Reinhard Braun

 

AMBIGUOUS IMAGES

 

»To my mind, representation is not the answer to the question, be it political, ethical or epistemological, but rather precisely the form in which the question is posed and worked through.«

(W.J.T. Mitchell) 1

 

I have already had the opportunity to discuss Klaus Schuster's works ˝ in the words of Mitchell once again ˝ to revolve around the question: »What do images want?« And circumspectly not to talk about photography but rather about representation and visual cultures. 2 For what interest is there in the old question of images and realities any more if not in connection with reflection on visual practices as an epidemic cultural technique pervading the present, as »a nameless body of practices scattered in different places« (Michel Foucault) that is intermeshed with the subject, society and culture at numerous interfaces without, that is, displaying any ˝ ideological or technological ˝ »centre«. Photography too, like other cultural practices, can no longer be referred to as discourse in the narrower sense, but rather as »diversity« in the broadest sense, even at the risk of quoting Gilles Deleuze once more, as a »multiplicity« of reality constructions, as a kaleidoscope of a myriad of forms of representation that both scatter and enclose realities. But these perspectives have long ceased to be seen merely as representations of views, of seeing as a point of departure for visual appropriation and mediation, but rather as »functional places« in the framework of a visual culture ˝ places that are increasingly being occupied by technology or visual techniques based on certain technologies.

In connection with the series of »Locations«, I suggested that while they no longer seem to be made up of fragments of reality, they do consist of visual fragments that are no less real: the fragments of collective memory that would seem themselves to have been completely reshaped by mass media image production. 3 We are constantly put in mind of Vilém Flusser's dictum whereby we only live, and ˝ as must be added, remember ˝ in the function of technical images. Klaus Schuster's »Locations« seem like alien stills taken from this mass media image machine of the imaginary, like the animated loops of his video works seem to embroil us in a repetitive suggestion of fragments of moving images from this strange universe of technical images. With the one difference that they do not even try to conceal their constructedness and artificiality.

This artificiality, offensively displayed, applies even more so to the series of current works compiled by Klaus Schuster under the heading »Selbstorganisation« (Self-organisation), although the question remains whether this concept refers to a »life-model« of the artist, to socio-cultural processes in general or, as it were, describes the image construction from the perspective of the images themselves, as if they came from an undefined »beyond« of digital apparatuses, as if they at first represented their imaginary aspects. The openness of the title, however, points to the pressing question of a contemporary pictoriality and its precarious, borderline status in the framework of dissipating discourses on realities ˝ especially as photography in particular (and the works clearly do seem to simulate photography) is constituted as a medium and discourse formation by an overlapping of technology (a technicity of culture as a whole), knowledge and art. The »signature of images«, as Philippe Dubois 4 put it, thus no longer refers primarily to something pre-existing, but rather to processual aspects of image creation itself, which corresponds to a general transition from seeing to visualisation. 5 With the »Self-organisation« series, we are in the middle of an enactment of the world as a process inherent in the image and, at the same time, inherent in technology: images of a world that no longer need this world.

A flag, a »képi«, a sheet of paper ˝ apparently arbitrary objects, indiscriminately picked out and elevated to pictorial motifs in oppressive isolation and artificiality; and yet these objects in particular may be described as crystallisation points of cultural practices, as crystallisation points of forms of social organisation. The sheet of paper as a basis for written records and thus for literature, philosophy or science; the flag as a symbol of a national ˝ if not nationalist ˝ form of organisation of statehood, and the »képi« as a symbol of military power, a militarisation of culture. From this angle, »Kette« (chain) triggers associations with fashion, lifestyle and a rampant »beauty industry«, while »Wohnwagen« (mobile home) alludes to phantasms of mobility, individuality and leisure.

