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Marco Breuer: Errata at Traywick Gallery

By Rachel Churner

Photographer Marco Breuer subjects his medium to the most violent of actions. Working without a camera, he creates his images in a darkroom by setting fire to photographic paper, dragging it over hot coals, streaking it with an electric heat gun, even sling-shotting nails onto its surface. As the paper is processed, an extraordinary thing happens: color emerges from the black and white paper. The browns, blues, and yellows that result are caused by the reactions of heat and friction with the chemicals on the paper. Breuer's small-format photographs are intimate records of things that weren't meant to be, things he forced upon the page, burns, abrasions, scratches, spills. They bear the rather beautiful marks of a painful process.

When speaking about his work, Breuer quietly remarks that he's "playing with the moment of exposure." But Breuer's engaged in something more than play; he is testing the limits of photography itself. Dispensing with one of the two requirements of photography (light-sensitive material and a light source), he often uses the energy of the materials rather than direct light to create the photo. Other times Breuer places mold, spit, or blood in the enlarger and exposes the samples as if they were the photographic negative. His works are unique, thereby challenging the fundamental reproducibility of photography. And, in stark contrast to many of his contemporaries, he prints the small images, usually 11x8.5 inches or smaller, by himself.

In Errata at Traywick Gallery, Breuer presents roughly twenty unframed works, affixed to the wall with pins and clips. Several of the pieces were created in the gallery, the black smudges scarring and gouging the gallery wall that supports them. Even the pencil lines delineating where the pieces should be hung remain, fashioning a frame along the top edge of the work. Breuer applies his destructive techniques to Fabriano Uno drawing paper and for the first time to color paper, producing Polaroids in the vibrant red of the darkroom safety light and c-prints streaked with blue and yellow. Breuer's images are enveloped in a certain mystery. When viewed closely, the image that at first glance was a starry night photo with a long exposure time, doesn't seem quite right. In fact Breuer created the image by covering a glass plate with Jello, instead of the silver gelatin used to coat a negative, placing it in his studio window, allowing it to mold, and then printing it. And while the initial mystery behind the image is intriguing, it is the processes behind them that is really fascinating. It is worth asking the artist or the gallery how the works were made, because the experience of Breuer's constructions is their essence.

Errata runs through May 4, 2002 at Traywick Gallery in West Berkeley at 1316 Tenth Street, near Gilman Street. Hours are Tuesday - Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm, or by appointment. Admission is free. Please call the gallery at 510.527.1214 for more information.