IMN #27 — Kevin Abosch

Potato #345 by Kevin Abosch

It's Monday Night #27

Tonight, let’s share thoughts about @kevinabosch’s work.

For the 2nd time, I will focus on 1 piece: Potato #345. The photograph is known because of its price: 1 million dollars. Is it the only reason to be interested? I don't think so...

What is Potato #345 about?

A random potato on a black background. It has a rather regular and circular shape. Its surface has few roughnesses and reliefs. It is partly covered with a thin film of dirt. Here and there we can see some sparse roots.

Its colour is more pallid than yellow, the contrasts bring out every detail.

The background is black - the darkness behind the potato is perfect, homogeneous, impenetrable. Artificial, too.

But the first thing that catches your eye is the light.

The shape of the potato is enhanced by the refined lighting.

On the one hand, a soft droplight (the shadows are rounded, without any marked line), whose source is undoubtedly close to the potato and which underlines its specificities.

On the other hand, a more direct and probably slightly backlighting that outlines the potato and ensures that it does not fade into the dark. Why do I start by talking about light? Because to me this potato is lit up like a human face.

@kevinabosch's photograph has a disturbing proximity to the portrait genre. The type of lighting I have just described - rather classical, for a portrait - highlights the features of a face, in a way that resembles not only the model's appearance but the model at all.

A portrait is expected to bear at least a trace of everything that makes someone singular - and it's often the lighting that brings this ideal closer.

Our experience of a portrait takes place in two stages. First, we recognize a human face (identification of the universal to which the subject belongs) and, second, we recognize within the human species, that face, whose identity is unique.

One can say that, formally, Potato #345 is the portrait of a potato. This must be emphasized: @kevinabosch uses the photographic techniques of portraiture to shoot a random potato. He takes an anonymous, organic reality without quality, & treats it as he would treat a human face.

What is the result? As a viewer, we look for the human face hidden inside the potato, and it is the absence of that face that jumps out at us. At the same time, the staging gives the potato a new aura. It acquires an individuality, it becomes almost personified.

As in the best portraits, the potato seems to radiate, to be the source of light itself, spreading its radiance to us who look at it. This will be important later.

The potato is no longer an edible food.

It is reduced to its raw materiality: a film of dirt, remains of roots, vague hollows, a slightly irregular shape, all its properties become visible. But each of these concrete features also acquires, through portrait framing, an allegorical meaning.

The soil partly surrounding the potato reminds us of the nurturing environment in which it grew; the thin roots remind us of the brutal uprooting at harvest time; the potato is suspended in the air, with nothing at all to support it.

The potato is highlighted by the very removal of the display stand or frame that usually ritualises the artistic manifestation of an object.

Thus, this potato is a deracinated being, both banal and singular - a bare presence, without reason or explanation.

It is both the exemplar of a biological species and a solitary reality without equal.

This ontological statement gives Potato #345 a metaphysical significance for human beings too.

By lighting it up in the manner of a star portrait, @kevinabosch allows the viewer to recognize themself in a simple potato.

The choice of a tuber is not anecdotal. Potato cultivation has been the material basis of human life on earth for two or three centuries.

@kevinabosch, who is Irish, probably knows that self-sufficiency of the human species depends to a large extent on production of potatoes, & anything bad that could happen to potatoes is a threat to mankind's sustenance (e.g. the famines in Ireland in the 19th due to mildew).

The potato is not just a vague metaphor for the human condition, it is humanity's tenuous material link to its own survival.

And @kevinabosch doesn't choose just any potato state.

It's neither the 1 under the ground - which you couldn't photograph - nor the potato on the supermarket shelves, cleaned for consumption.

It's a potato that has been roughly dusted but looks like it has just been dug up: a concrete potato, which is not fetishised as a commodity.

But at the same time, it is not shown as a product of human labour, but as an astronomical object.

Why? Because, as I said, the potato is suspended in the void, on a black background: it seems to be held in the air by the sole force generated by its mass in relation to other masses outside the screen (gravity).

In addition, the potato seems to radiate in a diffuse way the light that is actually projected on it. The techniques of photographic portraiture, applied to a tuber rather than a human face, results in an evocation of the moon.

The potato becomes an independent world like a celestial entity: it has its regions, its reliefs, its surface is a crust and on this crust is written its history.

To me, it is also an indirect demonstration to the power of photographic art to take the most insignificant thing and turn it into a star or an asteroid through an elementary set of lights.

But this demonstration is made without cynicism: the aestheticisation of the potato makes it possible to reveal the truth that it carries within it and that remains imperceptible in ordinary perception.

The title of the work points to this interpretation: Potato #345 recalls stellar designations and names.

It trivializes and singularizes the subject of the photograph. It trivializes it, because the potato is named after the species to which it belongs and by a simple number which is, moreover, nothing remarkable.

It singles it out, because the very fact of its baptism sets it apart symbolically - as if it were placed under the gaze of a scientist, but outside any laboratory context, in the the vacuum of space.

But the number itself is not completely anecdotal: 345, a sequence of numbers (3,4,5), which are not the first, but which are still close to the beginning of the sequence of positive integers - a trivial number that is also non-random.

345 refers both to the capacity of numbers to encode and classify information and to the citation power of the artist who can remove any object from the ordinary course of things and give it the status of a work of art.

This is what the meeting between the inventiveness of a portrait photographer and the Dasein of a potato can achieve.

8:57 PM (CET), Monday, June 13th, 2022 — Collector: UnicGasp