Susanne Kriemann

Ashes and Broken Brickwork of a Logical Theory (Roma Publications, 2010)
One Time One Million (Roma Publications, 2009)
RAY (Roma Publications, 2013)

Susanne Kriemann is a German artist whose work is characterised particularly by engagement with the medium of photography within a social-historical and archival context. By using countless photographic prints from different epochs, either made by the artist or collected by her, Kriemann takes on not only a historic and documentary aspect in her work, but at the same time indicates the associated meaning of the archive.
The reach of her investigative gaze includes the history of photography and kindred representations, Germany’s traumatic recent past, the obsolescence of industrialism and the constant metamorphosis of urban culture – all filtered through a relentless process of the medium’s self-questioning.

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Paola Paleari: A clear critic towards positivism and modernism is embedded in your approach. At the same time, you make large use both of photography and of the archive, which are disciplines that were fostered by the same theories that are the aim of your critical discourse. Can you please explain the reasons of this focus in your practice?

Susanne Kriemann: I often focus on existing photographic archives and try to complicate the idea of an archive, since the archive for me is less one of containment than one of affect. For this reason, many of my projects narrate the particular affective relationship between a viewing community and a given archive. For example, my book Ashes and Broken Brickwork of a Logical Theory is visually framed by both Leonard Woolley’s Digging Up the Past (1930) and Agatha Christie’s They Came to Baghdad (1951). Christie was married to Mollowan and was his assistant on many archaeological expeditions, so she wrote and photographed there.
The reference to archaeology is very important in this work. The archaeological act is what forms an archive: it’s the pre-archival impulse. It’s a combination of the narrative of modernity/modernism questioned in Woolley’s work and the archival principles used to organise and distinguish artefacts in museums. The photographs in the book – which are taken by unknown photographers, Agatha Christie and myself – act as counterparts to the various uses/functions of photography as a tool to document, transcribe and quote.

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PP: In One Time One Million, many perspectives are put together: history, ornithology, psychology, architecture and photography. Which role does the archive play when used in a multidiscipline approach? Is it exploited as a formal structure or for its conceptual implications?

SK: One Time One Million uses images coming from two distinct archives: birds photographed by Viktor Hasselblad himself and photographs of airplanes/ houses taken with Viktor Hasselblad’s first camera, the Ross HK 7.
I bought the Ross HK 7 camera together with two unexposed films at an auction in Stockholm in 2006. This “Hasselblad dinosaur” was the starting point of my research, and later became one of the protagonists of the work. In a similar way as the one I adopted in Ashes and Broken Brickwork of a Logical Theory, I chose a very specific approach to the archive, in order to find a few images that could represent the most precise points of reference for my concept.
Perhaps, to answer the second part of the question, it is important to remember that One Time One Million is both a book and an installation, and in the latter case I displayed the forty-six images as offset prints hung in a specially designed panopticum structure. This choice was motivated by the different sources of work files: 6×6 cm slides by Hasselblad, 7×9 cm b/w negatives by unknown pilots, my own aerial photographs shot with the 1948 b/w film, photographs in the ornithological collection of Berlin in 2009: I believe it would have destroyed the conceptual reading of the work, if I would have used all the technical implications of the images and printed each series accordingly. Therefore, when the book One Time One Million was printed, I decided to frame the first print run and it became a piece to be exhibited.

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PP: RAY takes its premises from a radioactive rock discovered in Texas in the late XIX century. You often look for particular situations/collections/stories that you reinterpret and re-enact in your works. What importance do you give to curiosity? Is it more a tool to grasp the audience’s attention or a starting point for your creativity?

SK: This particular rock is part of a looping story, from the use of Gadolinium as a filament for Nernst street lamps that illuminate the AEG pavilion in the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, to the present use of this mineral in MRI scans. It’s also used in nuclear reactor control rods and smartphone touch screens. The rock was effectively part of the pictures, because I took them with my smartphone. I also made auto-radiographs by exposing films to the rock’s rays.
My goal was to transform the seeming durability of rocks into participating agents in our vertiginous stories and to show how rocks play a central role in our lives and in my work, moving them from background to foreground.

