FOTOGALERIE WIEN – FOCAL THEME 2003: DOCUMENTATION
“Documentation” as a photographic and cinematic genre is traditionally associated with “objective” stocktaking of reality. The scientific assertion behind it differentiates documentation from reporting, from whence it emerged as an artistic genre in the 1920’s. At the same time, one was then already conscious of the story-telling, literary portion of such documentation – e.g. the French late surrealist Pierre Mac Orlan, “Documentary photography (…) is literary in nature because it is nothing less than a recording of contemporary life captured at the correct moment by an artist who is qualified to capture exactly this moment.” 1
With the mental inclusion of the subject (the documenting person), and the subjective time of recording, the pure character of documentation is relativized appreciably. Instead of portrayal of reality one would speak of a relationship to reality, with which a whole spectrum of questions is opened, as Roger Odin determined in 1990, “it [the term ‘relationship to reality’ ] forces the definition of what one understands as reality and inevitably into the delicate philosophical debate about the material and the imaginary, what is truth and what is false, briefly, it forces us to value models of reality according to the status of vision itself.” 2
The recent possibilities of digital treatment and generation of pictures have had drastic effects on our perceptual habits and our definition of reality just as naturally as breaking the boundaries of traditional photography and its classical genres.
A strong market emerges from a completely different side which satisfies and/or evokes an obviously broad need for (medial) reality (“contemporary life”) in the form of Reality TV, Game shows or Reality Soaps in film and television. Such documentation (preferably in real time) not only crosses the final frontier of separation between fiction (production) and reality, it eradicates the barriers between privacy and the public, between (human) interior and outside space.
How can documentation as an artistic category (in photography/video/film…) be composed in this contemporary context?
The three-part exhibition cycle of Fotogalerie Wien on this topic would like to bring some different artistic perspectives to light on the basis of selected work – possible forms of documentation in the age of (dis)illusion.
DOCUMENTATION I 7 April to 7 May 2003)
PLACE – AREA – TIME
In the work shown here, questions primarily pertaining to the area of conflict between public and private are addressed – to what extent do these two spheres penetrate each other? Where does the private become (or is made) publicly visible and/or where are social standards introduced into the organization of the private.
Private und öffentliche Räume (Private and public areas) is the title of a photo series which Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel (A) took between 1999 and 2000 at the Kaliningrad Oblast, in the once east-Prussian area around old Koenigsberg. This area was inaccessible to foreigners and most Soviet citizens from 1945 to 1990, and today is an exclave of Russia between those countries applying for EU membership, Poland and Lithuania, making it not only geographically part of “Europe” again. 3 The spaces recorded by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel are most likely to be placed in an intermediate zone, from which all traces of both a cultural past and the present seem to have been erased. Deserted and nevertheless obviously still in operation, they mutate along with their pseudo-modern, pseudo-civil interior of Eastern European late-communist influence to places of transience; as spaces devoid of “good taste” they communicate the (questionable) charm of a world which no longer exists. In the long run such resentments are nothing more than interpretations of the viewers, which, on their part, show no more and no less than what is, similar to the film characteristically titled: “Das ist alles” (That is all) 4 also produced in the Kaliningrader Oblast by the two artists.
Simone Demandt (D) shows interiors with a private character, though not used for living purposes, in her photo series Freude am Leben (Joy of Life), 2002 – 03, i.e. garages – home-owner garages which look like peep show rooms, whose main participant, the automobile, is absent. The view is thereby open to a room, which as Johannes Meinhardt writes, unites all special functions of earlier auxiliary buildings of the rural or craft professions’ tradition in itself: Camp, workshop, remise, shed, barn etc.. The objects kept here functionally no longer belong to the work area, and instead, “have assumed libidinous functions to a great degree, which belong to the concept of leisure time, to a range of desire-fulfilled articles and activities… ” The photographer shows these areas with a systematic, strictly regulated view, at the same time separating them from their structural and social context, whereby, “this apparently banal subject begins to reveal an amazing ambiguity and illegibleness,” 5 as a social reality which can only be penetrated with difficulty.
Fremde Orte (Strange Places) – 1999 2003 by Ernst Logar (A) are neither private nor public. The weapons depot of the federal police in Vienna, the main safe deposit area of the Austrian national library, the office for world time regulation in Paris… are areas which are subject to particularly strict restrictions on admission and thus are hardly or not at all in the public consciousness. Their political, economic or social meanings are therefore often quite important. Ernst Logar has been investigating such places for years and overcomes arduous bureaucratic routines to obtain permission to photograph for artistic purposes. When he succeeds, he develops photo and video documentations of the place as well as the work process. His descriptions of these places are, like Claudia Slanar says, “lapidary and far away from any speculation, on the other hand very subjective – the picture sections are consciously calculated and composed with regards to the opening of the third dimension.”6 His places are “strange” due not only to their delimitation from the public range, but also by “the absence of anything physical in the nearest sense: the places are deserted (…) omitting the social component and the reduction to architecture evokes timelessness. The area is not only estranged itself, but also alienates.”
