While recently in Germany attending our media partner’s Portfolio Review event at the NRW-Forum for Düsseldorf Photo Weekend 2016 we took in some of the many shows across the city. This was no small feat being as there were in excess of 50 exhibitions coinciding with the weekend.
However, rather disappointingly it transpired several participating galleries either didn’t open for the entire weekend, part of the weekend or the following Monday. It seems a little misleading for these galleries to take part in what was dubbed a “photo weekend” yet couldn’t operate for that one specific weekend. With so many foreign visitors eager to see what was on offer surely it would have been advantageous to ensure certain doors remained unlocked.
That being said, we did get to see some outstanding exhibitions by contemporary photographers who did not disappoint. Three shows stood out from the crowd and we will begin with what was the jewel in the North Rhine-Westphalian crown: Eurasia by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs at Sies + Höke.
With their acclaimed virtuosity in image making, the Swiss pair produced yet another magnetic and inspiring exhibition of works that leave the viewer beguiled. Moving from sculptural interventions to observations of sculptural quality, there is a likewise approach to the light-hearted and dark-witted. It is not only a pleasure for ones eyes to follow picture after picture, but a relief for the mind too; there is no nonsense, no fat, no gristle, and no need to worry about the hapless fashion of stylistic mediocrity.
Varying sizes of monochromatic prints of landscape, object, fauna and architecture hang poetically with injections of colour, each image a symbol in and of itself while connecting cogently within a comprehensive climate of concept and conceit. Onorato and Krebs are deep in discussion as they travel across the lands that combine Europe and Asia, and we are eavesdropping on their tales. Despite postmodern moans of a technological squeeze, the world is indeed a place still large enough to get lost. It is still possible to make serious work that speaks of wonderment and the medium in equal measure; that can withstand rigorous debate in single frame or as a collection; and that can be as attractively curious as it is smartly executed.
Eurasia is a travelogue that avoids the clapped-out traps of the niche, and it is an artistically documented journey that robustly defends the need to think beyond technological confinement or stilted technique. The donkey with the broken ear and the waterlogged wheel tracks are but a second’s trespass from our own imaginative landscapes.
Alain Verre by Peter Miller and Moritz Wegwerth, which is a duo show as opposed to a show by a duo, at Setareh explored ideas of inversion in photography such as reversals, negatives/positives and opposites. Each artist worked out their respective interpretation through a physical approach employing a combination of various techniques from photograms to cyanotypes to inkjets and video. Sculptural renderings incorporated the cut-out arms from a photogram of a pair of 3D movie glasses presented in the box that usually contains photographic paper for Miller’s 3D (VG), 2009, and his Negative Form 35/1, 2011, which is essentially a fashioned bowl made entirely from a roll of 35mm film literally occupy a unique space that pushes the very idea of what constitutes a photograph.
Wegwerth’s monumental images are constructivist in nature, solid and imposing, but with Flicker, 2015, capturing the light transitions on the stone floor of a church, and Miller’s Kronleuchter I (Chandelier I), 2011, a kaleidoscopic two-dimensional luminogram created from a three-dimensional crystal chandelier there is a genuine sense of the mysterious and enchantment associated with the darkroom process. This is particularly evident in Miller’s beautifully enigmatic Braid, 2011, depicting on one side a photogram of a girl’s braided hair and fingertips, with the reverse showing a photograph of the girl holding that light-sensitive paper in the studio. The flash of the camera’s bulb was used in creating the photogram, and though it divulges the operation it somehow retains the mystique.
Time and light are of course the foundation elements of all photography and so in Miller’s teasingly designed 145 part The Academy, 2016, he has printed each frame from a classic movie countdown (presented in reverse and upside down) there is once again an attention to movement and the historical as well as the temporal and luminescent. In these ways, both Miller and Wegwerth overlap and interact, seamlessly filling the gallery space with a precision of technique and thought.
The final exhibition of note was yet another double: in and / or out by Seiichi Furuya and Michael Wolf at Grisebach was a lesson in socio-political dynamics and the poetry of the quotidian. Coming with its own level of expectancy, this was a well-curated show bringing Wolf’s German gaze to Japan, and Furuya’s Japanese gaze to Germany, although there is something of a shift in timeline between the two. Furuya moved to East Germany’s GDR in 1986, and while working as an interpreter he captured the local population at leisure and unrest. Not long before the GDR collapsed, Furuya was interpreting the social shift as well as language, and one can read this clearly by his uncanny definition of a moment as though a note rendered in action. His scenes range from the humorous to the threatening, and from the quiet solitude of a neon-lit dusk sky to the playful applause for swimsuit-clad girls backstage.
Furuya’s fine collection of prints initially appears to be at odds with Wolf’s surrealist portraits of characters trapped between moments and space in his much lauded Tokyo Compression series. These pictures of close-up faces, some in despair, some in defeat and others in what could be serenity as though taking refuge in the crush. They are reminiscent of the painted figures more commonly seen on Renaissance frescos depicting the Rapture, but Wolf has somehow made them feel even more; each struggling breath made evident on the glass surface which seals their urban plight.
It is this level of intimacy that actually draws the two artist’s work so conveniently together. Neither Wolf nor Furuya prevents the humanity and inherent feeling of the depicted escape their scenes. They strive for that moment when the cold camera shutter perfectly captures the raw essence of a struggle. There is consideration, and there is the fleeting moment of chance, but most importantly there is empathy. That is an invaluable trait for photographers like Furuya and Wolf, and it is something that an exhibition like this translates well.
Duesseldorf Photo Weekend: 12th -14th February 2016
Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs Eurasia at Sies + Hoeke: 15th January – 19th February 2016
Peter Miller, Moritz Wegwerth Alain Verre at Setareh: 12th – 27th February 2016
Seiichi Furuya, Michael Wolf in and / or out at Grisebach: 12th February – 1st April 2016