Crash Barriers, 2018 - ongoing


 Philip Lüschen (NL)
Visual artist / Scenographer  

 vagueing human-constructed environments through multi-disciplinary work 


The photo series Crash Barriers (2018–ongoing) is a direct translation of Lüschen’s experience of the regimented rigidness of the human-made environment. We see the natural world framed by accumulations of concrete (crash) barriers, foil and fences: meant to ease our way, they benumb the mind and soul.

Crash Barriers can be divided into four subchapters: Set, Cracks, Backstage and Construction. The sequence of Set sensitises our eye to the shapes and signs that navigate us through life and discipline, demarcate and define our surroundings. The photographs were taken in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Japan, yet their systematic similarities annihilate whatever site-specificity there may be. Together, the photos create a sense of the whole world as a set, whose citizens– like model dummies – are living in a loop, trapped within society’s mechanisms.

Photos from Set are presented alongside scenes from Cracks, Backstage or Construction, in which the unambiguous structures are ‘vagued’. The first shows, as the title suggests, cracks in polished surfaces, visible in seedlings finding their way through a cover sheet or ripples in the road; ‘the vague’ peeks through and reveals its dormant presence. The scenes in the last two subchapters are less amenable to interpretation because their decor pieces have lost their indexicality. Construction focuses on sites undergoing transformation, their base materials not yet having found their shape, whereas in Backstage they have already been worn out or are stored for later use. Looking through Lüschen’s lens, our eyes become alert to the tactile qualities of the unpolished. Such a focus on materiality encourages haptic visuality – looking, in the sense of the scholar Laura U. Marks’s theorizing of this term, with a ‘caressing gaze’ and feeling that one is almost within touching distance of a two-dimensional picture. The photographs activate a form of attention that is at risk of being lost in the world as set.

Crash Barriers might leave us admiring the extension of society’s efficiency –and at the same time it exposes an almost endearing human deficiency in our attempts to make sense of life.