Introduction: Kurt Kladler, Charim Galerie
Accompanying program: Artist talk with Lisl Ponger, Tuesday, 20 July at 7:00 p.m.
In the annual series WERKSCHAU, the FOTOGALERIE WIEN presents retrospectives of Austrian artists who have contributed substantially to the development of artistic photography and new media in Austria, highlighting outstanding and innovative achievements and offering a historical overview. So far, a cross section of the oeuvres of Jana Wisniewski, Manfred Willmann, VALIE EXPORT, Leo Kandl, Elfriede Mejchar, Heinz Cibulka, Renate Bertlmann, Josef Wais, Horakova+Maurer, Gottfried Bechtold, Friedl Kubelka, Branko Lenart and INTAKT – The Female Pioneers (Renate Bertlmann, Moucle Blackout, Linda Christanell, Lotte Hendrich-Hassmann, Karin Mack, Margot Pilz, Jana Wisniewski) and Inge Dick has been shown.
In contrast to the Werkschau exhibitions that have taken place until now, Lisl Ponger’s WERKSCHAU is not a retrospective in the classical sense. It is, rather, a kind of “deconstructed Werkschau” (Ponger), an installation consisting of a photo studio, a darkroom, and a cinema. Ponger’s work is about stereotypes, racisms, and how, at the intersection of art, art history, and ethnology, ways of seeing are constructed. The Werkschau’s subtitle, Fact or Truth, is the exhibition’s leitmotif and refers to the thematic interests and investigations in Ponger’s work. The installation can be read as a sort of visualization of her methods, an example that can be walked through.
The work of photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868–1952), renowned for the “Indian” photographs he produced over a period of more than thirty years, is the point of departure for the conceptual model that the installation builds upon. Using Curtis’ photographs and Ponger’s own images produced during a research trip in Vancouver, B.C., the dichotomous differentiation of documentary and staged photography, documentarism versus pictorialism, is questioned and the exoticising gaze is deconstructed. The central piece in the installation is Ponger’s staged photograph, Indian Jones I – Fact or Truth. Indian Jones stands in a photo studio with his back to the viewer gazing across a landscape, a pose that echoes Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818). Indiana Jones – a fictitious character, an archaeologist, adventurer and professor with connections to museums – serves as an especially suitable figure for reflection on the destruction of non-European cultures and concurrent preservation of their material objects (in museums, as photographs, etc.). Using the medium of photography – supposedly a means to “represent reality” – Ponger dismantles the notion of authenticity, a notion that plays a major role in the desire to capture and preserve. In this way Curtis, with his romanticising photographs, had hoped to prevent the “Indians” of North America from “disappearing” by documenting, or rather staging, their “customs and traditions” before they were appropriated or prevented by white colonisers.
Along with the backdrop, photo equipment, and a reading corner with books, several of Ponger’s own photographic works can be seen in the photo studio as well as in the darkroom. The X plays an important role in the installation – as on a treasure map, the X refers to traces in the installation. Guided by texts, citations, photographs, postcards and labelled objects, these traces, leading through many layers of meaning, can be decoded. Each item in the installation is connected to others – whether by content, in its formal aspects or its appearance in various media. It is up to viewers whether they participate in the search for traces and deciphering of tracks.
Complementing the installation, older and newer films by Lisl Ponger will be shown in the Fotogalerie Wien cinema, the third setting for this WERKSCHAU.