A 72 hour long projection During Gallery Weekend Berlin From 26th April 12.00 a.m. to 29th April 12.00 a.m Window of Torstrasse 170, Mitte, Berlin
WHAT NO ONE SEES
By Jana Papenbroock
A vast collection of photographs.
Each image lasts 10 seconds before the next one appears.
The pictures are personal, most belonging to family albums gleaned on Berlin flea markets, spanning eleven decades of German history. Due to the rapid technological advancement that made cameras available to amateurs earlier on than in any other European country, these precious private documents offer inside glimpses from the beginning of the 20th century onwards, the one great gap in most family records being the Holocaust.
Some photographs from the period show deliberate effacing. Where there were once traces of Nazism on living room walls, there are now gaps, parts smeared-over, holes cut-out. One particularly striking picture depicts the effaced area of a wall, while in the reflection of a window the obliterated Nazi photograph is still visible, to the apparent inobservance of its censor. What has been repressed and silenced subtly seeps through the images. What commonly goes un-represented or under-represented in most family albums, is extensively exhibited here : eroticism, misdemeanors, private orgies and transgressions, exuberant celebrations, moments of physical relief from dominating rules, uniforms and conventions, wild animals, gardens,the wise gaze of children, woods.
There is clearly a feeling of intrusiveness, watching personal memories, unintended for our eyes, blown up and aestheticized for a stranger’s gaze. It is joyful, stimulating, sometimes slightly shameful, voyeuristic, it is amusing, also sad, and sometimes trivial too.
I find myself entangled in the artist’s projection, an intimate vision which at times bewilders and then again delights me. Just as everything one does, sees and says is an externalization of the soul, a collection also reveals the passions and obsessions of the collector. I see tenderness, playfulness, delicacy, wit, sexual charge, and exorbitance in the collection. Well, I guess every collection is exorbitant. I wonder if the collector feels exposed, too.
The photographs are endearing, mystical, many are homoerotic, some chintzy pelvis shots, some sublime treasures, like this picture of a lonely, historical elephant in a concrete zoo (my own personal taste is creeping in here...).
Where do you focus ?
What do you see ?
My mind starts detecting a past, creating a fleeting, delirious narrative, open, porous, breathing, unfinished. The order of the images is neither imposing nor dictating, just suggestive, setting you off on your own reflections.
What is lost time ?
All these seemingly randomly connected little dots in space. Moments and experiences divided and linked by unknowable forces.
It is strange seeing German history looking so French. It somehow reminds me of Fassbinder, his oscillations between France and Germany, his free-spirited life, with its speed, burning, and refusal, his seemingly endless love for true-false characters and their eruptions. There is something almost libertine in the photographs, something that to me seems very French : a freedom to speak from the point of view of desire. To regard history with desire. Not objectifying governments in facts and figures, but showing their ghostly reverberations in bodily postures, hair-dos, clothing, facial expressions, poses, in the brief moments that transgress both the philistine and the calculable.
It makes me sad seeing all the various limitations of forms : the performed choreographies of festivities, Christmas and communion, the confinements of a house, the limited possibilities of movement, and ergo also of thought. Why do people often get so stiff when they grow older ? Where does the swing go ?
I take pleasure in looking at the images of people getting up to no good, fooling around, doing yogi-like contortions in their underwear in the garden, falling asleep drunk at the dinner table, kissing, cycling, dancing. The small escapings. The little ecstasies. They move me.
The question of possession goes through my mind.
Who do these pictures belong to ?
Who does history belong to ?
How are we held by it ?
Owned and possessed by one big history and the smaller histories of others ?
I think it was Richter who once said he makes his photorealistic images blurry because out-of-focus is more precise. Maybe that’s true, but then again, it’s also just a style. What is a precise image anyway ? This collection of photographs is in many ways accurate like clockwork, and at the same time hazy like a cloud.
The work makes me wonder why one doesn’t seriously introduce gracefulness as a political stance. The pictures are indeed graceful. Looking at the human and not just the order by which he lives, the laws that subject him. Looking at a human...
How do you precisely delineate this work ? An almost endless collection curated by a French man in Berlin, an alien in Berlin. What does it amount to ?
All these stories moving like the leaves of a tree, all pointing in various directions, all moved by the same wind. Their meaning is incomprehensible. You cannot make sense of any bigger picture, a national narrative. It is an abundance of manifold faces and places, eyes, bodies and brains in time, evocative but in no way definitive.
You can try deciphering the traces, putting the lost time into its supposed chronological place, anticipating the direction of evolution, dwelling in a certain nostalgia and romanticism, though not really in the case of Germany I suppose, and since I don’t like to think of myself as nostalgic anyway, I try to put my attention to discovering patterns and formations, trying to look at the pictures without falling prey to their auratic seductiveness.
How can one be radically modern, like Rimbaud requested, with your feet in the swamp of history, and ancestry that clings to you, and eventually survives you, whose search and reach is so utterly obscured ?
We never actually know exactly what we are photographing because the subject continuously changes on its own, depending on the current paradigms. We are always being photographed by time, possessed by time and its arcane endeavors.
Maybe one shouldn’t try to be novel and to see everything for a supposed first time, with innocent eyes. Everything is old, a palimpsest, the outlines reappearing through the different layers. Like the photographs : the materiality may change, the paper, colors and decors, the subject’s clothing and poses, but the continuity, the threads that run through, are apparent.
Sometimes there are short series, in which the artist keeps the album of one family together and we witness their transformation through the years.
Why do we have families and houses ?
Why are the houses rectangular ?
Like the photographs, with four walls confining an inside. Always four sides.
What the artist undoubtably proves, is that there is a serious option and potential that lies in trying to understand history with a whole soul : taking reason into account just as much as desire, ecstasy, curiosity, beauty, (alleged) naiveté, playfulness or mystical beliefs.
I wish that in our common, socio-cultural discourse, we could speak like these images, expressing without shame and calculation what we desire, being silent whereof one cannot speak, and seeking out the life that lies under the coat of death. It takes a lot of guts to do that.