Sunday, March 13, 2011

Enigmatic books manifesto

Tent / Witte de With gallery presented a series of enigmatic books and book editors but they give no further information on their website. These are photographs that I made during the exhibition and scans from a few books that I bought. Some questions:
  • Why are these combinations of text and image so enigmatic? So enticing?
  • Why do you keep thinking about them?
  • Is this deep art or just a cheap trick?
  • Is this topography? Can topography always be like this?

Der eine lacht, der eine lacht nicht.
Der eine lacht, der andere lacht nicht.

A neat little house with a neat bland garden. Optically this looks like Germany. The German text confirms this. Open questions:
  • Who is laughing here? Why is the other one not laughing? What is going on inside this little house? Do brutal conflicts hide behind the neat bourgeois exterior?
  • Is this found imagery? Or did the artist search for it? How difficult was it to find this picture or this location?
  • Is this found text? Is it a citation? Or did the artist write it himself?
  • Is the combination intentional or is it just a random juxtaposition?
the long delayed but always expected something
We live in such a mysterious universe don't we?
I don't remember.
Old school holiday photographs. Beautiful landscapes. Looks like Austria or Switzerland. The font and style of the text suggest a 1950 theatre play or film script. Suggestions of a dialogue between a female and a male character. Same questions apply here as above.
The enigmatic character is enhanced by the total lack of background information. No artist name, no artwork title. I think this is the poster "The Glass" by Özlem Altin, but I can not be sure. "The glass" only adds to the mystery.

It also works without text. Graininess, texture and lomo effects have been used by artists so much that they have become a cliché. But they are effective to create an atmosphere of suspense.
  • What is happening here? Waiting? For some calamity? Searching? What has been lost? A ritual? A prayer?
  • Is this a found photograph? From a newspaper? Why would this be interesting for any newspaper?
  • A staged photograph? Why? It is not artistically or photographically interesting. Could anyone visualize and design such a picture beforehand?

It even works without people in the picture. Bland suburbia, neatness and order combined with temporary raw soil, chaos and entropy. But this is the easy interpretation. If you look closer you see the framing and composition. These are no random pictures, these are studied and deliberate.
  • Is this a personal project of the photographer? Is this easy or hard? How often do you find a heap of earth in the garden suburbs?
  • Are these newspaper pictures? What kind of article could this be?

Conclusion - and a manifesto

This is a trick and a con. It abuses the pattern recognition reflex of my neurological machine. I am presented with noise and I automatically search for patterns and meaning. It could be used as a psychological research tool like the Rorschach test. My analysis above reveals more about myself than about the artworks.

This may be a trick but it is a very pleasant one. To quote Nick Papadimitriou: "Such things are psychedelic." These enigmatic pictures can open your eyes to the mysteries of everyday life. The hidden depths of suburbia. The unexpected layers behind the daily news. The mystical. The sublime.

They can stimulate the viewer to look for such examples himself. They can send him on a creative expedition outside the commercial information channels. They can stimulate local discoveries bypassing the global tourist industry. A creative retreat from the capitalist amusement system.

Further research

I will do some experiments with searching for enigmatic pictures and text. I have a stack of unread newspapers for January - February 2011. We'll see if I can make such a book from this material. But ... will I ever find a publisher?

Erstarrte Unruhe - Orient Press
Erik van der Weijde - artist website
Özlem Altin - new website
Rorschach test - Wikipedia
Manifesto - Wikipedia

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