The newer photographic work cycle (2002/03) of Gisela Erlacher (A) could be titled Fassadenbilder (Fa?ade pictures). Her facades – usually Viennese – do not show the representative “face” of a building, but blind, window- and door- less side and fire walls or entire “faceless” settlement house fronts or simply flat demarcations and zones in the urban structure. In this work it is not about architectural bodies or the fa?ade as a construction, but as Maria Schindelegger writes, it is about “tablet-like surface of such walls which, due to their pictorial surface qualities, appear as oversized canvases in the public area. (…) By stressing the pictorial quality of these walls, Gisela Erlacher refers to the fact that architecture photography can never supply a neutral stocktaking of, but is always subject to a certain abstraction process justified by the two-dimensionality of the medium.” 7
Walls in the urban space with a potential picturesque character are also the subject of the photo, respectively, billboard series Gegenorte (anti- Places) (2002) by Peter Koellerer (A), namely poster walls. The main view is once again not in the photographer’s field of vision, but the rear side: the rear side of the empty Billboard and its surroundings. Apart from its primary function as carrier of poster advertisements, “Billboards have a less obvious task in the organization of urban structures: that of shielding” places that are changing or that have no clear function in city life. These, often temporary, function-less, city landscape clippings Koellerer calls anti-places, which he now returns to public places by letting their illustrations in poster format illuminate on the “regular” side of Billboards. Thus not only ‘anti- places become places, but places become anti- places as well.
From Peter Koellerer’s monitored, hermetic room, Katja Stuke (D) takes us into the point of view of monitoring cameras installed in public areas with her video stills CCTV (2001 –2003). One sees the entrance area of a building (e.g. a bank, one imagines at first), a flat roof complex with antennas, a public house passage, then, in addition, a girl sitting on a park bench, or simply people taking a walk. Where is what is and who is observed and by whom? “The concern for security in public areas… keeps the number of video cameras in cities constantly on the increase. Alleged knowledge about certain subpopulations; prejudices about their life and behaviour, lead to certain public areas and groups of humans being monitored,” writes the artist. Conclusions from recorded pictures are affected by the knowledge of the observers, which are frequently influenced by prejudice. The blurriness of the pictures, their uncertain colour and the constant episode-likeness reflect this speculative nature of interpretation in this medium. The series CCTV recognizes that the real occurrences of what is shown cannot be resolved.
Fellinis “La Strada,” (The song of the road) (1954) is often described as “poetic and fairytale-like, yet glaringly realistic film.” La Strada (2002) by Fabian Seiz (A) alludes to the title of this film, and there actually is also a (camera) drive in the automobile with pans to the right and left. The pictures which this film consists of are easily recognized as photographic frames, which, arranged in an animation appear to be racing because of the long distance (between Toronto/CND and Florida/USA) yet temporal shortness. The quick-motion is looped and extended into infinity. The material is found footage in the broader sense: vacation photos found on a flea market from the 1980s.
Pushed to the borders of our ability to perceive, La Strada not only has us think about the speed and fleetingness of pictures, but of the tourist view and the principle of the repetition of largely inconsequential information as well.
In opposition to the Low Tech principle of the silent movie La Strada stands Alien City (1999) by a group of artists called alien productions (Martin Breindl / Norbert Math / Andrea Sodomka, A).
Constantly changing, it is made up of countless web cam grabs, historic pictures or utopian future visions as well as sounds from open microphones and city-soundscapes. Even if Alien City is a thoroughly virtual city in Cyberspace, it is nevertheless no fictitious city: “It really exists, floating in the discontinuum of the time and space of the World Wide Web. The simple presence of each new visitor causes changes in its appearance, every movement leads to change, a shift in its total structure. But these changes are subtle. As in all cities of this world one can never know where they will emerge next.” When Alien City arrives at a public exhibition outside of its pure Web existence, it is once again at the interface between so called real space and the virtual world. “The border between these two has long become permeable through new technologies anyway. The reciprocal effects, the mutual influences, are too strong for anyone to speak of two spaces at all. The area in which we move is shaped by the material as much as the virtual one so that distinctions become ever more difficult. The entwinement between the two has become what we call reality.”
1 quoted from Susanne Holschbach, in: Netzgespräch Wirklichkeitsfotografie In: Nach dem Film Nr. 2, 2001, http://www.nachdemfilm.de/no2/wir01dts.html
2 Roger Odin, Dokumentarischer Film – dokumentarisierende Lektüre, in: Christa Blümlinger (Hg.), Sprung im Spiegel. Filmisches Wahrnehmen zwischen Fiktion und Wirklichkeit, Vienna 1990, S. 125
3 ” At the meeting of the EU-Russia Cooperation Council on 15 April 2002 in Luxemburg and at the upcoming EU-Russia summit on 28 May in Moscow, the future of Kaliningrad, formerly Koenigsberg, is a crucial question from the German point of view. It is assumed in the German press that Kaliningrad will soon no longer be a part of Russia. The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung calls Kaliningrad “natureless foreign body, which still belongs to Russia, but no longer knows why. Soon Koenigsberg will become a part of the European Union, not as a member, but nevertheless geographically and in the mid term also economically.”
From: “Königsberg bald nicht mehr Teil Rußlands“, in: Informationen zur deutschen Außenpolitik, 17. 4. 2002, http://www.german-foreign-policy.com/de/news/article/1018994400.php
4 Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel, “that is all “, A 2001, 98 min.
5 Claudia Slanar, Ernst Logar: Strange places, 2001
6 Johannes Meinhardt, Der Gegenstand der Photographie, Zwei Photoserien von Simone Demand, in: Simone Demand, Freude am Leben, Kat. Museum im Ritterhaus (Hg.), Offenburg 2003
7 Maria Schindelegger, unpubl. Manuscript, 2003
8 Martin Breindl/alien productions, Alien City / Dialogue of two pedestrians in the crowd Text to the performance and installation at the Hamburg Music Festival 1 September 2001, http://alien.mur.at/theory/aliencity_hamburg.html