Gazing into Paul Lowry's photographs, there is an immediate and bewildering sense one is looking at documents from a macabre archive of forensic studies. The images stage an alarming and sinister narrative. We are presented with a virtual encyclopedia-an elaborate mise-en-scène of experiments. In Lowry's mythological syntax a protagonist, embodying both assailant and victim, is the apparent subject in a series of diabolical examinations. Here the author plays all leading roles and then chronicles the outcome. His exploration holds us at the abrupt edge of what is real and what is imagined. The images are startling as photographic events that have taken place, somehow.
We are at once seized by an impulse not unlike that which grips curbside onlookers at the scene of an accident. In Lowry's world however, there are no accidents-our experience is directed with a deft, technical ability and decisive philosophical purpose. To view Lowry's work as the result of countless hours of hermetic tinkering is essential. Focused with the conviction of a medieval alchemist, he searches with patent resolve for an allegorical key to unlock the gates of an exceptional kind of knowledge.
What enriches the scenario is that the torturous investigations depicted are self-imagined, self-created, self-inflicted and self-documented. This very idea curiously brings to mind a notion set forth in the principles of quantum physics; i.e., the creator of an experiment influences, even determines its outcome. The existence of a magical component to universal law (a view that would have equaled academic heresy, not long ago) is crucial to our understanding of contemporary physics and to the reading of these pictures. A handsome dose of romantic mysticism makes Lowry's work unsettling and is, in scientific terms, what makes our "real" universe so paradoxical and frightening.
Science, the profound exemplar of humanity's quest for true knowledge, is at the heart of Lowry's abstract and is personified in this mythology. The idea of science as a clever yet poisonous serpent which tempts, seduces and finally corrupts those blessed inhabitants of Eden, eloquently finds expression in Lowry's agenda. Furthermore, this concept of science as a self-creating/corrupting/consuming entity points a bony finger toward humankind's ruthless lust for knowledge of, and dominion over, nature's secrets. History has repeatedly shown the critical flaw in a grand design-that knowledge and power once available, are predictably used against ourselves in an effective blend of resolute, self-righteous inquiry, naiveté and deadly precision. Lowry's message is scathing and clear-society is the scientist and the specimen.
In ancient tribal cultures, shamanistic rites were performed wherein a delegate endured agonizing trials upon the physical self via deliberate bodily abuse and/or the ingestion of psychoactive herbal poisons. This ordeal served to induce a state of trance-like delirium, helping the intrepid soul to wriggle out of darkness and touch ephemeral, immutable truths of Being-the objective: to purge the individual, and by extension the society, of spiritual impurities and earthly corruptions. Insofar as we are a species which can boast of an historical pathology obsessed with endless self-examination, Lowry's imagery provides us with a finely crafted anatomy lesson. His work illustrates a symbolic delirium and systematic exorcism of the Self. These fictional demonstrations are thus readable as ritual acts performed. Now our graceless antagonist sees hope as the agent for his own redemption.
In today's global hamlet of quick-fix cleanliness, "smart wars," economic imbalance and relentless nostalgia, Paul Lowry's work functions as a beacon of originality and insight. Behind his scientific method, lies an incisive critique of contemporary attitudes-not only of the prevailing rhetoric in art but also of how humanity chooses to experience life. In this context images like ONAN and GENIUS, achieve catharsis and breathe artistic triumph. They are compelling metaphors heralding an age clenched in the jaws of an insipid, depersonalizing technology-while civilization finds itself solemnly approaching the frontier of cultural homogeneity.
At perilous risk of being regarded as excessive and romantic, the artist has delivered to our eyes nothing less than an articulate and passionate soliloquy in the quiet, picture-zone of this drama we call life. Lowry's photographs anxiously declare an acute and well-timed "wake-up"call to the human race. Revealed is something intimate and sublime-his images form an imaginary protocol designed to ultimately purge, cleanse and heal an ailing spirit. In the unique, enigmatic universe of Paul Lowry a benign alchemy reigns supreme, and at the dark, wriggling edge of a passing millennium there is still magic.
MARCUS SCHUBERT - is a Toronto-based freelance photographer, writer, curator and teacher.