Posts Tagged ‘Maurice Blanchot

20
May
10

Review: ‘A Shrine for Orpheus’ by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 11th May  – 5th June 2010

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

Bees, books, bones… and biding (one’s) time, attaining the receptive state of being needed to contemplate this work.
This is a strong, beautiful installation by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs that rewards such a process.

What is memorable about the work is the physicality, the textures: the sound of the bees; the Beuy-esque yellowness and presence of the beeswax blocks; the liquidness of the honey in the bowl atop the beehives; the incinerated bones, books and personal photographs; the tain-less mirrors, the books dipped in beeswax; the votive offering of poems placed into the beehive re-inscribed by the bees themselves – and above all the luscious, warm smell of beeswax that fills the gallery (echoing Beuys concept of warmth, to extend beyond the material to encompass what he described as ‘spiritual warmth or the beginning of an evolution’).

This alchemical installation asks the viewer to free themselves from themselves – “the moment in which he frees himself of himself and… gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…” as Maurice Blanchot put its – a process Carl Jung called individuation, a synthesis of the Self which consists of the union of the unconscious with the conscious. Jung saw alchemy as an early form of psychoanalysis in which the alchemist tried to turn lead into gold, a metaphor for the dissolving of the Self into the prima materia and the emergence of a new Self at the end of the process, changing the mind and spirit of the Alchemist. Here the process is the same. We are invited to let go the eidetic memory of shape and form in order to approach the sacred not through ritual but through the reformation of Self.

As Pip Stokes last few paragraphs of her artist statement succinctly observes,

“Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.”

The space in which we stand falls away: the mirror may hold a trace but it is only ever a trace. Our visions elude the senses, slipping between dreaming and waking, between conscious and subconscious realms. As Orpheus turns back to look so Eurydice dissolves, “falling out of the skin into the soul.” We, the viewer, are changed.

 

So far so good.

Unfortunately what does not facilitate this engagement with change is the combined verbiage of both the artist’s statement and the catalogue essay by Lisa Jacobson. These texts, especially the latter one, with quotations by Blanchot, Rilke, Calasso, Beuys, Cocteau, Neruda, Cobb, Virgil, Rilke again, Cocteau again, Poe and Derrida and meditations on mythos, the sacred, resurrection, mourning et al are mostly unnecessary to support what is strong work – in fact they seem to put a physical, textual wall between the viewer and the work, between the installation and the proposed dissolution of Self into the sacred. The catalogue essay is confusing and needed a judicious edit with the understanding that sometimes less is more! The work needs to speak for itself, not to be didactically spoken for and knowing when to merely suggest an idea is one of the skills of good writing. Perhaps all that was needed was the quotation by Blanchot and the two paragraphs above by Pip Stokes – nothing more.

Approaching the sacred is, I believe, and act of letting go, of aware-less-ness. As we immerse ourselves in that enigma we find that it is our fluid shadow aspect that has cast the light, with all attendant expectations, beliefs, dreams, visions, weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. This exhibition asks us to reconcile the journey into darkness with the hope of redemption.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
All photographs are installation shots of the exhibition – please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All photographs courtesy of the artist and fortyfivedownstairs taken by © Marcus Bunyan who is completing an internship at the gallery.

 

The Gaze of Orpheus

Maurice Blanchot

“The Greek myth says: one cannot create a work unless the enormous experience of the depths – an experience which the Greeks recognised as necessary to the work, an experience in which the work is put to the test by that enormousness- is not pursued for its own sake. The depth does not surrender itself face to face; it only reveals itself by concealing itself in the work. But the myth also shows that Orpheus’ destiny is not to submit to that law – and it is certainly true that by turning around to look at Eurydice, Orpheus ruins the work… and Eurydice returns to the shadows; under his gaze, the essence of the night reveals itself to be inessential. He thus betrays the work and Eurydice and the night. But if he did not turn around to look at Eurydice, he still would be betraying,… the boundless and imprudent force of his impulse, which does not demand Eurydice in her diurnal truth and her everyday charm, but in her nocturnal darkness, in her distance, her body closed, her face sealed, which wants to see her not when she is visible, but when she is invisible, and not as the intimacy of a familiar life, but as the strangeness of that which excludes all intimacy; it does not want to make her live, but to have the fullness of her death living in her.”

