At first glance, Ambrosine Allen’s pictures appear to be black and white photographs of a familiar but somewhat fantastic landscape; it’s only when one looks more closely that the structure of the images becomes apparent. The images are photographic in a sense but there is a strangeness to the surface. These are collages made of tiny scraps of photographs cut from books and used to build up the strange worlds Allen depicts. In the series Compendium to the New World, images from which are on show at Room, the world becomes a strange dreamscape in which odd geological features sit in uncomfortable proximity to one another under stormy skies or in the shadow of volcanic eruptions.
At its simplest, this is unusually well-executed collage. But Allen’s work offers semi-convincing fictions, places that feel half-familiar but with a strangeness. These could be engravings from an illustrated book about the travels of a Victorian explorer: evidence of newly discovered lands. Somehow, a sense of foreboding permeates many of these places; they speak of the power of nature and the irresponsibility of man. But it’s almost impossible to look at the pictures and stay focused on the scene without at least pausing to admire the process. This is painstaking work and Allen’s meticulousness is immediately evident.
Ultimately Allen’s work succeeds because of the quality of her image making – these are fascinating scenes which I could look at for hours without getting bored: there is always something new to see – but the disparity between the scale of Allen’s imaginary worlds and the tininess of her representations of them coupled with the commitment that must be required to make them is astonishing.
This is art that has to be seen to be properly appreciated.
Ambrosine Allen’s work is at ROOM, 31 Waterson Street, London E2 8HT until 25 February 2012