Stephan Berg: Betewen the images. (2010)

Stephan Berg:
Between the images.

In a certain way, the close relationships between photography and painting, which have had a considerable impact on the discourse surrounding both media at the latest since the nineties, are nothing more than a complementary contrast to the intense hostility that existed between them for decades. Nothing has changed since the first photograph Joseph Nicéphore Nièpce succeeded in producing in 1826 using the heliographic method, in particular the evaluation of the photographic image. As soon as it was acknowledged that photography was by no means merely a mechanical and therefore inevitably non-artistic reproduction of reality-as painting liked to insinuate-the way was cleared for the more interesting issue of which results, in terms of cognitive theory, are generated by the invention of reality practiced by both disciplines, albeit in different ways. In other words: do we lend more credence-or perhaps even less-to a painted picture because its relationship to reality is determined from the very beginning by the subjective placement of the brush, meaning that each and every painting initially creates its own reality before depicting something else? Or does the direct link-at least in an analog age-between the photographic image and its subject ensure that we perceive the gap between representing objectivity and contriving subjectivity as more productive or more contemporary?

With his “photopictures,” Marc Lüders operates at the very heart of the lines of rejection and interconnection that run between painterly and photographic discourse. In doing so, his oeuvre follows two main threads: on the one hand, the systematic linking of the photographic and the painted motif, and, on the other hand, the confrontation of the painted gesture with photography. The first group primarily includes the black-and-white photographs of spaces and suburban peripheries, into which Lüders has integrated painted figures that appear strangely awkward or absent. The figures are based on digital photographs that Lüders has taken, for example, of people waiting at pedestrian lights, only to then digitally edit the image in several steps before projecting it onto the photo and then transferring it to the painting. The dialectic link between photograph and painting also functions so well because Lüders always selects the settings for his photographic motifs in terms of the people he plans to later integrate. At the same time, the combination of faceless non-places and displaced persons creates an atmosphere that is distinctly melancholy. In the desolate nowhere of new housing estates, shabby hallways, or bathrooms, the subjects are reminiscent of somnambulant dream dancers-just as alienated from themselves as they are from their surroundings. A similar form of destabilization takes place on the level of the two media that are used. The realistic yet clearly painted figures lend a surreal quality to the photographic environment, while the photographic context to a certain extent repudiates and subverts the painterly statement.

Lüders interweaves the two disciplines even more closely in a series of black-and-white landscape photographs that he has been producing since the end of the nineties. In works such as Waldgrün (Forest Green, 2001) or Serpentaragrün (Serpentara Green, 2002), the artist initially completely paints over the nature shots in a monochrome green, only to subsequently remove thin layers of paint in a second step until he achieves a precarious balance between the black-and-white photographic representation of the forest and its naturalization by means of color. Interestingly enough, it is this abstract, gestural application of paint that lends the photograph a sense of realism. The non-depicting character of painting reinforces the veridical character of the photographic image, at the same time ensuring, in equal measure, the contrary, as painting over the photograph in effect cancels it out. As a result, the combination of photograph and painting generates a more dense reality, because both media reinforce as well as challenge one another. This is also due to the fact that Lüders-as opposed to Bertrand Lavier, who painted objects ranging from mirrors and refrigerators to entire cars completely in their respective local colors-does not transform reality into a symbol of itself, but conveys a level of reality that is itself already semiotic even deeper into the inescapable vortex between signifier and signified by means of crossing it with a further identifier.

This finds its strongest and, to a certain extent, most uncanny expression in an extensive series begun in 1994 in which Lüders operates with contrasting photography and painting. Strange, elongated, black-and-white painted creatures hover like aliens in black-and-white photographs of bathrooms, church altars, flooring, or museum spaces. On the one hand, these forms are nothing more than compact, concentrated, gestural brushstrokes. On the other hand, Lüders lends them a three-dimensional volume, which considerably calls into question the ostensible abstraction of the pure brushstroke. Especially since these mysterious molded shapes, often reminiscent of cucumbers, insidiously cast a shadow, assuming a self-confidence that can at best be claimed by real objects, not, however, by painting. Like ghostly phantoms, the round shapes irritate and comment on what is happening in the photographs, and they do so with a decent helping of irony.

This applies in particular to the photograph of a space in Hamburg’s Galerie der Gegenwart, Objekt 215-4, with its black-and-white painting by Gerhard Richter, into which Lüders has smuggled an apparently blurred painted form. Here we really do find ourselves in a perfect, inescapable pictorial circle: the photo shows a painting which makes reference to a photo that in turn shows the same blurred effect achieved by Lüders’ three-dimensional brushstrokes. And the structural distrust with regard to the possibility of representing reality in the image, which Richter has mastered at the latest since his black-and-white photo-paintings, also serves as the matrix for Marc Lüders’ “photopictures.” In the latter we can see how the reality in the image constantly eludes us and is contaminated by the alternating and different demands made by the media photography and painting: if, for example, one of these photographs really is supposed to show nothing but a section of a simple, rather shabby bathroom, then a colored shape that casts a black-and-white shadow-insisting on its representative rights just as its photographic surroundings do-should not be allowed to spread out at knee height.  Thus, the productive paradox of these works lies in the fact that they show how similar ostensible abstraction and ostensible representation are when one brings them together on one pictorial plane. Because in these photos, the gestural self-expression of the brush charges itself with a narrative, representational energy in the same way it likewise undermines the reality content of the photograph. In their essence, these works are proof that reality within the image in fact consists in its pictorial reality.

Stephan Berg, 2010

reference: Marc Lüders. Erfindung der Realität. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2010, page 79-81.
Translations from the German: Gillian Morris