REVIEW: LIQUID LAND by Renda Effendi

by Pedro Leão Neto

 

"Liquid Land" is the surprising second monograph from Rena Effendi, a widely published photographer from Azerbaijan who had already in print Pipe Dreams, both by Schilt Publishing. 'Liquid Land' is a superior documentary photography project, both aesthetically and as a social document.

What makes this poetic photography series really unique is its intriguing intertwined contrasting worlds. On the one hand, the apparent perfect universe made up of beautiful symmetries seen in diverse butterfly species and, on the other hand, the life of the people who dwell and work precariously among the oil spills and industrial ruins in some of the world’s most polluted areas, near the legendary Azerbaijan city of Baku.

Co-authored with her father Rustam Effendi, a dissident scientist and entomologist who devoted his life to studying, hunting and collecting butterflies in the Soviet Union, Rena shows her father's father's photographs of endangered butterflies, placed in plants and full of vibrant colours, side by side with her own photographs of a very different world. We are, in this way, also confronted with an entropic environment and urban decay of a land near the Caspian Sea and the city of Baku, oil capital of the world in the end of the XIX century - beginning of the XX - and where an industrial oil belt, better known as Black City, was established.

It is fascinating the challenge that this photography series poses to viewers since we are drawn to be simultaneously aware of very strong contrasting realities: the harsh conditions where those communities live, the identity, humanity and hope that those people are still able to maintain, in spite of those severe conditions and then the perfect world of symmetrical abstract and colourful patterns from the butterfly species.

As we run through 'Liquid Land' pages there are interesting visual and emotional links that we feel are possible to establish and that connect those very different worlds. These can be the interplay between the bold colours and patterns of the butterflies and the somewhat abstract shapes and tinted lights of those built-up ruin exteriors and wall textures. Then, the sometimes loneliness of some human figures and the empowerment given to them through Rena Effendi’s frames also communicates with the singularity and magical world of the Lepidoptera order and finally we are challenged to (re)discover the lost meaning or design in those derelict places, also the result of God’s Nature.

Rena Effendi’s 'Liquid Land' is with no doubt an impressive and very poetic monograph that we should not fail to visit and that holds Umberto Eco’s concept of “openness” by allowing diverse publics to fill what is lacking between those opposing worlds and image “fragments” with their experiences and personal sensibilities.

View project at instituteartist.com.