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Monday, 6 June 2011

Dark forces.

Untitled, 2010 by Simon Brewer from a collection entitled The Necessary Tension of Possibility.

It's really no coincidence that I draw inspiration from the same bleak corner of the soul as this talented London-based photographer. Indeed, part of his assertion is that lurking in the DNA of all brothers and sisters is a shadowy predilection. With my brother and I it seems manifest – quite innocuously – in a regular fondness for aesthetic and thematic darkness, rather than with outright evil; with his ‘brother’ – the subject of this set of photographs and accompanying essay – brother of the Khmer Rouge, chief executioner Kang Kek Iew, or as he was known by his nom de guerre Comrade Duch, the contention in full is that with all humankind there is as much a propensity for good as there is a propensity for evil.

To some this is startlingly brave optimism; to many it would be dismissed – as would all the surviving members of the regime – in order to as Earnest Becker says to escape from evil, as part of the very expression of flight from death itself. The artist Simon Brewer, meanwhile, pursues in this work that is to become his first solo show, what Thomas Aquinas posited nearly eight-hundred years ago, that “Nothing that is wholly evil can exist.” This, Brewer maintains, “...presents itself most strikingly in the context of the most abhorrent of acts.” which explains, at least in part, the lure of Duch.

Shot at the scene of multiple atrocities, the Tuol Sleng prison, more commonly known as S-21, but previously a French Lycée, while Duch was on trial, Brewer’s work demonstrates an awe-inspiring vision: his ability to capture the tension between apprehension and exposure in warm daylight hues and the darkest shadows of solid, imperceptible nothingness. His contrasts between neat lines of orderliness of what once was a school room, and the crude, almost cancerous brickwork of the torture chamber annex with its brutal, butchered holes further stress what the photographer himself states as, “...(the) conflict between forces of good and evil manifest in the human psyche...”

What if though this is a battle without surrender? Are we to become Hopkins' carrion?

"Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year /
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God."

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