“The sacred night encloses Eurydice, encloses within the song something which went beyond the song. But it is also enclosed itself: it is bound, it is the attendant, it is the sacred mastered by the power of ritual – that word which means order, rectitude, law, the way of Tao and the axis of Dharma. Orpheus gaze unties it, destroys its limits, breaks the law which contains, which retains the essence. Thus Orpheus’ gaze is … the moment in which he frees himself of himself and…, gives the sacred to itself, to the freedom of its essence…”

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

A Shrine for Orpheus

Pip Stokes

 

The first temple was made by the bees with feathers, wax and honey.

Calasso

 

… it is Orpheus. His metamorphosis
In this one and this. We should not trouble
about other names. Once and for all
It’s Orpheus when there’s singing.

Rilke. Sonnets to Orpheus

 

We are the bees of the invisible
We frantically plunder the visible of its honey
To accumulate it in the great golden hive
Of the invisible

Rilke

 

In mythology, honey was regarded as a spiritual substance and the bees were godly… This belief was… influenced by the whole process of honey production as constituting a link between earthly and heavenly levels. The influx of a substance from the whole environment – plants, minerals, and sun – was the essence of the bee-cult… The whole builds a unity, … in a humane, warm way, through principles of cooperation and brotherhood.

Beuys

 

 

This installation, A Shrine for Orpheus, comprises four hundred hand cast beeswax blocks and a traditional beebox, in use by the bees until recently, accompanied by found objects such as old mirrors as well as ephemera collected from nature including feathers, bones and the salt mummified skeleton of a rabbit. Over the past year I have worked with the living beehive, placing votive offerings associated with poetry, death and renewal into the hive: objects such as books, cast wax pages, vessels, textiles and bones. Melbourne writer, Paul Carter has engraved wax tablets with aphoristic poems to the bees. These objects have been transformed through the bees’ processes of honeycomb- building.

The metaphors of the beehive in this connection to poetry, death and renewal are explored in the materials and structures of the installation. The warm sweet- smelling wax of the bees, cast into six sided blocks, provides the building material for the Shrine and two mausoleums, each with a void space, a space of underworld. The void of the larger mausoleum contains, ashy, burnt books, personal photos from family albums scorched by fire, evoking ‘shades’, the shadowy dead – and porcelain-like bones which have been materially transformed by cremation in a kiln. The second beeswax ‘grave’ has two voids, one of which contains a beeswax- bound and dipped facsimile of handwritten poems by Keats and, in the other opening, a book of insect morphology, also dipped and bound in beeswax.

The traditional beebox in the centre of the ruin of the Shrine is placed on a lake of mirrors. The mirrors have lost their tain and been translucently washed with plaster of Paris to further dim our view into the obscurely reflective world that lies beneath. The Shrine is accompanied by offerings of honey, honeycomb, beeswax bound books and pages cast from beeswax awaiting new poems, laid at its entrance.

Myths of death, dismemberment, transformation and resurrection have haunted the Western imagination from Isis to Dionysus, Orpheus and Christ. In his essay, The Gaze of Orpheus, the French literary theorist, Maurice Blanchot, has interpreted this myth as the descent of the artist to the realm of death to gain the work of art. Out of the failure of the artist, a necessary failure, emerges the artwork, wounded and bearing the ash of its origins.

The work of mourning, the work of healing.

 

Reflection, apparition, illusion: what appears as image, disappears evaporatively. As we change our place the space is already gone: the mirror holds a trace. What is veiled, enigmatic, uncertain remains as shadow that casts a light.

The temple re admits this invisible.

 

Pip Stokes. May. 2010
A Shrine for Orpheus

Beeswax, beehive box, mirror. Mixed media, dimensions variable.
Original texts by Paul Carter, writer.
Sound by Kasimir Burgess, filmmaker.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

A Shrine for Orpheus

Lisa Jacobson

If Orpheus is guardian of the sacred arts, then it is possible that never before has there been a century so much in need of his song. This is because the world insists, on a daily basis, that we lose ourselves rather than commune with loss, to be drawn to darkness as logos rather than seek out its mythos. The myth of Orpheus has an integral role today in that it returns us and brings us back into communion with the sacred through poetry, dance, music and art.

