Redefinition of the illusion with Chris Engman: Prospect & Refuge.

Hello dear readers, I hope you’re having an awesome week. For this week article, I will talk about an art form that is ever-evolving but assiduous regarding its intention. You guessed it, I’ll talk about photography. Thanks to the many improvements that have been done in the digital industry, photography has involved a lot, nevertheless, the main goal is still the same: « capturing a moment ». I love photography and I enjoy it, even more, when it has a strong message. Therefore, this article will focus upon Chris Engman and his latest creation name Prospect & Refuge, exhibit at the Alice F. & Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. There is so much matter to discuss when it comes to this masterpiece, but I will break it out into 5 parts in order to offer you the best understanding.

Chris Engman is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA. Graduated from the University of Washington in 2003, Chris Engman received his MFA from the University of Southern California, School of Fine Art in 2013. From which his produced a long list of fine photographs and other art pieces that are exhibited all around the world (ex: NextNewCo, Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose, CA; Uncommon Ground, Flowers Gallery, London, UK to name a few). Represented by Luis De Jesus in Los Angeles and by Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle, Chris Engman is recognized by his peers and others as an originator of the illusionary photography.

Brief presentation:

Through Prospect and Refuge, Chris Engman keens to question the concept of illusion. This exhibition challenges the viewer notions when it comes to the dimensions, scale, reproduction, origin, and relationship between the exterior and interior. Mainly composed of photographs of nature affixed to the walls, floors, and objects in living/ working space. The main goal through this work is to redefined the tension between illusion and material and to revitalize the prospect and refuge conflict.

Use of the space:

Referred to as « an architectural landscape process in physical form », space was designed as a tangible yet surreal scenery by playing with established notions and expectations about space, memory, and the function of photographs. Designed in a way to create incertitude in the viewer’s mind due to doubtable perceived size, and uninterrupted limit of those spaces. Through Engman’s laborious process of careful documentation and detailed recreation, the artist asks the viewer to consider how we understand photographs and how we experience the world.

Break down of each space:


Containment is the first part of the exposition, this foyer installation stands out as a simulation of outdoor scenery while being designated as « containment », this clear opposition is present all along the space. The viewer enjoys an immersive flourishing green forest so detailed that it calls out all the sense, while clearly seaming enclosed by wooden beams and framed doorways at the same time. This so calls « auto-sabotage » tends to point out the inter-relation between those opposition needed to create the illusion.

The cooperation between the space and the photographs continues on the lower level of the Weston Gallery. We have the pleasure to experience other installation based on different themes, nevertheless, they all keen to challenge our notions.

Equivalence, 2017


This installation represents a room in a cloud formation. There is not so much interior since space operates on the ephemeral aspect of the cloud, (holding its position or shape temporarily before beginning to transform). This idea creates consciousness on the non-permanent, despite the immobility of the medium. The only pieces of furniture present in the space are phantom of themselves, merging with their surrounding (the cloud). Open windows punctuate the figurative character of the photograph, suggesting a sky opening onto the sky.

Prospect, 2016


Despite the slight resemblance with Equivalence, Prospect redefine the borders between the routine and the fantasy. The watery and natural landscape placed in the corner contrast with the practical imagery in the back (the studio). Nevertheless, this clear contrast in terms of thematic brings at least 3 notions of distance; first, the span from the concrete foreground to the corner of the room; second, the distance to the photograph covering that corner, foreshortening the available floor space and projecting the ocean scene onto everything behind; last, the range of the ocean, extending to the point where vision gives out. Due to their tight relationship between one another, it is easier for the viewer to perceive them one by one. This technical masterpiece is a time-consuming and methodic work from the artist and a skilled engineer, putting light upon Engman’s talent and the notion of illusion.

Landscape for Candace, 2015

A landscape for Candace:

A landscape for Candace is definitively a bi meaning art piece. Despite the illogical aspect of the scene, this installation trigged our sense of reality by its representation of a tree growing in the middle of a room. Moreover, the presence of an electrical outlet on a tree limb briefly disturbs the illusion. In his quest of understanding, the viewer is facing shreds of photo-paper hanging from the ceiling, and rough seam the picture that nevertheless as an all express a tree flourishing in confined space. In order to connect the two worlds, a cord loops across the floor almost without interruption into space. One can wonder whether Engman uses a large mirror to duplicate the size of the room, but the reflections and the necessary symmetry are missing. Things exist in front of the tree but not behind it (and vice versa). By decoding this technicality of this piece, we gain a better understanding of the artist’s composing techniques and high-concept aesthetics.

Shelter, 2016


Once we witness the previous installation, we may be repelled to accept the depth conventions of Engman’s work. However, in "shelter", Engman decides to reverses this technique. Shelter introduces domestic traps into the forest, the work consisted of placing outdoor decorations in closed dwellings. A ceiling light is suspended in a grove of moss, creating a small room with overgrown soil and tree-lined boundaries. Due to this incredible realism, we may be tempted to look for photographs inside the photograph. From certain angles, we may see the reflection of the Gallery on the glossy surface of the mounted photographs, but these reflections disappear as soon as we get closer. This illusion is a clear statement about the link between seeing and knowing

Chris Engman's statement about Prospect and Refuge:

« According to Jay Appleton's theory of prospect and refuge, two of our most basic and deep-rooted needs are for opportunity and shelter. We are attracted to those landscapes or environments that would seem to afford both, and we are wary of those that would seem to withhold either. This plays a role, if an unconscious one, in our experience of the environment and in our aesthetics.

In the piece titled Prospect, the combination of the ocean with the studio is a marriage of prospect and refuge and the metaphoric associations of the two. In the case of prospect, these associations are the adventure, excitement, and a feeling of freedom. For refuge, they are safety, comfort, and a looking inwards. Prospect and refuge are not mutually exclusive in a binary sense but they are at times in conflict with each other, and this conflict, to my thinking, is central to much of what we want and work for.

There is a correspondence, for me, between the prospect and refuge conflict and the tension between illusion and materiality that I see as intrinsic to the medium of photography. The later has long been a subject of my work. By illusion I am referring broadly to the power we invest in photographs to tell us the truth about the world, to be a record of it, to “capture moments,” as it is said. By materiality, I am referring to the stuff of photographic objects, their actual truths: ink, paper, frame, and physical context.

The tension between illusion and material is exhibited in these works most notably by the different ways in which paper is used to construct images. In the piece titled Refuge, for example, the image of the wooded scene was printed onto over 150 pieces of paper and then physically cut and affixed to walls and objects within an architectural space. The room itself was then photographed and the resulting image printed onto a single sheet of photo paper. In the case of the former, the physical properties of paper are acknowledged. In the case of the latter (and this applies to the majority of photographs), everything about the presentation is designed to deny that the paper exists at all. What matters and is emphasized is the illusion, or, if you like, the lie.

To my thinking, these tensions relate not only to how we read images but also to how we experience the world. Materiality, like "refuge", refers to what is here and now, what is in front of us, what we can see and touch. Illusion, like "prospect", refers to what we would prefer to believe, or, to put it more positively, what we can imagine. Neither, without the other, is quite satisfactory. » - Chris Engman November 2016

My opinion about the show:

Personally, I really enjoy looking at this photography exposition. Even though my experience would have definitely been different if I saw it in real time, I was able to catch the essence of the meaning delivered by Chris Engman. Installation after installation, I was impressed by how realistic every art pieces were and it keeps me to constantly redefine my own notion about what is real and what is not.

That’s it guys I hope you enjoyed this article, it took me a long time to upload but it was worth it, the article is incredibly detailed and I loved writing it. I wish you an amazing weekend, until next time.


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