TWO MEN STANDING. Part 2
Text by Dušica Dražić
Try to freeze this image in your mind: two men standing in a landscape. Now sink below the ground. See the sediments of the past. Add layers of culture and all the different interpretations of history and believes. This image is the starting point for the series of exhibitions Two Men Standing.
Two people, thus two images collide – an empty-handed man that walks through the landscape, looking for a place to settle. Then a man of plenty, trying to exclude the other from the land that he claims belongs to him. Law of nature and law of man superimposed.
The exhibition looks for the invisible that suddenly, temporarily surfaces, allowing us to observe where we come from and which commons we have. It looks at traces of radical redefinitions of culture being preserved within the landscape or being attributed to it.
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In August 2018 I flew from Vienna to Eindhoven. During the landing I was looking at an unfamiliar landscape that I thought I knew so well. I didn’t immediately understand why it was unrecognisable after only a few months. Driving to Antwerp left me even more bewildered. The saturated green that usually surrounds the grey of the highway was replaced by golden, dry grass. No people on the streets, the change seamed sudden. If I would not know my location, I would think I am not far from the Mediterranean coast. The characteristic landscape of this part of Europe was not there anymore.
Geographical descriptions of formal characteristics of the landscape rely on visual evidence. The geographer takes the position of an outsider, the one that observes and interprets. The morphology of a landscape often means that the visual, subjective input is transformed into a scientific language or image-map. That same language, once separated from its scientific origin can be read as the description of a painting. Is it possible to determine the line between the geographical and aesthetic landscape?
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I am looking at an open valley with scattered rock formations, transitioning into an urban setting and gradually extending into a hill above the surrounding terrain. This is the landscape in which The Last Judgment by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450 / 55-1516) is set. Today, the tryptic resides at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The artist Anna Hofbauer rejects the position of an outsider and enters the painting. In her process, the painting and its landscape are transformed into a source for her work Drucke. Hofbauer strips the painting and the landscape down to basic elements – wood and stone.
The contradiction between bodies and emotions depicted in the Bosh painting – bodies exposed to excruciating torture and faces numb and indifferent – is reflected in the titles of the stoneprints: Im Bruch (in the quarry), Im Wald (in the forest), Bei den Kiefern (near pine trees), Quelle (source) and Nach der Schrift (after the writings). While referring to elements in the painting, the titles direct us towards specific locations.
The translation of the landscape into language/sign surfaces in every element of Hofbauer’s work. We can look back at the first known writing system – the Sumerian proto-cuneiform from the Uruk III period (c. 3200– 3000 bc) – to better understand her process. Hofbauer uses a similar technology of writing: while Sumerians scratched clay plates, she scratched the surface of the stone.
Proto-cuneiform was not a coherent system. Signs could be pictographic when the object would be identifiable, some would become apparent once the meaning was known and other signs would be abstract from the beginning. The meaning of a sign often depended on the context. Most of the signs were meant to be read aloud, but others were determinatives – “unpronounced signs that told the reader what class of thing was being referred to.” The black and white contact-prints that Hofbauer made serve as determinatives that help us to identify the origin and context of her stone prints. The origin of the stone is linked not only to the contact-prints, but also hidden inside the captions of the stoneprints where the type of stone and of wood is noted.
Pop-up church is the last element of Hofbauer’s work. A couch frame was dismantled, broken in pieces and reassembled. What once was defined by horizontality, was now transformed into a vertical image. What was associated with stillness gains movement.
The difficulty to express what we feel, the inadequacy of language, both spoken and written is lurking in all elements of Drucke. Perhaps Hofbauer is advocating stepping into the image and embracing its ambiguities.
* * *
A massive, deep black triangular surface dominates the image. A grey backdrop to this dark monolith. Two curvy paths are carved into the black, cutting it and breaking it on its way to the top. There is no sense of scale: it could be the tallest mountain and it could be a microscopic find. The title #212-7_2011 of Awoiska van der Molen’s photograph does not give us any trace of the origin of the subject, only the year of its creation.
There is something unsettling within the two-dimensional nature of this reproduction. It feels like the solidified blackness just continuously, invisibly presses three edges of the frame. Perhaps it could suddenly erupt and change into liquid ink and flow out of the frame.
In 2014 van der Molen was the winner of the first annual Hariban Award. During her stay at the Benrido Collotype Atelier in Kyoto she, together with the master artisans produced eight collotypes.