Pip Stokes’ most recent exhibition, A Shrine for Orpheus, provides a mythic language for the story of Orpheus. It is a contemplation of myth that reflects back on itself in an endless refraction of associations and images; a visual representation of the myth itself which is never simple or linear but, rather, layered with metaphor and re-imaginings. Stokes’ installation reveals the ways in which myth enters us, but does not belong to us. Rather, we are the conduit through which myth runs and Orpheus, indeed, does run and has run through the dreams of humankind for as long as we have been able to dream.

This is in keeping with the Neo-Platonic notion, in which Orpheus plays no small part, that the figures of myth occupy not only the rooms of the psyche, but the rooms of other houses outside of us. It is not the artist who invents these figures of the psyche, of Orpheus and Eurydice, of Persephone and Hades, but they who reinvent themselves. The zeitgeist or midrash (as the Jewish mystics call the spirit of the times) summons up those gods it needs most. In Stokes’ work, it is Orpheus who answers this call.

Orpheus, playing quietly on his lyre in the middle of the forest, coaxes the animals out to listen, as Rainer Maria Rilke writes in his first sonnet to Orpheus:

“…And where there had been
just a makeshift hut to receive the music,
a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind-
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.”

 

Summoning the animals translates, perhaps, into an ecological sensibility; to hear the call of Orpheus is to answer the ecological call, to re-sacralise nature. At a time when the world seems intent on hurtling towards its own demise, A Shrine for Orpheus inclines towards meditation and the transformation of nature, the stillness of catacombs, the quietness of wax, the purposeful industry of bees and silkworms, the potential for flight, the distillation of air, the reflective gaze, the emptying out of all colour until there are only shades of white: bleached bones, wax, ash, silk and paper, feathers in contemplation of flight as if, as the poet Pablo Neruda writes, “we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.” Like the bees which flew in through the open window of Stokes’ studio to busy themselves on the beeswax, even the very act of art-making has summoned and sung up, in its own way, the problematic aspects of creation. As Jean Cocteau observes in his film, Orphée, “Look for a lifetime in mirrors and you will see Death at work, like bees in a hive of glass.”

The music of Orpheus, as Noel Cobb has said, is “the activity of the theologos, the one who spoke with and about the Gods.” His sanctuary also encompasses poetry and art. Orpheus’ lyre has to do with both dismemberment and re-membering, god-like attributes, as Stokes alludes to in her depiction of Orpheus’ wax heart awaiting resurrection. Orpheus’ lyre was said to be strung with human sinews, and the music he plays as he sings nature and animals into being dips, inevitably, into the underworld, into death and decay, dismemberment, a scattering of the psyche into fields not yet dreamt of, in the act of its resounding. The wax which forms the foundation of Stokes’ Shrine for Orpheus, the books on which bees have fed in order to make their own inscriptions (texts by writers from Keats to the contemporary Paul Carter) also hint at resurrection and immortality. At the centre of this ‘temple’ is the beehive, symbol of transformation.

As Virgil notes in The Georgics in a section entitled “The Peculiarly Wonderful Features of Bees”, bee stock is immortal in that the hive itself is passed on from generation to generation, the structure keeps on singing, and never really dies despite the passing of the bees who composed it. In a similar fashion, Orpheus’ own lyre is carried forth, made from the shell of a tortoise whose death made possible the music itself. The heart of Orpheus, like his own severed head in the myth, does not cease its previous musicality, the song of its rhythmic beating. So too might the artist reach down into the darkness of herself, even if she risks being torn apart, knowing that the heart remains intact and can be resurrected.

Rilke again:

Only the man who has also raised
his lyre among the darkling shades
may be allowed a sense
of infinite praise.

 

Inside the Orphic vision which Pip Stokes’ art immerses itself in, everything is panoramic and ornamented by mythic figures whom we cannot ever really know, but only glimpse via the language of metaphor: the hand that plunges through the earth while one is gathering flowers, the hem of a beekeeper’s shroud-like coat, the thin silken thread of a worm, the trace of words upon wax, or feathers, burnt books or ash. These are the images that translate the emotion of the myth but which remain, nevertheless, untranslatable because should they be hardened into the prosaic everyday language of the world, they would cease to be mythos.

