Daniel and Geo Fuchs are a German couple who have been working together since 1992. They are best known for their conceptual photo projects and now we can meet their art at Haugar Vestfold Kunstmuseum in Tønsberg, Norway.
STASI - SECRET ROOMS
Approaching the exhibition there's a lot to take inn. Let's start with Stasi - Secret Rooms. The first photo to catch our eyes is "BstU, archive central office Berlin I", 2004-2005. At first sight it's very aesthetically by it's composition, use of colours and the central perspective. The red colour together with the yellow makes a fine balance, but that is until we understand what this is all about; it's folders with information about German citizens that Stasi was interested in, and many of them were called in for interrogation, and even some of them have been subjected to torture. Looking back at the photo we now see the red colour as a symbol of pain and suffering, and even death. We feel the sadness taking place inside us wondering how many people have been suffering because of Stasi.
Taking a closer look at the folders there's nothing aesthetically left, we're only thinking that each and every folder contains a destiny to a person, and maybe the person had to die because he or she was a human being with other thoughts than Stasi.
There are many photos as we continue walking and we get a kind of the sublime feeling; at the same time many of them are very aesthetically but they also remind us about a terrible time where many people were suffering in these rooms.
Another photo, this time of a staircase, not the one to heaven, but this is the staircase to hell. Thinking again of the topic we can almost hear the footsteps of suffering people. But at the same time we can also see the aesthetically in this photo, given by the composition that makes the most perfect perspective, a perspective that would have made Brunelleschi, the man who invented the central perspective in painting, proud. The cold light and the steel can be read as a symbol of Stasi's lack of feelings and empathy, and than the sublime feeling is back.
There are many more photos to see in these rooms, from interrogation rooms to jail cells, to pieces of papers with articles, maps, handwritten notes, etc. and in addition you can hear a special sound in the background. It is very scary and at the same time intriguing, given by the fantastic photos telling an awful story, and you have to ask; how can people be so cruel and when will the human kind learn?
FACES OF WAR and FORCES
Entering the next room with Faces of War and Forces we really need our reality check. Starting with the wall with a lot of pictures, we see that all the commentaries are about war actions. We know that sceneries we see in the pictures have happened, or do we not? We have seen similarly sceneries in the media, in the newspapers, CNN, etc. that's a fact, but what do we see and what is hidden from us.
Looking at some of the photos we get a feeling that we have seen them before, but is it in the news, a documentary, or even in Homeland, a fiction series?
Some photos you may even recognize from games like Call of Duty, but you are not absolutely sure and that's what give you the sublime feeling in this room; what if it's real or what if it's not, how to read this?
The French philosopher and culture analyst Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) problematised reality by saying that in a postmodern world where everything happens so fast and we are fed with impressions all the time through medias, and the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred, it is difficult to know what is real. The only thing left is the sign, the sign becomes a simulacrum. He also claimed that the Golf War was not real, and maybe it wasn't; yes it happened but not in the way it was described to the world trough media. In describing the reality it is often done by using metaphors like "clinical warfare" when it comes to war, how real is that? Than we're back to what reality really is; is it what we see in the news, in a documentary, in a movie or in Call of Duty?
In this room we also meet photos of planes, but the planes are not in the air, they are on the ground, but not where it is logical to find them; one of them is placed in the forest among lots of trees, while another one is placed among high voltage pylons. Taken them out of their normally context it all seems unreal in a way, and according to the name of this exhibition, it may also be the purpose.
At the end of the room there's an explosion meeting us. It's a diptych and from a distance the dominating colour is blue. Blue stands for royalty and contemplation, so combined with the explosion it give us that sublime feeling again. It really is an aesthetically significant for an explosion.
After taking a deep breath it's time to face the room for Conserving. At first sight this is very aesthetically as well, but after taking a closer look the sublime feeling is back; the death is very present in this room, given by the photos of dead humans, animals and fishes in formalin. Bringing these objects out of it's normally context, which is a laboratory for use in science and claim that it's art is extraordinary, but it's not the first time it has been done. We have seen Andres Serrano's photos of dead people in his series Morgue, where he went to a morgue in New York and took pictures. Serrano is also well known for using fluids in his art like in Piss Christ where he lowered a crucifix down in a glass with urin. Morten Viskum is well known for using the hands of dead people when he is painting, and he stores them in formalin while not in use. He also puts dead rats in glasses with formalin and I myself have two of them in my office. When I'm lecturing about art I bring one of them with me, but it is a little odd, because they too should have been in a laboratory used in science. Surely I get reaction but that's over in short time when they get to know that the rat have been killed in a human way. So what happens when we change the context so radically? According to Kant we put other glasses on looking at art, and the experience of the aesthetically is given immediately.
So why do we have a sublime feeling approaching these piece of art? The aesthetic is also culture dependent, and in our culture the death is still a tabu. In our industrialized world the death has been alienated. The only way we relate to death is when someone close to us die, but often they die in a hospital and thereby they have already been taken away from home and their normally context. Nothing wrong with that, but it amplifier the alienation. So when we face the photo of a dead human being, it's kind of a shocking experience.
Looking at the photo of the man with one eye partly open it's almost like he is alive, but taking a closer look it is no doubt that this man is dead. It's easier to meet the fishes; they are dead but hey, we are used to see dead fishes, not in formalin but that's not an issue here. They are with no doubt aesthetically.
Another photo is catching our eyes, it seems a little different to the others and there's several of them, each with different men inside. The men look very much alive, and in fact, they are. It is members of the German metal band RAMMSTEIN. They got so fascinating seeing pictures of the series Conversing in a magazine that they wanted to do something similar. The result you can meet at this exhibition. Reality Check? Yes please!!!
Leaving the death behind we are ready for the next room. It doesn't take long before the confusion is completed; we see a photo of the ikon Andy Warhol, or is it really him? Looking closer we see that it is a photo of a toy looking like Andy Warhol. In my head I can hear Platon says; "it's a copy of Andy Warhol which again is a copy of the idea of Andy Warhol". Looking at another photo we see Edward Scissorhands ready to cut Andy Warhol's hair: Okey Platon, leave me alone! These photos are taken of giant design toys and like Matisse did in painting, Daniel and Geo Fuchs here turn the three dimensional into the two dimensional, only in another way. We also meet other fantasy characters like Batman for instance, and characters from cartoon series. Last but not least we also see a photo with both Bin Laden and Bush together. Reality? I have to check.
NB Please note that these photos taken by myself at the exhibition do not do justice to the originals.
Source: Facts about the exhibition: Daniel og Geo Fuchs REALITY CHECK by the curator Tone Lyngstad Nyaas