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  Caravaggioi - Basket of Fruit Chan - Untitled after Carravaggio

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Basket with Fruit  Caravaggio c. 1597
Oil on canvas, 31 x 47 cm
Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan

Untitled (after St. Caravaggio) 2003-2006
Digital video projection: 2’58’’ continuous loop
Edition 3/5
Photo: Jean Vong - Courtesy Greene Naftali 


  In Caravaggio's famous painting Basket with Fruit, a selection of imperfect summer fruits, including an apple, a pear, an assortment of grapes and figs and associated foliage, is arranged beautifully in a wicker basket, which balances precariously on a ledge. Thus Caravaggio creates an illusion, seemingly pushing the basket out of the picture plane into the space of the spectator. So powerful is the effect that there is a palpable sense of impending accident. Basket with Fruit was possibly a study for a detail of the Italian master's larger religious picture The Summer at Emmaus (1601), which depicts Christ shortly after his resurrection, revealing his true identity to two disciples. The same basket of fruit appears in the foreground of this picture and again it sits perilously on the table's edge.

For Chan, the image itself was less important than its 'unveiling' in an animated form: 'I initially wanted to make a moving image from scratch. It was my intention that this DIY projector would respond to the animation in form.' But that Chan should look both to still life and to Caravaggio for subject matter today, particularly for an animated projection, is intriguing. Still life was once an arena in which artists displayed their facility and technique in portraying the surface of inanimate objects. One sees this in the many textures of objects - fish, glass, oranges, silverware - that artists represented in the Dutch 17th century genre. Mostly, these kinds of pictures were understood as memento mori or vanitas works: reminders of the transience of life and the certainty of death. Art-historian Norman Bryson, however, has argued that these are paintings about the everyday and our quotidian experience of the object world: 'still life pitches itself at a level of material existence where nothing exceptional occurs: there is wholesale eviction of the Event.'

Untitled (After St. Caravaggio) (2003-06) is a digital animation developed in an intentionally impoverished style, which deconstructs the Baroque painter’s famous Still Life with Basket of Fruit. The fruit gradually float upwards and out of the picture, leaving the basket empty. By referring to Caravaggio, who scandalously depicted the mundane world in religious subjects, Chan pays homage to the painter through a renewed perceptual mode of representation.

Chan's silent video makes literal the movement implied in Caravaggio's still life. But the dynamics are the opposite of the impending swift and downward trajectory that the painting suggests. Chan's animation, projected in a circular format, depicts a brightly coloured and meticulously rendered basket of fruit supported by a ledge. The dark green foliage hovering around the fruit begins to quiver. The leaves, followed by small fruits and stalks, dance slowly upwards, as if riding on a soundless, invisible and uneven current. These fragile objects break and fragment. The larger pieces begin to move. Agitated bunches of grapes are pulled upwards and apart; the pieces spread and float skywards, trailed by all that remains. As the last piece of fruit rises, the basket too becomes buoyant, seemingly drawn by the same anti-gravity force, but only just long enough for its shadow to leave the ground and disappear. And then the cycle begins again.

Kitty Scott

 



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