2009, PAL 4:3 (letterbox), 13 min, colour, stereo

embedded image
© Exhibition view: Passing the Past, P///AKT, Amsterdam, 2009

The Letter

Dear Annja,

I’m writing to you because I saw your small exhibition in P/////AKT, which I quite enjoyed. I think Zandvoort especially, although I watched and appreciated all three films. Beyond also intrigued me. I hope you don’t mind if, being an art historian, I share some thoughts on Zandvoort.

The film played on a normal TV set placed on a pedestal at such a height that one looks down somewhat on the screen. It shows a beach landscape shot from quite a distance. I haven’t thought about it, but I can imagine that the angle at which one looks at the set is the same as the angle at which the camera is looking at the beach—a nice embodied detail. The soundtrack could be heard on headphones. The film is static and “merely” records the passing of time. However, it does not do so literally, but at a faster pace. People—who at a distance are no more than small stick figures—move in a comical, cartoon-like fashion across the beach, with small dot-like dogs moving around them at lightning speed. It is unclear to me how exactly the editing and post-production was done; one cannot fully get a grip on the image, and remains unsure as to what is “real” and what might be a latter addition. What in any case is clear, is that some parts of the day are missing, as the people continuously vanish into thin-air, and sometimes the tide comes up or goes down in one blink. The editing, however, does not consist of hard cuts but smoothly fades in and out, making the transitions not contrasting but part of the beach day. The sound is not speeded-up, and consists of the cries of seagulls and crashing waves. Sometimes one gets the feeling of hearing the people, but this could also be imagined. Watching, standing in the exhibition space, a day goes by in several minutes, with some excitement—a horse! kite-surfers!—and the casual rhythm of people coming and going.

The work is small, the screen, the action, the people. Looking at it, I briefly had the feeling that it should be even smaller, stamp-sized: conveying the whole world in a square inch. But later I realized that it is this size that keeps the puzzling effect alive, whereas, all the details would be lost in a smaller version. The small gesture refers to a big, if not the biggest, topic: the passing of time. Could one be more existential? The small, restless black shapes crawl like ants past a force—the sea—which hardly takes any notice of all their impatient movement. In this the work is deeply art historical, reminiscent perhaps of the most-famous beach scene in modern and Western art history: C.D. Friedrich’s Mönch am Meer. Once the then young Romantic painter reflected on his monk, stating, and allow me to give the complete quotation: “And even if you think from morning to evening, from evening into the middle of the night, you would not apprehend, find a foundation for, the unthinkable ‘beyond’ [Jenseits]! With vain thoughts, you try to comprehend the afterworldly, to decipher the darkness that lies ahead! What holy knowledge is, only to be recognized and seen in fate; to finally know and understand it clearly.—Heavy and deep are your footsteps on the sandy shore: yet a soft wind blows over them and your traces will not be seen anymore: Ignorant man with vain thoughts.” This quote is one of the earliest known expressions of an artist who recognized that “experience”—looking—was not just a “confused type of thinking” as Descartes thought one and half centuries before Friedrich, but makes clear that it is through looking that we have the possibility to “comprehend” things that our conceptual and rational mind has no access to. It is perhaps too easy and even superfluous to remind ourselves of this story, and it could even be that the relationship is a “false friend,” of the kind one has in translating. Is there really still a connection between the young melancholic German painter and Annja Krautgasser—female, Austrian, 2009? I’m afraid it is difficult to give a clear answer to this, which suggests that one—or I—cannot simply answer negative or positive. One has to think it through.

