everyday: abstraction

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Installation View © Courtesy of the artist & RECEPTION
everyday: abstraction

Kurfürstenstraße 5/5a
September 8th, 2011 - September 17th, 2011

+49. (0)30. 26 93 14 55
Wed–Sat 11-18 and by appointment


This exhibition is an experiment: it represents Annette
Weisser’s attempt to ‘release’ a photograph she clipped from
a magazine when she was a teenager. She found the image
in the supplement of the weekly DIE ZEIT newspaper, and it
has been with her ever since. Accompanying an article about
early photography in the nineteenth century, the reproduction
shows a group of people in a state of extreme exhaustion
– presumably victims of a famine. Weisser kept the cutting
underneath her desktop mat for years; very occasionally,
she glanced at it with the distinct sensation that the image
now in her possession, as well as in her mind, should never
have existed in the first place.
But why exactly? For a start, it shows people presumably in
front of a camera for the first time in their lives, captured in
a moment of respite from imminent death. The directness
with which the group (or, at least, the ones with strength
left to hold up their heads) stares into the camera starkly
contrasts with the feebleness of their emaciated bodies.
The viewer who is willing and/or able to keep looking then
focuses on the staging. A makeshift studio has been built,
perhaps to accommodate the bulky, clumsy photographic
equipment of the period. The group is photographed in
front of a neutral backdrop; below their feet is sand or soil.
The eight people – three adults, five children (two of them
still babies) – are arranged on a wooden bench as if for a
family portrait. One can imagine how the photographer,
who had lugged his heavy gear to the afflicted region, helplessly
took recourse to his standard routines because the
visual vocabulary of documentary photography had yet to
be invented. Remarkably, this detachment of effect (malnutrition)
from cause (parched crops, arid soil, dead animals)
does not seem cynical. Rather, the conventional form recognizable
even in this most grisly aberration leaves the picture
suspended in an uncomfortable in-between zone that makes
the figures seem less remote.
As one continues to study the photograph, the bodily contours
gradually dissolve into a harshly contrasting blackand
white composition of lines (bones) at specific angles.
After Weisser decided to have the long sequestered photograph
framed and displayed in her studio, this unexpected
perceptual shift offered a chance to re-contextualize the
image in a manner similar to the psychological techniques
used in trauma therapy. She describes how the unbearable
singularity of the image vanishes temporarily, merges into
the surrounding flow of images via the roundabout routes
of formal correspondences and/or associational links. The
six other photographs represent a selection that is neither
random nor intentional, but precisely on the border of
either. For somebody else, different pictures would fulfill
the same purpose. Weisser chose the photographs spontaneously
from her digital archives, proceeding according to the
aspects of exhibition/exposure and composition/composure.
The original clipping was subsequently scanned and postprocessed
so that the format matched the other photographs.
Each photograph, moreover, is paired with a watercolour
whose ‘soft’, fluid qualities are contrasted with ‘hard edge’
paint application. Weisser was working on the watercolours
for a separate project but noticed how the photographic
exploration she was conducting at the same time gradually
influenced the process. As she sees it, the watercolours represent
a supplementary ring of embedding or, as applicable,
release. The weekday titles given to the photograph/watercolours
pairs suggests that the out-of-time photograph
from DIE ZEIT may now be integrated in the passage and
flow of Weisser’s own lifetime, but remains ambiguous in
its matter-of-factness. No answer is given to the question
whether certain images can, or even should, become part of
our everyday consciousness.