin plays with visual perception in images of banal objects that veer into something stranger when they are altered or juxtaposed. A piece of wood is photographed in the corner of a room, black orbs against a grey sky, scraps of paper are combined in layers, a spoon merges with a mysterious piece of metal. The experience is a kind of retinal and metaphorical examination of our relationship with our daily lives, and more generally, the world in which we live.

Previously, Burtin studied graphic design and took an interest in the works of Alexander Rodchenko, as well as the Bauhaus and Dada. But while the design world demands precision, Burtin’s photographic practice has led her into a search for ambiguity. Her photographs are often printed, cut apart, combined, and re-photographed in a way that distorts all sense of scale and reality. Sometimes the original subject is barely recognizable, having been cut apart and compressed, or superimposed over a geometric composition, like a visual rebus. Burtin undermines our confidence in our own perception, sowing doubt. What she allows us to see must be understood as a configuration freed from the conventions of representation, and Encouble stands out both as a playful and philosophical puzzle.