Perhaps it is for this very reason that Eurydice cannot be brought back up to the shining world of which Rilke writes, in a different poem on Orpheus, and that Orpheus himself rises into at the very moment Hermes ushers Eurydice once again below. Eurydice is too far into death to be brought back to life. She has sunk into the “dream within the dream” in which, as Edgar Allan Poe writes, we are all participants. All Orpheus can take with him is the imprint of her, the illicit gaze, the melancholic pathology of the backward glance, that perhaps was not so much hastily stolen as executed too quickly. How long must the artist gaze into the underworld? Is it ever enough? Must she not continually turn back and gaze at what cannot be brought to the surface but that she must, even so, attempt to translate? Is it this that Rilke refers to when he writes in his sonnets, “it is in overstepping that [Orpheus] obeys?” Cocteau, speaking about his film, commented that “Poets, in order to live must often die, and shed not only the red blood of their hearts, but the white blood of their souls, that flows and leaves traces which can be followed.”

There is loss in this of course, great loss, that Stokes’ art both acknowledges and makes a place for. As Orpheus travels along “the path ascending steeply into life” towards “the shining exit-gates,” he cannot help but glance back. In the sonnets Rilke cautions, “Be ahead of all parting as though it already were / behind you.” This has echoes of Jacques Derrida’s The Work of Mourning, in which he argues that mourning begins the moment friendship begins; that we cannot enter into relationship without becoming conscious of the loss that will inevitably come with the other’s death. Indeed, the very idea of this loss precipitates the event itself, leaves us prematurely bereft and continually turning back towards the absent loved one in our grief. And if we are always turning back, is not the artist most required to do so, is not the artist most compelled to incline her head towards the darkness in order to write of what stirs beneath the shining surface of the world, of what calls to be heard? Is this not the invisible that Orpheus calls into being through poetry, music and art? Orpheus rises in Rilke’s poem, and in Pip Stokes’ work. In fact, if we dare to journey with him, he will rise in us all.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Shrine for Orpheus' by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition A Shrine for Orpheus by Pip Stokes at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne

 

 

fortyfivedownstairs
45, Flinders Lane
Melbourne 3000

Opening hours:
Tue – Fri 11am – 5pm
Sat 11pm – 3pm

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25
May
09

Exhibition: ‘Thomas Ruff. Surfaces, Depths’ at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 21st May – 13th September 2009

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Interieur 2D (Tegernsee)' 1982

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Interieur 2D (Tegernsee)
1982
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

An exhibition of the work of the renowned photographer Thomas Ruff that concentrates on his new Cassini and Zycles series. His clinical photographs with their catatonic rigidity promote stupor in the viewer. The viewer becomes complicit in a platonic relationship (of forms) with the non-reality presented by the camera, directed by Ruff’s ironic, surgical gaze. Ruff corrupts and disturbs traditional binaries of presence/absence, truth/reality, surfaces/depths to challenge the very basis of seeing, the very basis of photography’s link to indexicality and presence in a contemporary digital world, something that William Eggleston seems to have lost the art of doing (please see the previous post).

As Maurice Blanchot has observed,

“The image has nothing to do with signification, meaning, as implied by the existence of the world, the effort of truth, the law and the brightness of the day. Not only is the image of an object not the meaning of that object and of no help in comprehending it, but it tends to withdraw it from its meaning by maintaining it in the immobility of a resemblance that it has nothing to resemble.”1

.
There is no single truth; there are only competing narratives and interpretations of a world that cannot be wholly, accurately described.2 In the splitting apart of image and meaning there is a crisis in control: it becomes illusory and is marked by doubt.

In Ruff’s photographs the relationship between image and context, between cause and effect becomes further layered until the very act of seeing is no longer framed or presupposed through relations of distance or perspective.3 Ruff’s photographs become a struggle of and for positionality in the physical, mental and emotional conflicts evidenced in the viewer as we look, askance? with a paradoxical intent? at these unemotional images.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to Kunsthalle Wien for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

  1. Blanchot, Maurice. The Gaze of Orpheus. New York: Barrytown, 1981, p. 85
  2. Townsend, Chris. Vile Bodies: Photography and the Crisis of Looking. Munich: Prestel, 1998, p. 10
  3. Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media, & the Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 137-138

 

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Zycles 3048' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Zycles 3048
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK Wien, 2009

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Zycles 3045' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Zycles 3045
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK Wien, 2009

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Cassini 01' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 01
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Cassini 06' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 06
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Cassini 08' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 08
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Cassini 03' 2008

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Cassini 03
2008
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist and Mai 36 Galerie, Zürich
© Thomas Ruff

 

 

“Yet Ruff has always treated the medium of photography with skepticism: for him, the photographic surface is a thin foil which tricks the viewer with its illusion of extreme realism and at the same time reveals the fundamental impossibility of experiencing the world in our digital age. Ruff’s images seem emphatically to deny photography’s main attribute – that is, the offer of a reliable record of reality. Instead, through his mute images devoid of all emotion, Ruff presents us with a contemporary subjectivity defined by amnesia.”

