26/2 - 11/3 1998
TSIMISKI 94 / 285-890
MO, WE, SA 10.00 - 14.30
TU, TH, FRI 10.00 - 14.00, 18.00 - 20.30


Robin Dance's topographies are characterised by a misleading appearance of banality. They are flat, understated records whose style accurately reflects the austerity of his compositions: uniform surfaces, natural or artificial, leading to one or more usually geometrical structures in the middle distance, photographed with a monochrome palette restricted largely to middle greys. Shorn of black and white photography's dramatic contrasts, his images with their circles, rectangles and parallel lines seem at times to flirt with abstraction.
Behind this deliberate reductionism, however, lies an exceptionally tough programme. His sequence Remains (1991-94), exhibited in 1996 at the European Cultural Centre of Delphi, tackled the subject of Nazi concentration camps from Poland to Estonia through what may well be the only approach open to photography. Carefully eliminating all traces of pathos, he concentrates on the disintegrating physical remains of the genocidal machine rusting wire, crumbling bricks, cracked concrete. Such traces communicate more than enough; "I will show you fear in a handful of dust", Eliot wrote in The Waste Land.
Landscapes can be read as a bleak meditation on Europe at the end of the twentieth century, a Europe homogenised and stripped of its cultural pretensions, uneasily at peace yet exhausted by its history. The sequence opens with the claustrophobic image of a German house barred and shuttered against the world; this is followed by a series of diptychs, the first of which depicts a pair of nearly identical ventilation pipes emerging from underground bunkers at Oberen Kuhberg concentration camp. The T-shaped pipes stand like minimalist sculptures in a sea of grass, the sequence's only venture beyond the urban environment. In the next diptych, nature has been reduced to a pot of ferns standing on a sawn-off tree stump between two securely locked garage doors; facing this image are the blind eyes of two bricked-in windows in yet another German house.
A final concentration camp image, of a disturbingly narrow arched door with two peepholes cut into it, is paired with one of a door in Brighton. Set in a rotting chipboard facade, the second door is almost featureless, perhaps even disused, the monotony of the shallow perspective relieved only by the scrawl of a graffitied 'tag' off to one side. All these sealed and shuttered openings generate a strong sense of alienation, a festung Europa of the mind. Nor is history a source of comfort or illumination in Dance's reading; Roman Aqueduct, Budapest shows one of the continent's noblest engineering achievements reduced to a pitiful pile of brick and stone the size of a washing machine, squatting on the edge of a featureless housing development.
If the past has been reduced to rubble, the future seems to hold out even less hope. The last diptych in the sequence depicts two views of a wall in Budapest; apart from a discreet sign advertising "U.S. Products", the worn surface has been scrawled and spray-painted with more of the ubiquitous and arcane tags. This, it seems, is what the grand melodrama of communism's fall has been reduced to: a dubious promise of consumer goods, and that pervasive symbol of the century's end, a universal script void of meaning.

John Stathatos

Robin Dance. Born 1952, England. Studied at Hornsey College of Art. He is lecturing on photography in several English and other European Art Colleges. His work has been exhibited in a number of personal and group shows in England, Germany, Esthonia, Greece and other countries. He has been twice awarded the British Council Travel Award.