The collotype was considered a photographic reproduction process that used pigment ink in printing. It was invented in France by Alphonse Poitevin in 1856 and was introduced in Japan in the early twentieth century. Along many technological innovations that marked the Industrial Revolution, the collotype printing process could be perceived as one that supported the transition from manual to mechanical reproduction, but never really accomplishing that by itself. The main reason was that it remained technologically challenging and expensive. As such, it was quickly replaced by offset printing, which was faster and cheaper.
While still in wider use, short-run printing editions such as the reproduction of artworks, the production of postcards, posters and advertisement displays were made with that technique. At that time landscape and nature had a central, populistic position in Europe. “[L]andscape appreciation had become an indicator of educated sensibility among the middle classes. They collected landscape pictures, visited remoter parts of British Isles […].”
When juxtaposing the use of this specific medium in the time of its invention and today, the change in the meaning and function is remarkable. Now collotype has a value only within arts, anywhere else, it is redundant, thus its language can be redefined.
With the collotype printing process it is possible to achieve a unique image fidelity. Van der Molen’s position of an insider, marked by her necessity to photograph and live within the landscape, becomes apparent in the photographs that she selected to reproduce. Her proximity to the subject denounces all rules of perspective and depth. “Landscape is not merely the world we see, it is a construction, a composition of that world. Landscape is a way of seeing the world.” She presents excerpts from her walks, leaving us with enough space to (re)imagine the landscape outside of the frame.
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Once we leave the image, we arrive in a parkland. In the early eighteenth century a specific type of garden that mimicked the natural landscape emerged in England. It was often realised in suburban, bourgeois surroundings. The successful design depended on an extensive knowledge of botany and dendrology. The English garden is an idealised simulation of nature. An interesting reading of these parklands is offered by Denis E. Cosgrove saying that “[s]uch parks and gardens represented not so much control over land as control over the very processes of nature.”
The same design principles were applied to the gardens of the Élysée Palace in Paris. The palace and garden were built in the early seventeenth century as a private mansion. In 1848 it became the official residence of the French President. On the fourteenth of December 1995 the signing of the Dayton Accords, widely recognised as the agreement that ended the bloodshed of the Yugoslav wars and set the borders of the new states, took place here. The signing ceremony was followed by an applause captured in a photograph by Gérard Julien.
In 2013 Ibro Hasanović re-enacted the applause from that photo, Study For The Applause. Like an apparition, two hands surface out of darkness. Their movement is slow. Without reference to the original image one would easily think that it is sign language used to communicate with the deaf. The hands search, study and try to reconstruct the position of every pair of applauding hands captured in the photograph, one by one. Once they enter into the right position and stop moving. They become a sculpture, or a monument for a moment and then again are absorbed into black.
Nine men in the photograph took the position of an outsider observing the landscape, never truly entering, walking nor understanding. “Landscape is indeed the view of the outsider, a term of order and control, whether that control is technical, political or intellectual.”
1 :: The term characteristic landscape is used by geographer Carl Sauer to describe generic type of landscape developed from studying uniquely occurring examples.
2 :: Anna Hofbauer’s work Drucke was realised in 2018, for the exhibition BOSCH & HOFBAUER curated by Anamarija Batista, at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.
3 :: Im Bruch (in the quarry) – Bruch is short for Steinbruch (quarry). Im Bruch literally translated means in the breakage.
Bei den Kiefern (near pine trees) – Kiefer in German is a homonym and means both pine tree and jaws.
Nach der Schrift (after the writings) – Nach der Schrift has a double meaning in German. It can be read as according to the writings, as well as after the writings, but it also reminds of the expression Nach der Schrift reden, which means to speak standard language.
4 :: Amalia E. Gnanadesikan, The Writing Revolution: Cuneiform to the Internet (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), p. 17
5 :: A forest in Salzburg; an active quarry in Salzburg from where Untersberg marble was taken; Travertinepark in Stuttgart where traces of Germania are still preserved – the fourteen travertine columns commissioned in 1936 for the planned Mussolini Platz in Berlin; the Japanese spring fountain in Donaupark in Vienna.
6 :: https://www.getty.edu/conservation/publications_resources/pdf_publications/pdf/atlas_collotype.pdf
7 :: Denis E. Cosgrove, Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), p. 235
8 :: ibid, p. 13
9 :: ibid, p. 236
10 :: Front: Serbian President Slobodan Milosević, Croatian President Franjo Tuđman and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović
Back: Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales, US President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister John Major and Russian Premier Victor Chernomyrdin
11 :: Denis E. Cosgrove, Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), p. 36
Curated by Dušica Dražić