This lends a new dimension to the term »self-organisation«, which denotes dynamic aspects of cultural developments for which certain objects sometimes seem to constitute a conspicuous point of departure, as is particularly the case with the photographic apparatus: »It's (the camera obscura's) undisputed sovereignty as a metaphor of seeing held sway for almost two centuries; to rationalist, empirical thinkers it offered a model for the true conclusion regarding the world as based upon observation.« 6 Yet in many instances, Klaus Schuster's works would seem to oppose precisely this rationalist model of an empirical »true« conclusion regarding this world ˝ paradoxically with an at least equally rationalist model of digital image creation. It would have been easy to photograph these objects in the studio or wherever. Thus it is a matter of abandoning this coupling with realities, i.e. no longer finding the representation but rather self-organising its selection and its design. This »Self-organisation« points to the concept of emergence and immersion, to the »shift from media that §enframeŃ to [technologies] that immerse«. One consequence of this shift is the emergence of an »ambiguous image«, as Timothy Druckrey terms it. »Legitimised by the perceptual models of photography and television and by the calculated algorithms of perception, the electronic (and digital, author's note) image oscillates between reality and hypothesis«. 7 Klaus Schuster's pictures seem to pinpoint, as it were, this oscillation between hypothesis and reality.

Paradoxically, these »ambiguous images« between hypothesis and reality do not reveal any additional visibility: on the one hand totally transparent, they shut off what would still be perceptible as »real« spaces or objects, finally dissolving into every »authentic« image (whatever that may be). They appear to be almost sealed by a drastically formulated idea of an »artificial real«. However, this replacement, covering or sealing is never completely successful ˝ the breaks and tensions of different image concepts criss-cross the entire image conception (as can be aesthetically experienced, for example, in the contrasts between the simulations of the organic and the sterile materiality of the objects, backgrounds and grounds, as in »Fell«, fur, but also in »Nachbar«, neighbour). The simulation of the real is stopped, as it were, at the point at which the artificiality of the image remains perceptible. At this point, the images retain the »ambiguous« status as a hypothetical model of representation that reveals the representations as the form mentioned at the beginning, in which pictoriality is questioned.

The title, then ˝ that always comments and supplements the images as cultural texts ˝ has a number of possible associations, it also refers to a kind of contingent experience, to the experience of contingency by not telling a coherent »story«, not developing a documentation, but rather by enacting and fragmentarily stringing together (visual) fragments of memories and associations. At least the works »Haus Luthergasse« and »Nachbar« seem to have an autobiographical background ˝ but here again it evolves that the parental home was reconstructed from memory, and the garage, the garden and the terrace are all that remains of impressions of the neighbours, for whatever reasons. »One Hotel«, in turn, »reminds« us of the hotel run by Alighiero Boetti in Kabul in the seventies ˝ a reference to current geopolitical conflicts, to which, ultimately, the »megaphone« also alludes that is still used for political agitation and public protest, also in current-day Kabul. So for all the reduction and ambiguity, there is a certain symbolic aspect inscribed in the images. »Photographs are texts that, as we might say, are written down in a §photographic discourseŃ, but this discourse, like any other, picks up the thread of other discourses; the §photographic textŃ is the place of a complex §intertextualityŃ, the overlapping of a whole series of preceding texts (...).« This explicitly tells us that »the notion of a §purely visualŃ image is a mere fiction.« 8 And if the »purely visual image« is a fiction, then the same applies to those digital, »self-organised« images of Klaus Schuster. Intertextuality is not a question of technology, but of social systems of signification.

But where do these »ambiguous« images »really« come from? And does this question take us back to questions of current conditions of representation? »We may also acknowledge the fact that the space of electronic images is a space of memory and of phantasmatic anticipation (Í) and hence a space of ever potential paranoia.« And to continue with Victor Burgin: »Phenomenologically, the omnipresent specular field of contemporary media is fragmentary and heterogeneous: a continuum of constantly changing kaleidoscopic image patterns that are incessantly shaping the §collective preconsciousŃ and incessantly being lined with individual unconscious projections. With its spatial and temporal condensations and shifts, its self-quotations and rapid, random changes of ideal, secular and violent images, this imaginary environment increasingly resembles the inner spaces of the subjective imagination turned outward and is increasingly structured in the manner of our dreams, our imagination or indeed of the §body in partsŃ in the hallucinatory psychological space of schizophrenia.«