Text from the Castello di Rivoli website [Online] Cited 24/05/2009 no longer available online

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Portrait (A. Siekmann)' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Portrait (A. Siekmann)
1987
Chromogenic print
210 x 165 cm (82 11/16 x 64 15/16 in.)
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

During the late 1980s Ruff photographed his fellow students at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, combining the typological mode of his teacher Bernd Becher with the serial progressions and primary structures of Minimalism. The large scale and technical perfection of Ruff’s portraits refer to both the museum and the street – to billboards and heroic painting – while elevating the anonymous sitter to the stature and visibility of a public figure. Instead of presuming to depict the transcendent, individual essence of the sitter, however, Ruff’s portraits deliberately assume the neutrality of the mug shot, physiognomic study, and identity card, and, by extension, the entire brightly lit world of surveillance in which his subjects were raised. The age and milieu of his sitters are crucial to the pictures’ meaning: these young media-savvy people are not threatened by the camera eye but adjust themselves comfortably yet firmly to its probing vision. The results are both seductive and subtly disquieting, like studying a human specimen whose every pore and hair is available for careful study, yet whose thoughts and feelings are always just out of reach.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Portrait (A. Kachold)' 1987

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Portrait (A. Kachold)
1987
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Portrait (S. Weirauch)' 1988

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Portrait (S. Weirauch)
1988
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

“The reality in front of the camera is reality of the first degree, the representation of the reality in front of the camera is reality of the second degree, and then come any number of possible gradations and distortions.”

.
Thomas Ruff

 

“To try to see more and better is not a matter of whim or curiosity or self-indulgence. To see or to perish is the very condition laid upon everything that makes up the universe, by reason of the mysterious gift of existence.”

.
Teilhard de Chardin, “Seeing” 1947

 

 

The work of Thomas Ruff, who numbers among today’s most important photographers, focuses our attention on such diverse everyday subjects as people, architecture, the universe, and the Internet. With its extensive solo presentation with a total of about 150 exhibits from 11 groups of works, Kunsthalle Wien offers a first comprehensive survey of the artist’s manifold oeuvre in Austria.

Thomas Ruff studied at the Dusseldorf Academy of Arts, graduating as a student of Bernd and Hilla Becher besides Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Axel Hütte, and Thomas Struth, all of them celebrating an international career these days. The photographer strikes us as a sharp and concentrated observer of his motifs. To him, objectivity is nothing neutral though, but has to be redefined with each new photograph. The series of large-scale portraits which Ruff started working on in 1986 and for which he became known internationally, for example, fascinates us because of the determined detachment with which he captured his models that were mostly acquainted with him. This approach makes for a hyper-precise, chirurgic gaze reproducing everything down to the last detail as equivalent. It also demonstrates the degree of the artist’s interest in the history of photography, how critically he considers its subject, and the skeptical attitude he sometimes adopts toward the medium.

From his stereoscopic views of the urban development myth of Brasilia and his apparently anti-essayistic architectural photographs of buildings by Herzog & de Meuron, which are based on instructions, to his digital processing of images of the planet Saturn available free of charge on the NASA website, the artist explores the concepts of the exemplary, of objectivity, of reality, and of zeitgeist. Based on half of his about twenty thematic groups of works created so far, the exhibition examines the concept pair surface/depth, which seems to be quite simple at first sight, but reveals itself as strongly discursive on closer inspection, and focuses the attention on formal aspects one comes upon again and again in his entire oeuvre.

Right in time for the International Year of Astronomy 2009, Thomas Ruff presents works from his most recent series Cassini – subtly manipulated pictures of Saturn and its moons taken by the Cassini spacecraft. It was the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei who opened a window to the skies with his telescope 400 years ago. He thus revolutionised man’s image of himself in regard to the universe, but also his understanding of and his way of dealing with the concepts of nearness and distance, surface and depth.

