Aaron Christopher Rees employs the photographic lens to document moments of altered perception. This includes shifts in the horizon line, distortions of form and alterations in the hue of light that infiltrates gallery spaces. He is known for creating speculative environments that reference the photographic darkroom, where he places monochromatic prints of desire alongside large scale videos of the sublime, engulfed by an intense red glow. The artist explains “I have always liked this notion of the photographic apparatus as enabling a vision that speaks to altered states of seeing,” finding his interest in “how photographic technologies enable a playful manipulation of reality, since they are machines through which we see the world.” Indeed, his practice is suspended somewhere in between a chemical high and cinematic marvel, where he fictionalises the technological artefacts of film development.
This interest has served him well, having exhibited in group shows at CCP, Sarah Scout Presents, LON Gallery and scheduled to show new work in Melbourne Now, NGV, in 2023. His most recent solo show at NAP Contemporary, Firmament (2022), is emblematic of Rees’ unique approach to the photographic medium. Spread across 3 gallery spaces and enveloped in haptic red lighting, the work features videos of ocular pleasures—such as solar light piercing through the sky—and a series of prints. The latter also inhabit the realm of desire, by depicting libidinal symbols, such as flowers and bed sheets. However, Rees positions this appeal as an optic stimulation rather than eroticism, by contextualising these scenes with urban and natural landscapes. One of his signature works is the video Horizon (2021), a sunset displayed across three screens, rotated to appear as a vertical landscape. “The sunset is the ultimate photographic event,” says the artist, “it contains all the fundamentals of life, such as earth, fire and water.” Rees uses this set up to fracture the viewing experience of this wondrous sight, by forcing the spectator to rotate their heads. This is a strategy that compellingly dates to his childhood, as the artist shares that “when I was a young child, I often watched television upside down. My mum would ask my why and I would reply that it makes the images more interesting. In a way, I was taking ownership over the transmission of images by abstracting them from their intended communication.” Rees carefully identifies in this anecdote how the simple act of a viewing a picture upside down is a form of agency for a child in an adult world of mass media. And this is something he has been doing ever since.