Polaroid Week: Andreas Rentsch: Entangled with Justice
A New York based artist and professor of photography at Lycoming College, Andreas Rentsch uses self-portraiture, performance, time-based experimentation, chance and unconventional techniques to explore issues of justice, incarceration, and humanism.
Swiss born, Rentsch grew up within the walls of a prison compound. With his father being the warden and an earnest believer in rehabilitation, Rentsch was instilled with the belief all people should be treated with respect and are deserving of dignity. Such an upbringing allowed for Rentsch’s ongoing exposure to the inmates, through playing soccer with the prison teams, sharing family meals with inmate guests, and casual interactions on a daily basis. Given these unusual circumstances, Rentsch developed a keen empathy for the human condition.
Photography was an early interest as well for Rentsch, and experimentation has been a mainstay in his practice. Pinhole photography, innovative applications for x-ray film, films created from still photos, experiments in abstraction, and drawing with light have all played roles in various projects.
Entangled with Justice is perhaps the project where all the various influences in Rentsch’s development come together in a most profound manner. After witnessing the television broadcasts of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated and abused by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, Rentsch was profoundly disturbed and, like so many of us, helpless to effectuate change in any direct fashion. So as an artist he spoke out about the brutality and injustice with his work, performing, calling attention to the brutality.
Rentsch shot long exposures, in studio, on Polaroid Type 55, tracing his figure, with a penlight, and constructing various prison tableaus that were becoming, concurrently, part of our cultural psyche. After each exposure, he allowed the combination positive-negative film to go unfixed for weeks, or even months, allowing the chemistry to become desiccated, and to change in unpredictable ways. When separating the 4×5 print from the film negative, Rentsch’s attention turns to the negatives, which feature black rendered lines reminiscent of primitive, figurative drawings. The damage being inflicted, by one character upon another, is haunting, radiating with desolation, depravity. But, surprisingly, there are also images where the figures are composed in such a way it might appear aid is being rendered, or conversations being had, or even hands held, as though the figures are dancing.
This work asks us to consider incredibly difficult questions, to confront our own connections to such cruelty, by political and cultural association. But the intermingling with optimism and hope, in small gestures, stand as evidence of possible alternatives to systemic inhumanity. These works, unique and cathartic, demonstrate how entangled are the positives and negatives in this world.
Upcoming exhibition venues for The Polaroid Project, a traveling group exhibition that features Rentsch’s Polaroid work:
The Polaroid Project, Fundación Barrié, La Coruna, Spain, 2023
The Polaroid Project, National Taiwan Normal University Museum of Art, Taipei City, Taiwan, 2023
Andreas Rentsch received his B.F.A. from Les Ecoles d’Arts Appliqués in Vevey, Switzerland and his M.F.A. in Studio Art from Stony Brook University. Having grown up on a prison compound where his father was the warden, Andreas’ work is an ongoing exploration of the connection of fate, geography, and politics in the direction of justice. Andreas’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including a solo exhibition at the Musée
de l’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland, and is in many museum collections (Musée de l’Elysée, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi, Belgium, Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, NY, amongst others). He is a recipient of two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships and two grants from the Polaroid Corporation. The prestigious photography magazine Aperture published one of his portfolios. Other pieces have been published in numerous books and magazines, including “The Polaroid Project,” a book published as part of a 7-museum exhibition of artists that have used the Polaroid film in their work.
Andreas has taught photography at various institutions such as Stony Brook University, St. John’s University, the International Center of Photography and is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Lycoming College.
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