The eye can never get enough of the images in the Yangmei (Chinese Balls) series. Many fruits of the strawberry tree gleam intensely red and enticingly among shiny leaves, yet appear to resist the gaze. The twigs, from which the leaves and fruit hang suspended, vanish into a mysterious white light that floods the pictoral space. The fruit appear to “fly” in a dazzling void way beyond reach – much like a promise that one doubts will ever be fulfilled.
Ralf Peters baits us with beauty: “I would mostly like to draw the viewer in,” the conceptual photo artist has noted. But there is always something irritating about the kind of beauty employed here. Specifically, in Yangmei (Chinese Balls) it is the gulf between the sensual quality of the fruit and the intangible space surrounding them. The weightlessness of the fruit flying in various stages of ripeness among the leaves creates a strong impression of weightlessness. There is little of the digital post-processing here that Peters frequently applies in his other series. Here, the effect of floating or flying is created by an extreme focus on the fruit that causes the mesh of twigs and branches in the background to dissolve and vanish almost completely.
Where the viewer stands is unclear. The fruit on offer in these images is enticing. Their ambivalence, however, does not encourage reaching for one. If the large amount of white in these photographs imbues them with great lightness and brightness, it also makes them appear abstract. Moreover, despite their floral theme, the effect of these images is one of great artificiality.
Flying Balances, the exhibition title, neatly summarises the artist’s play on beauty and artificialness, on baiting and enticement. This play on dualities infuses his entire oeuvre. Regardless of the source of his themes – nature, architecture, portraits – Peters is invariably concerned with the fragile “flying balance” between immaculate surface and unsettling detail.