Any reference, be it to the system itself or to its environment, is a visual construct.
The photographic medium does not simply offer access to a view of the world by way of photography’s presumed function, which is to realistically render images of its motifs seemingly available as objective data. Instead, photography first inserts the camera between the captured object and the observer. Although obvious analogies suggest a comparison between the act of photography and human vision, technological photo production methods generate their objects through chemical processes of exposure and development.
The exhibition “Breaking Surfaces” brings together three different international artistic positions working with photography in a way that departs from its strictly mimetic function so as to provoke the emergence of new conditions for production and reception by strategically intervening in the medium’s parameters. With this in mind, the artists transgress the limits confining the image-bearing material of the medium, making it extend into the exhibition space, or they actively intervene by manipulating the image-bearing media, the photographic motif or also its relation to the real object photographed. Additions to, as well as violations of, the conditions that are normal for the medium equally contribute to a situation in which the habitually homogeneous and flawless surface of the photograph rejects, transfigures or even fully negates its conventional relationship to the real object. These targeted interventions into the image-object relationship of the photographs – in Luhmann’s sense of dissolving, distorting and re-combining existing elements of the medium – lead to the endgame of photography’s supposedly authentic and objective potential, which is now ultimately at stake.
On the subject of how the world is perceived, Jean-François Lyotard forecasts our increasing loss of relationship to materiality, since reality is increasingly accessed solely by way of the apparatus. Rather than appearing in their material diversity, haptic experiences are dissolved and subsumed into fleeting surfaces. With a view to the omnipresence of media images in everyday life, the artists brought together on this occasion take different approaches to the task of processing the potential meaningfulness of visual phenomena and of information: The photographic image, its material support increasingly receding behind its motif – even though this property is inherent to the medium itself, given a hand by the rise of digitalization – is now called into question on the level of its materiality and its relationship to its mediating functions. This is so because the filtered experiences of reality require a coding and decoding system, which necessarily raises questions about the author and the addressee in this flood of information, as well as questions about the meaning of these indefinite visual stimuli and messages.
Overcoming the one-sided nature of viewing, the artists Darren Harvey-Regan, Mariana Mauricio and Anouk Kruithof subject the principles along which photography is constructed to a fundamental modification, by breaking open the aesthetic experience of the image as a closed whole, instead taking advantage of the medium as a construct comprised of individual parts. The various haptic qualities that result open up new possibilities for observers who can now feel their way around a room previously accessible only through visual experience. “The eye discloses to us nothing but planes,” so says Alois Riegl, given that perception in this scenario is limited to the sensory one-sidedness of visibility.
By dissecting their haptic features, the exhibited works evoke a more comprehensive form of sensory perception, which Gilles Deleuze, in reference to Riegl, attributes to the potential of affective, subjective comprehension and experience. The exploration of ambivalent views of media images – both of signifier and signified and also of presence and absence – produces a dialog of seeing and touching.
“Apart from the probing of my eye or my hand, and before my body synchronizes with it, the sensible is nothing but a vague beckoning.” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty)
The artist Anouk Kruithof uses the conditions and opportunities for expression offered by the medium of photography to present her performative actions to viewers in a form they can directly interact with – as temporally frozen, because reproduced, image staffages sited in space. Making photography her starting point, she deliberately handles various surfaces and spatial constellations so as to integrate them into sculptural forms. The multipart works transfigure clearly defined pictorial limits and call for a perception that is process-like and successive in response to this three-dimensional and Byzantine installation.
Basing herself initially on the social practice of photography as a visual memory storage unit, Mariana Mauricio proceeds to manipulate and violate found photographs. Instead of letting the material stand as a historical source and as a mimetic representation of the world, the artist transgresses photographic reality by energetically intervening into the image support’s surface. By modifying the image-bearing material itself – but not its property to present something that it is not at all – Mauricio succeeds in having the photograph be an image and no longer a reproduction according to Benjamin’s definition. The question concerning the reality beyond this reproduction becomes obsolete. Instead of making the world visible in photographs, the artist cuts up, scratches and combines her photographic motifs that now seem like phrases whose functions were short-circuited.
Like the early photography of the 19th century, which increasingly sought to document the environment and nature, Darren Harvey-Regan finds his photographic motifs in daily things like animals and tools. There is, in Harvey-Regan’s works, in the exchange that takes place between the photograph and the real object, a tension, which, by doubling the object relationship, overcomes the one-sidedness of the photographic act, and which has the image-bearing medium acquire a motif-bound three-dimensionality in the exhibition space. The interaction between visual photographic image and installation object brings out the material aspects of the photograph and, as it were, renders absurd the mimetic function of the medium. The reference to the “necessarily real thing” – which is Roland Barthes’ basic principle in his notes on photography – acquires in Harvey-Regan’s works in the real exhibition space an immediate connection to the here and now of the viewer.