Marc Lüders and the new Surrealism.
„Art is perhaps the most visible manifestation of the return of the suppressed conciousness.“
Pop Art was probably the last great art movement of the twentieth cen- tury. From the seventies onwards, the “-isms” were declared dead, the end of the avant-garde was proclaimed, and art was ultimately linked to the strength of the individual artistic voices alone. The French philosopher Paul Virilio succinctly described the social badge of the postmodern era when he coined the phrase “a visual crash.”
Thirty years later, art movements and styles were being proclaimed once again, whether they were called New German Painting, the Leipzig School, or Hyperrealism. In our everyday lives, the virtual share of our contemporary envi- ronment also contributed to the fact that each and every one of us discovered demiurgic potential within us. At the touch of a button we can now become protagonists in computer-generated universes in which anything is possible. Loosely based on André Breton, both the imaginary and the phantasmagoric as well as the depths of the unconscious can be explored as elements of a game we ourselves control that serves to extend real and inevitably limited experiences and create new virtual spaces. It goes without saying that artists were the pio- neers here. They have always confronted us with worlds that, on the one hand, are a mirror of our Self and, on the other hand, predictions of the future. The great Joseph Beuys explicitly referred to artists as seismographs. Thus, long after the Surrealist movement had ended, a pronounced number of stances emerged: in literature (ranging from Paul Celan and Isaac Asimov to Ray Bradbury and Oskar Pastior), in film (including Federico Fellini, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg, as well as Terry Gilliam and Paul Thomas Anderson), and in visual art (from the members of the Cobra group to artists such as Matthew Barney and Peter Doig). All of these artists were involved in exploring the potential of the fantastic and the specific energy of the unconscious. The science-fiction genre can of course also be perceived as the expression of a Surrealist attitude.
Marc Lüders’ visual universes may constitute such a prediction. In them, we time and again encounter unreal figures that move within a profane, photo- realistic environment. We immediately recognize this photographic world. How- ever, the painted objects or humanoid figures that populate it remain unfamiliar. And they themselves appear to have not (yet) built up a real relationship with their environment. Although they strike seemingly familiar poses in a shoe store, a bathroom, at the beach, or in a supermarket, they appear to defy the laws of gravity, standing in some cases in front of upturned shelves—like “strangers in a strange land,” the title of the science-fiction classic by Robert A. Heinlein. These unusual and cryptic compositions and fictional objects become the dynamic ba- sis for a new (previously unconscious) world, and despite their frequent repeti- tion, they do not forfeit any of their suspense. The figures made visible by the painter’s hand and the strangely surreal objects that hover over the landscape appear to have no relationship to one another—except in a formal sense with re- gard to foreground and background. We are obviously dealing here with the kind of “chance encounter” found on an autopsy table or, in Lüders’ case, on an operat- ing table, or we are witnessing long-forgotten séances. The encounter is unreal even when the human and the painted figure approach one another. This prompts associations with Ivan Jefremov’s The Andromeda Nebula, and Breton’s moment of dépaysement once again comes to mind. Objects and people are decontextual- ized and displaced to unfamiliar locations. A shifted and mad reality is revealed to us, implying that it is rooted in the unconscious and the phantasmagoric.
As important as the tension between photography and painting has been for art over the last thirty years as well as for Marc Lüders’ oeuvre, it would not do justice to his aesthetic approach to reduce his works to this relation. This is because the term “photopictures,” which Lüders himself likes to use, only refers to technical aspects. However, in the case of this unique oeuvre, it seems to me that not only are the formally convincing results more important, which testify to his absolute mastery of the media painting and photography, but also the fact that dreams and the subconscious are put back into the right perspective. Or as Freud put it: “The unconscious has a much stronger moral stance than the con- scious would like us to believe.”
Psychical automatism and conscious combinatorics are considered to be primary Surrealist methods. In his gestural painting, Lüders revives a markedly psychographic element, and he does so in combination with the photographic medium, which draws its credibility to no small extent from its automatic genesis. The Surrealist aspect of Lüders’ art lies above all in the theme, that is to say in the problem-laden relationship between people and objects: it is about animated objects that lead a life of their own, as well as about generating vision and visibil- ity by blending together different levels of reality or illusion. The Surrealists were inspired by Jean-Martin Charcot’s photographs of hysterical women from the late nineteenth century and by images of “materialization phenomena,” mediumis- tic phenomena from the early twentieth century. Thomas Mann even repeatedly took part in séances, later recording what he had experienced in writing. In this context, Lüders’ colored figures are reminiscent of flâneurs in Paris arcades—only in the photorealistic ranges of, for example, someone like Richard Este—and his black-and-white figures of chimaeras and spirits, or even (our) ancestors. Seen in this light, his deserted filling stations—Hopper-like and in Pop Art colors—can also be read as cemeteries. The hovering objects not only recall UFOs, but also so-called ectoplasms, photos from the beginning of modernity that show exog- enous substances escaping from the mouths of the mediums being depicted—the human voice of the person being called up “appearing,” as it were, in material form. These objects, which seem to share increasing similarity with the figures, are indeed phenomenal apparitions.
With his fascination for the multifaceted potential for transformation and revision, Marc Lüders is in good company. One can look back as far as Man Ray, who was both a painter and object designer and made use of the possibilities for experimentation provided by the darkroom, such as solarization or deliberate graininess. Even Brassai produced photographs that looked like the results of écriture automatique. Buster Keaton showed us in a highly poetic manner that objects have always been stronger than ourselves. And more recently, Anna and Bernhard Blume, for example, caused parapsychologically discharged centrifugal forces to explode in our faces. To us, ghosts, shadows, and hovering forms seem uncanny or, in other words, appear to be the energetic potential of the psyche. Herein lies genuine Surrealist interest.
It is indeed astounding how central formal and motif-related elements in Marc Lüders’ oeuvre correspond with these aspects. In much the same way as in paintings by Yves Tanguy, his shadows create spaces that do not really exist as a sign of their inner dynamics. The hovering nature of the objects bring to mind the hovering (weightless) objects in paintings by Max Ernst, and Lüders’ urban space is comparable with that of Paul Delvaux—the space is unreal; it serves as a backdrop for encounters without recognizable meaning or coherency. Yet the encrypted meaning is revealed to those who understand the language of the sub- conscious and who can sense the intensity of the moment.
reference: Marc Lüders. Erfindung der Realität. Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2010, page 111-113
Translations from the German: Gillian Morris