Architecture goes abstract in the illusory world of Fabiola Menchelli

Updated 30th June 2016
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Architecture goes abstract in the illusory world of Fabiola Menchelli
Written by Alyn Griffiths, CNN
"Light is my medium -- I want to bend it, twist it, shape it, materialize and transform it," says Mexican photographer Fabiola Menchelli.
Menchelli's experimental abstract images create the impression of three-dimensional space through dramatic compositions of light and shadow. To achieve this illusion of three-dimensionality in a strictly two-dimensional format, Menchelli employs a variety of unusual photographic processes to manipulate light in the same way an artist uses paint to depict a scene.
"My work is never about the finished space or documenting a place that we can inhabit," she explains from her studio in Mexico City. "What is important to me is talking about the idea of space."
Menchelli's mother and brother are both architects, which goes some way to explaining her fascination with the ways the manmade world is constructed, depicted and perceived.
"I constantly think about space in my work and there is something about creating space that resonates with me," she says. "I suppose architecture helps me think about the way we construct this world and about how we think our perception of it is solid -- like concrete -- but in fact it's only a construction."
Fabiola Menchelli at the Yautepec Gallery, Mexico City.
Fabiola Menchelli at the Yautepec Gallery, Mexico City. Credit: Fabiola Menchelli
Rather than adopting a straightforward documentary approach to photography, Menchelli's artworks typically feature geometric shapes layered to create collage-like compilations that represent the built environment in abstract form. Contrasting areas of darkness and light create positive and negative shapes that allude to the presence of planar surfaces, while gradients and overlapping layers introduce a sense of depth and perspective.
Almost everything is achieved using traditional photographic methods, with minimal post production.
"One of the things I'm interested in is the materiality of photography and creating something that feels tangible in this digital world," she adds. "There is a problem with new media at the moment because there are no boundaries."
Menchelli photographs buildings and construction sites, focusing on their structural details and simplifying them so they are represented as tableaux of light, shadows and lines. Her "Ellipse" series captured the arching shapes of light falling on the curved concrete surfaces of an observatory at the Tadao Ando-designed Casa Wabi Foundation. Produced using multiple exposures, the resulting set of images features arcs, ellipses and circles that form interconnected shapes when placed side by side.
The artist also creates compositions from simple materials like concrete, paper and string that she illuminates and photographs so they resemble imaginary spaces -- dream-like scenes in which the physical reality is not as important as the viewer's interpretation of the effects generated by juxtaposing areas of light and dark. These images often have a geometric simplicity that recalls the paintings and sculpture of Russian constructivist and suprematist art.
A selection of works from "Polaroids" (2013)
A selection of works from "Polaroids" (2013) Credit: Fabiola Menchelli
Menchelli also enjoys experimenting with photographic methods and exploring the potential for light to be used as a material in its own right. For a series called "Polaroids", she used a rare 20 x 24-inch Polaroid camera to photograph layers of paper that were exposed multiple times to generate different colors and shapes, using only the characteristics of light and the developing process.
Her "Blueprints" series uses a chemical process to transfer the shapes of shadows cast by the structure of a university building in Mexico City directly onto specially treated paper.
"What excites me is to push the limits of what I can see, so I use a variety of different photographic techniques and materials to experiment with light," she says. "I try to create something that's from the imagination, that talks about space and color but is abstract and constructed inside the camera."
"Blueprints" (2015)
"Blueprints" (2015) Credit: Fabiola Menchelli
At the Dubai Photo Exhibition earlier this year, Menchelli was selected by curator Magnolia de la Garza for inclusion in the Mexican exhibit, alongside several other artists whose works focus on architecture.
"She's really into photographic techniques, and particularly traditional rather than just digital ones," De la Garza suggests. "I love that her work uses natural light to create a very abstract image so you almost forget what you are seeing."
With new projects currently in development, exhibitions coming up in Mexico City and Los Angeles, and the compilation of her first monograph to finalize, as well as regular teaching commitments at the AAVI Academia de Artes Visuales and CENTRO University, Menchelli has plenty to keep her occupied, but the pursuit of artistry and innovation remains her primary focus.
"I am conscious that I am privileged to be a working artist," she points out. "My ambition is to be happy and continue working in the studio, encountering new ways of thinking about this world."