On the Archaeology of Privacy
Robert F. Hammerstiel’s work deals with rarely observed territories of privacy that have not yet been integrated into the public picture, reservations of the civil world in which the ability of self expression – although rapidly diminishing – has not yet extinguished.(1)
Prior to the execution of his individual work groups Hammerstiel conducts a thorough research that one could describe as a kind of “archaeology of the intimate“; in order to be able to find pictures in which objects are no longer subjected to quick usage and consumption, but prove to be resistant, concrete things. Through magnification to human scale and their isolation in the photography studio copied from advertising photography, the objects that have crept into our everyday lives acquire an aura, a certain waywardness that invert the perspective.
Thus, according to Walter Benjamin, what one can call a “dialectic picture” is created, a constellation between estranged things and the meaning of these things through perception.(2) The everyday objects and situations that Robert F. Hammerstiel photographs, are in a way stripped of their utility value through the process of aestheticisation. The process is comparable to the dying off of the utility value, which in the course of their history gives the objects a new power of expression. Their codes and symbol characters are more prominent than would be the case when viewed in a normal context or in a simple isolation as ready-made.
Take, for example, the cat scratching trees. They are firstly practical objects that fulfil a certain function for animal lovers. They serve to protect the upholstery and are meant to accommodate a cat’s need to climb and play. Isolated, as fully lit photographic image and magnified to a scale of 1:1, its peculiar form and the material that reminds of upholstery stands out. The object is clearly identifiable as part of the interior. Even when today’s apartment has very little of the cushioned “sheath of the human”(3), these things somehow still remind of the “Poufs“ and “Confortables“, the furniture of the 19th century with its upholstered material, its cords and cushions.(4) It seems as if the living quarters staged as place of refuge survived in the scratching tree as a sort of fallen national treasure. Perhaps it is also “food” for the childhood fantasy of hiding from the world in a tree-house. One can assume that the objects (which by no means are cheap) did not come to being by mere coincidence or the passing whim of an employee of the manufacturing company. More plausible would be the assumption that a certain professional will to form was at work.
It seems as if Hammerstiel has extended his antennae to catch the background vibrations of the Big Bang of our culture that took place in the 19th century. At the same time he is searching for the remains of archaic pictures, plants and animals as expression of the organic life – an expression of desire, to undo the estrangement from nature, the sea as image of eternity, the ruins as symbol of utopia and of melancholy.
1 see Richard Sennett: The Fall of Public Man, New York 1974
2 Walter Benjamin: Das Passegen-Werk, Bd.1, Frankfurt 1982
3 ibid., a. a. O.
4 Sigfried Giedion: Die Herrschaft der Mechanisierung, Hamburg 1994
Sinje Dillenkofer‘s SUBSTITUTES I, A-F from 1990 are six triptych photographs that not only lay claim on the status of the images, but also ? enveloped in cubic bearers ? are materially raised to objects. The staging of the motifs suggest an allegedly neutral product placement, that blends out contexts and at the same time emphasizes the symbolic value of the respective object. In the case of SUBSTITUTES I, A-F the “product“ is a dog’s urn, a dog beauty competition trophy as well as ? in the centre ? a posing dog.
Each of these photographic objects taken by itself forms a stage in a life cycle ? the blossom of life itself, presumable success and lamented death. Stefan Berg describes Dillenkofer’s SUBSTITUTES in this context very accurately as “a bitter parable of the human existence and their desire for fame and honour and the banal finality of death, that bears the same form as triumph.” The trophy stands forth as a symbol of life, of success and of death, it documents the life of a dog as an equally longing and unavailing pursuit of a fulfilled existence. That this reversal of the existance as creature arises alone from the will and the imagination of a human owner, does not change anything of the logic. On the contrary: when the human creates his substitutes, he is only looking to satisfy the projection of an alter-ego.
Sinje Dillenkofer’s photographic SUBSTITUTES demonstrate this logic “splendidly“. Cold and cynical, the artist confronts us with these projections through which the inhuman dimension of such questionable anthropomorphisations becomes even more apparent. Last but not least the symbolism of SUBSTITUTES II, tiles 1-15 refers unmistakably to the coding of an ideology, which refers to the pure breed just as to the discrimination of the allegedly different. Latest at this stage do Sinje Dillenkofer’s photographic objects reveal a dangerous social relevance. Namely when one traces back the “substitute“ of such a dog’s life to the human image underlying it.
If this human image remains anonymous on the surface of the photographic, the specific character of the substitute is revealed in deeper layers, namely where the projection between real and false, the authentic and the artificial begin to differentiate, to finally come together in a feeling of affection or alienation. The suggestion of stylised beauty repeatedly leads you onto the wrong track, the more so when one reduces the “products“ to what they appear to be: trophy, urn, dog. The actual reference moments of Sinje Dillenkofer’s works disclose themselves only on the level of the variant which also underlies the later RESERVATEN 1-21, the UMKEHRUNG (Reversal) or the cutlery box series. All of these photographic works embody substitute realities in picture form, that never only refer to themselves but always to something else: to collective conditioned valences of status and hierarchy as well as the therein operative processes and projections. SUBSTITUTES display themselves before this background as a type of game of those pyschosocial structures, which representatively substantiate human existence in our western culture.