What is important to take into consideration when trying to answer this question is that in his “visual logic” Friedrich is very close to a medium that is on the brink of “invention”: photography. The “invention” is in inverted commas as there is an interesting art historical study conducted by Peter Galassi that provides compelling evidence that photography was not just invented, as though it had materialized out of thin air, but was the result of a shift in the logic of painting that occurred around the turn of the 18th to the 19th century. This is important, for it makes clear that Friedrich makes his argument on a new understanding of experience in conjunction with the advent of a new medium—a medium that, as Benjamin stated, bore in itself the promise of film. Again we have to be careful not to happily jump back to 2009 with these first indications of partnership, but neither must we be discouraged from continuing our journey. For what is it that makes this awareness that experience contains an autonomous form of understanding, so close to film? Why is it that this autonomous logic can be trans-lated into the language of logic to an extent (in an interpretation, for instance) but always keeps one foot in a domain where our linguistic, linear logic cannot enter. Understandably, there is no one answer to this question, for that would be a horrible paradox, but we have to admit that each work suggests a different—it is autonomous—answer. What is the answer we can find in this small image by Krautgasser? What kind of understanding of film and the photographic image surfaces here?

The work seems to oscillate between a playfulness and existential depth. The image looks/is manipulated, but one does not know exactly to what degree. Is it just a form of fast-forward, or are more tricks played out in this game? We stand in front of a screen that tells us about our world every night in the form of televised news, and we are puzzled. This screen gives us the world, but not comfortably sitting on a couch, but standing, bringing our bodies in position almost mirroring the camera, and then we see images on it that neither seem completely false nor completely true. Is this a muddy game of inconsistency? Or, are we still struck by an internal logic that does not give itself away all at once, but only exposes itself slowly in a (hopefully) careful dialogue with the work.

Looking at the image, thinking over these art historical associations, one is prompted to take into account another very famous beach metaphor: Foucault’s last paragraph to his seminal Les mots et les choses. At the end of this long and complicated book Foucault poetically pictures the “end of man” as the disappearance of a face drawn in the sand in the break of the waves. Again we have to be hesitant of these “merely” formal associations, but there seems to be a link between Friedrich’s new concept of experience, photography and film and the mysterious “end of man.” For, even if we cannot hope to grasp the complex argument of Foucault’s book in its nuanced details, we can take from it its suggestion that the way in which people relate, in their talking and writing, things to words, changes in the course of time ... and that in one of these configurations the figure which bound words and things together was “man” or, better, the “subject.” In this configuration—which is still very close to us, if not simply our own—there is a hidden force behind things, a subject, which binds all events together. Behind a man lies a biography, behind all the organisms on the planet, the force of life, etc. etc. Our lives are being constantly controlled by forces that exceed us: “desires,” “needs,” “the laws of the economy.” Our “knowledge,” that language we use to apprehend this chaos and bring it to a rest, always fails, metaphysically fails—even if we always seek to bridge the gap and find a position from which we can finally speak the truth.

The people move like shadows on the screen. (Plato? No, no more games, let’s finish.) They appear and disappear on a screen that does not do much more than constantly appearing, giving light. The work does not present a way out of this aporia of the modern subject. There is no “way out” but only a way “in,” it seems. The work glues us to a screen, not in a spectacular sense, but in its little game of tricks. Standing in front of the screen one can realize that these little black figures and all the machinery around it, not so much represent truth but “are” our truth in a strange way—if such a dramatic statement is justified as the result of such a small film. What we see is technology at work, not so much re-presentation but a presentation of how an image is formed, how it starts to exist. There is nothing said, there is a reference, but the reference is a reference to itself. The sea, just as the figures are, is merely a necessary part in the coming into being of an image. Just as this text is not something more than the work, but also (in a modest way) part of it: the language that seeks to tell the work and fails, for it can never “be” the work. It’s a necessary failure; something that makes the work visible in its quality of being unsayable. But what is an image then? It’s difficult if not impossible to “say” what it is. The image is there in that domain beyond our language but open to our experience, where we are neither subjects nor objects. Experience is not another force like the “biography” for a human subject or the concept of “life” for biology, but it is a form of knowing that does not refer but states itself. The image is its expression. Or perhaps we should say that an experience is an image without ourselves, even if it occurs on the border between our subjectivity and the objective outside. It is an image that obtains a physicality outside of us, an image within the world, or if we want to push this philosophical game: is there a place where the world as an amalgam of the thinkable and unthinkable begins.

