Down, Down, Heavenwards

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PHOTO EXHIBITION IN RIETUMU BANK EXHIBITION HALL

He who has seen the vision of his city upside-down has seen it the right way up.

(G.K.Chesterton)

A popular belief says you can see stars at daytime from the bottom of a well. Most likely it is not true. Or the well must be very special to grant us this wish to see stars and asters.

Maria Kremneva builds us this wishing well, so we can go up the down stairway to heaven.

Sometimes we must do something out of the ordinary to really see things. We got to look from afar, from above, from below; we have to transform things into something hardly recognizable to reclaim their substance. We build relationships with them in weird ways, we go furthest away to get them closest back. We travel around the world to make sure there is no place like home, we compose music to hear our own heartbeat, we write poetry to redeem our own feelings. We turn things upside down to see them for what they are.

“If a man saw the world upside down,” said Chesterton almost a century ago, “with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool… It would make vivid the Scriptural text which says that God has hanged the world upon nothing.” Maria shows the world hanging upon nothing, when the solid walls, rooftops and foundations acquire the intangible quality of fata morgana, with the sky opening up beneath our feet, in all its glory where we least expected to find it. What was high becomes low, but by the virtue of same, the basest substance – water on the pavement, which we normally treat as mud – becomes celestial.

Switching top and bottom, she transforms the spatial relations. We are put on a great mystical swing of perception: up from down, dizzyingly; back home from far away, reassuringly. We only fall to soar, and we the habitual shapes get overturned only to let us recognize their truth. To bring their essence home to us, she takes them through stages and stages of transformation. Whereas photographers always transform their subject by means of light, Maria first passes it through another state of matter: liquid, transformed by water. Originally solid, the buildings in her pictures turn aqueous, and only then get rewritten by means of light: photo-graphy. Only after water has altered the sturdy stone of the facades, – rippling, curving, crystallizing, seeing through them, – only then it’s Maria’s turn to change them further with everything photography can offer, only to bring them back to us, transformed, and, thus, rediscovered. Only after they are framed by the edges of the puddle does she reframe them, frame within frame, by the borders of her image, opening us a window inside a doorway, opening the lid of that well from where we’ll finally see the asters. Only after the water has made its own corrections to the silhouettes and has imparted its own texture does Maria draw deeper conclusions from her palette. This breathtaking two-stage approach to transformation is what it takes to unravel the swaddles that obscure the core.

This hanging world is all the more dear to us because of its singular fragility. Not only because what is hanging may fall – we know now that it will soar up, up into the sky, because it’s the sky that has been opened to us down there – but because of this water being what it is. It’s not the occasionally perturbed, but essentially perpetual presence of a river or a canal, but the precarious existence of a street puddle. Feet may trample this reflection at any moment, shutter it into pieces, car wheels may splash the bits of this suspended universe all around the place, and if in any case it will be gone tomorrow, filled, frozen over, and eventually dried out. There’ll never be another like this, like what Maria has captured it for us there and then.

This vulnerability of what seemed most solid in our insecure lives is one of the facets of the diamonds of paradox that are Maria’s urban reflections. The most steadfast becomes the most defenseless, and the most defenseless is brought back to us as the celestial image, to imprint forever in our souls safer than any stones could. Descending, we mount. The mud beneath our feet is of celestial purity. All that combines into the truth, for the truth is always too involved to be realized without paradox.

“Sometimes I wonder how water could form these fanciful shapes,” Maria says. Sometimes we all wonder, how the eye of an artist can hit upon the very heart of what is hidden behind the facades we all see every day. Can let us look the farthest to see the closest, look into the mud to see the purest, into the ripples to see the chiseled, into the murkiest to see the clearest, into the cold and elemental to see the grace handed over to us by centuries of humanity. Look down to see the sky.

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