Caroline Allison’s Behind the Moon exhibition is a highlight of an exceptional autumn art season in Nashville, and it’s Allison’s most ambitious display to date. The photographer’s last large exhibition at Zeitgeist was 2019’s A History of Snow. That show saw Allison’s work breaking into a crescendo of increasingly abstracted and painterly landscape photography following a series of displays that found the artist gradually shifting away from her signature documenting of idiosyncratic interiors. A History of Snow represented an aesthetic and conceptual breakthrough for the artist, and Behind the Moon reads like A History of Snow’s more confident and expansive second movement.
Behind the Moon includes large framed photographs cyanotype prints and a massive light box display that’s the most ambitious work the artist has created to date. Behind the Moon is bigger than Allison’s previous display – A History of Snow shared Zeitgeist’s walls with an exhibition by Nashville painter, Alex Blau. It’s also a better, bolder, and more beautiful exploration of natural subjects from celestial objects, oceans, exploded snowballs and even delicate, dew-dappled spider’s webs. The exhibition is presented without the distractions of wall text or labeling, creating a meditative atmosphere focused on pure imagery. The work is also loosely arranged to feel like a journey from the dark of night, through dawn, and into the full brightness of daytime.
Allison captures her spider web images in cyanotype prints, deftly managing to disengage the sticky structures from the branches and bushes where she finds them before delicately draping them across large pieces of paper which have been treated with photosensitive chemicals. For readers who are unfamiliar with the cyanotype process, the sunlight turns the treated paper blue, but the web blocks the sunlight, and it leaves a white image of itself when it’s removed from the paper. The results are gorgeous grids of exceedingly delicate lines that read like abstract drawings or even conceptual architecture designs – cyanotypes were first developed for reproducing notes and diagrams like the blueprints we associate with the construction industry. The works are simply titled Spiderweb 1, Spiderweb 2, and the artist reverses her process for “Spiderweb 5,” spraying a web with photosensitive chemicals and draping it across paper to create a blue-on-white design which Allison blew up into a large archival print for this display.
Allison uses a 4×5 large format field camera for her photographs and manipulates all of her images in camera. She uses multiple exposures to unnaturally smooth-out the ebb and flow of an ocean surf, she photographs scenes upside down and disorients viewers who are left to puzzle over whether they are looking at a picture of the sky or the reflection of the sky on water. With her Multiple Moons she moves her camera or manipulates the position of her camera’s film holder over the course of multiple exposures, creating gorgeous repeating images of her lunar subject. But the most magical piece in the show is June 22, 1633, a roughly 10×4 foot light box Allison covered with a huge cyanotype photogram of a star map that recreates the night sky on the day of Galileo’s recantation of his heliocentric model of the solar system before the Inquisition. Allison painstakingly used a pin to poke holes through the paper to represent every individual star on the map, allowing the light box to illuminate them from below. The result is an exquisitely moving work that speaks to the vastness of space, the tremendum of time, and the miraculous beauty of our still strange and mysterious world.