Standing in the semi-dark room of P/////AKT thinking these things, I cannot help but feeling close to Friedrich’s thoughts on his monk: “Vain man, with vain thoughts!” But the melancholy of Friedrich’s monk is not there, only a smile. There is no sad feeling of loss, but a somehow joyful experience of losing.



(Steven ten Thije)

embedded image embedded image
embedded image embedded image
© Video stills

[VIDEO]: Zandvoort

Exhibitions: • ...what remains..., Andechsgalerie, Innsbruck, A 2009 • Passing the Past, P///AKT, Amsterdam, NL 2009

No: 09-009


Fotogalerie Wien
08.04. – 03.05.2014

Julie Gufler (DK), Annja Krautgasser (AT), Simona Obholzer (AT), Almut Rink (DE), Patrizia Wiesner-Ledermann (AT)

embedded image
© Fotogalerie Wien

In der Ausstellung Berühren Sie nicht den Fluchtpunkt zeigen fünf Künstlerinnen Foto- und Videoarbeiten, in denen sie Bildlandschaften erfinden, die die Wahrnehmung in eine neue Richtung lenken. Die Auseinandersetzung mit Sprache, Text, Textbildern sowie mit Bildinformationen spielt hier eine große Rolle. In ihren Arbeiten zwischen Realität und Fiktion setzen die Künstlerinnen (selbst)bewusst und ohne dramaturgische Höhenflüge spröde Dialoge und Sprachkonstruktionen, User-Manuals, Codes und Bildfehler ein. Es eröffnet sich eine fremde Welt, die zunächst schwer zugänglich erscheint: Hier begegnen wir schattenhaften Strandgängern, dem erodierenden Großglockner oder kryptischen Text-Bild-Landschaften. Es sind Welten, in denen andere Regeln und Zeichen gelten, die aber durch die ihnen innewohnende Poesie Assoziationen eröffnen.

embedded image
© Fotogalerie Wien

In der Ausstellung Berühren Sie nicht den Fluchtpunkt zeigen fünf Künstlerinnen Werke, in denen sie Bildlandschaften erfinden, die nur in einer ganz bestimmten Entfernung zu stehen kommen. Wie eine Fata Morgana tut sich für einen Moment jeweils eine fremde Welt auf, die aber wenig Exotisches oder Einladendes zu bieten hat, sondern den Betrachter eher von sich weist. Der Zutritt scheint auf einen ersten Blick verschlossen, hier herrschen Regeln und Zeichen, die nur bedingt verstanden werden können. Die Künstlerinnen vermerken diesen Umstand in aller Nüchternheit und ohne jede Wehmut. Aus der Distanz wird lakonisch dokumentiert, was in Erfahrung zu bringen ist.

Den verschiedenen Welten gemeinsam ist der unermüdliche Rhythmus, mit dem sie sich stetig weiter generieren: krude Dialoge, selbstbewusste Bildfehler, sterile Ellipsen oder schattenhafte Strandgänger werden ohne dramaturgischen Eifer abgespult. Die Künstlerinnen mögen diese Landschaften selber erfunden haben und treten doch einen Schritt zurück, verweisen auf eine Art fiktiven Phantomautor, der hinter all dem zu stecken scheint und
dem sie selber nicht ganz trauen.

Bei den Betrachtern kann sich ein Gefühl ergeben, vielleicht auch schon einmal, halb gedankenverloren, aus vorüberziehenden Fragmenten der Umgebung und durch seltsame Verkettungen dieser Sprengsel, im Geist eine fremde Welt zu sehen, die keinen Sinn ergibt und die doch lebendig und trotzig vor sich hin existiert. Die gleiche Logik ist den gezeigten Werken zu eigen, ihnen gemeinsam ist auch der Mut, mit dem die Künstlerinnen das Krude und Spröde stehen lassen können.
(Julian Tapprich)