At least, then, the images of the »Self-organisation« series seem to be determined by a kind of ˝ hypothetical ˝ symbiosis of subject and apparatus. This applies all the more so to the video works that generally repeat the same scene again and again in loops of 30 to 40 seconds. And yet it is a profoundly apparatus-based or technological »view« that apprehends, indeed scans these scenes of artificiality. What is more, all the scenes are empty of people which, in the case of »Ohne Titel«, Untitled (2002) ˝ a »travelling shot« along a settlement that turns out to be a montage of the same two models of houses ˝ augments the impression of eerie emptiness. In »Dampfbad«, Steam Bath (2002), a kind of movement arises solely by modulating the humidity and by a strangely swaying »camera«, as also features in »Location 2001.v2« (2001) or »Location 2001.v1« (2001). These sliding perspectives are the result of impossible viewpoints (where there really ought to be a wall or water if the spaces obeyed any logic of real three-dimensional conditions). These impossible viewpoints as points of departure for the aforementioned ambiguous visuality turn out to be those »functional places« in the framework of a visual culture ˝ places that are increasingly being occupied by technology or visual techniques based on certain technologies. Their function is a de-subjectivisation of visuality and representation, a specific immersion that emphasises the image alone as the construction of a logic intrinsic to the process. In Klaus Schuster's works, however, this inherent technicity is accompanied by aspects of a subjective imaginary that seems to be based, yet again, upon impressions of a media-based visuality. This gives Klaus Schuster's image formations that »disruption«, shift and ambiguity that causes them to stand out from many works that use the digital image as a playground for self-adulating simulations or artificial oddities.

Rather, Klaus Schuster's works document the constantly changing »association between the object portrayed, the technique and contextual knowledge«. 9 The shift that has captured and holds captured the connection between these parameters can no longer be reconstructed on the basis of the image concept alone. These representations clearly reveal that a kind of draft character always remains inscribed in them, and that, through this hypothetical character, they give an insight into the process of image creation itself, a »self-organisation« as a »complex interplay of visuality, apparatus, institutions, discourse, bodies and figurativity«. 10

»The image becomes an object of desire, the desire for meaning that is known to be lacking.« 11 And, we might add, the desire for a reality that is known not to exist.

 

(Translation: Richard Watts)

 

1 »Was wollen Bilder?«, W.J.T. Mitchell interviewed by Georg Schöllhammer, in: springerin (ed.), Widerstände. Kunst ˝ Cultural Studies ˝ Neue Medien. Interviews und Aufsätze aus der Zeitschrift springerin 1995 ˝ 1999 , Vienna, Bolzano: Folio Verlag 1999, p. 156 ˝ 163, p. 161.

2 Klaus Schuster, prospect location , Vienna 2000; Klaus Schuster, Locations , Vienna 2001.

3 Klaus Schuster, Locations , Vienna 2001.

4 Philippe Dubois, »Fotografische Installationen und Skulpturen«, in: Herta Wolf (ed.), Skulpturen ˝ Fragmente. Internationale Fotoarbeiten der 90er Jahre , Zurich: Parkett 1992, p. 96.

5 Herta Wolf, »Skulpturen ˝ Fragmente«, in: op. cit., p. 112 ˝ 151, p. 133.

6 Jonathan Crary, »Techniken des Sehens«, in: Herta Wolf (ed.), op. cit., p. 8 ˝ 40, p. 8.

7 Timothy Druckrey, »Illusion der Simulationen«, in: Stefan Iglhaut a. o. (ed.), Illusion und Simulation. Begegnung mit der Realität , Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz 1995, p. 138 ˝ 157, p. 154.

8 Victor Burgin, »Fotografien betrachten«, in: Wolfgang Kemp (ed.), Theorie der Fotografie III. 1945 ˝ 1980 , Munich: Schirmer / Mosel 1983, p. 251 ˝ 260, p. 253; cf.: Victor Burgin, »A Propos Fotografie«, in: Kunstforum International , 38/1981, p. 68ff.

9 Christian Höller, »Deplazierte Moderne. Zur fotografischen Praxis von Christopher Williams«, in: Tamara Horáková, Ewald Maurer a. o. (ed.), image:/ images. Positionen zur zeitgenössischen Fotografie , Wien: Passagen Verlag 2002, p. 139 ˝ 160, p. 151.

10 ebda.

11 Douglas Crimp, »Pictures«, in: Tamara Horáková, Ewald Maurer (ed.), op. cit., S. 131.

 

Published in: Camera Austria no. 83/2003, p. 7˝18.