Thomas Ruff. Surfaces, Depths conveys what these concepts, translated into pictures, do to the viewer on a phenomenological level and how they challenge him. The curves of Ruff’s zycles, distorted into the three-dimensional sphere, unfold the sensory experience of roaming virtual depths only reserved to the human eye. Yet, gazing at the represented motifs also elucidates the artist’s contentual objective of providing a critical comment on the various possibilities of the photographic apparatus to depict and manipulate reality.”

Press release from the Kunsthalle Wien website [Online] Cited 24/05/2009 no longer available online

 

Thomas Ruff numbers among today’s most important photographers, his oeuvre encompassing such diverse subject areas as people, architecture, the universe, and the Internet. With its extensive solo exhibition presenting a total of about 150 works, the Kunsthalle Wien offers the first comprehensive survey of the artist’s manifold production in Austria.

Thomas Ruff strikes us as a sharp and concentrated observer rendering his motifs with a hyper-precise, chirurgic gaze. To him, the objective representation of reality is no neutral process, but something questioned with each new photograph. Running through the exhibition like a thread is the apparent pair of opposites of surface and depth and its highly variable manifestations. Next to his series of large-format portraits from the 1980s, for which Ruff received international acclaim, and his architectural photographs of buildings by Herzog & de Meuron, which are based on instructions, the show focuses on his most recent cassini and zycles series. Digitally processing images of the planet Saturn and its moons from the NASA website, the artist explores the notions of the exemplary, of reality, and of zeitgeist. Also depicting the pair of concepts surfaces/depths, the seemingly three-dimensional curves of Ruff’s zycles unfold the sensory experience of roaming virtual depths reserved to the human eye alone.

Text from the Kunsthalle Wien website

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Herzog & de Meuron, Ricola Mulhouse' 1994

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Herzog & de Meuron, Ricola Mulhouse
1994
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© Thomas Ruff

 

Thomas Ruff. 'House Nr. 11 III' 1990

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
House Nr. 11 III
1990
Chromogenic print
Courtesy der Künstler / the artist
© VBK, Wien 2009

 

 

“Thomas Ruff first became known through his portraits of houses and factory buildings, as well as the night sky, portrayed in a natural and objective manner. Ruff photographed the buildings either in strict frontality or at right angles to one another, always paying attention to regular sharpness and neutral lighting, and from the same standpoint. With his controversially discussed nudes of erotic, sometimes pornographic scenes from the Internet, which he projected onto unsharp large formats, he expanded the borders of photography in 1999. Since then, his Internet blow-ups with clearly emphasised pixel structures have been regarded as his ‘trademark’. Thomas Ruff started concerning himself with the medium of the image at the very beginning of his artistic career. In addition to self-produced analogue and digital photographs, he worked from the basis of existing pictures. He liked working with unspectacular, historically typical motifs and elaborated the images on the computer, whereby he was particularly interested in the technical side of photography. Often, a new group of works would start with the choice of a specific technique, for example, the night sky pictures from 1992 to 1995 which were made with the help of a camera and a night vision enhancer. Since the night vision enhancer is a visual instrument developed for the Gulf War, this series is a subliminal play on the medial dimension created by this war.

After digitally creating the Substrat series of 2002 abstract, psychedelic colour images from Manga comics, he began his latest zycles series, in which he worked with far more complexly abstract dimensions. These consisted of large-format inkjet prints on canvas that already created a furore at this year’s Art Unlimited in Basel. It is hard to believe that these compositions, which consisted of curved lines and were spread all over the image, originated in mathematics, or more precisely, in antiquated 19th century books on electro-magnetism that portrayed magnetic fields on copperplates. Thomas Ruff was particularly interested in translating these drawings into three-dimensional space. For this he used a 3D computer programme that translated mathematic formulas into complex, three-dimensional linear structures. Ruff recorded different detailed views from these virtually produced linear structures. The weave of lines developed in front of an open space of unspecified depth, sometimes filigree, sometimes accentuated. Their dynamics are reminiscent of the lines of magnetic fields, but also of informal line drawings. Either way, they invite the viewers to play with their own perceptions.”

Text by Dominique von Burg; translation: Maureen Oberli-Turner from the Mai 36 Galerie website [Online] Cited 24/05/2009 no longer available online

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958) 'Jpeg icbm05' 2007

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Jpeg icbm05
2007
Chromogenic print

 

Thomas Ruff. 'Jpeg rl104' 2007

 

Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
Jpeg rl104
2007
Chromogenic print

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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