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PP: Questioning the archive means facing concepts such as objet trouvé, détournement, de-contextualization, that that have been playing an important role in art since the Avant-garde movements of the ’20s. What has changed in the use of these solutions after postmodernism and the digital revolution? Why are we still making use of them?

I am not sure I can answer this question…
My own concern with photographs, which were taken, collected and archived by people of different times, is driven by an unquenchable appetite for new constellations of the interpretation of matter: however technology the images were produced with, this informs their political and social impact.
Working with scientific image collections, I am often confronted with terminologies such as geology and anthropology. These big concepts of how parts of the world were composed from a western, strongly male-gaze dominated activity, entangle with problems I am repulsed by and this often urges me to search and re-order them.
I believe that re-contextualizing specific images – or re-making images in precisely composed but substantially different conditions – is vital, at any time.

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Massimiliano Tommaso Rezza

ATEM (Yard Press, 2015)

Massimiliano Tommaso Rezza’s visual research is based on the randomness of the process of making images, the impossibility to select them and the research for an instant that would not be Cartier Bresson’s definitive moment, but its opposite.
At the very core of his book ATEM, published by Yard Press, is the theme of “survival”: all those states, people, conditions, events and atmospheres that are ignored or neglected by the standardized and conservative practice of the society of merchandise. ATEM is a pulsing container of images where what is systematically neglected, pulverized, shattered and eliminated by the idea of ‘contemporary’ is kept alive.
Looking at the video footage and reading the book as a fluent sequence of instants that are randomly selected and sticked one besides the other, the reader is called upon to fill the empty spaces, to put together the fragments and to look for their meaning depending on her/his personal view.

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The volume is not following the formal and conceptual balance of an ordered sequence and an aesthetic research, but it has been obtained through a purely random process lacking any type of selection refinement.
In the same way the video is searching for this fading instant, the meaningless made photograph, all the photos in the book rigorously respect the original numeric order of the photographic source and are presented consecutively respecting their original format regardless of the book’s page dimensions.

Paola Paleari: In your practice you often deal with the concepts of everyday life and neutrality. How is it possible to register the informal aspects of life without distorting them?  

Massimiliano Tommaso Rezza: The ghosts of objective representation, honest registration and a straight point of view still somehow haunt photography. As for me, I have never believed in objectivity. In any form of language, as photography or writing, distortion (if I have understood well your use of the term “distortion”) is not only inevitable, but it is the true character and nature of the camera. Using a language means that the speaker has dealt with the limitation of it and knows more or less all its pros and cons. This awareness is the prerequisite, other than knowing general syntactic rules of photographs, to speak and therefore also to present/represent an idea. The question is not if there is or not objectivity/distortion in the photographic language, but it is how to create a work in which the formal aspects present a consistency with the subject that is surveyed by the author.
In my case, I wanted to focus on everyday life and all those presences that tend to be ignored or neglected by the usual themes of photographic works. I am talking about all those minute occurrences, minimal events in everyday life that could never end up being published because they are considered weak, too humble, insignificant or boring. While doing this I was aware of the translation from real life into photographic form and all the details and empirical data that may get lost in that translation. As I said before, this loss is part of any linguistic activity.

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PP: Once registered, the phenomena coming form the world at large become data, elements of a collection. What is the relationship between the rational logic of archives and the fuzzy logic of existence?

MTR: There is no relationship. An archive is a collection of data that needs to be taxonomically sorted out and offered to the public. Both the public and the taxonomist have to share a common logic so that the use of the archive can be fast, easy, predictable and reliable. Existence/experience, on the other hand, with its mass of contradictions and its appearances that are so often incoherent, does not follow any logic. In fact the logic (formal logic and the public/political use of it) was invented to find, within the flux of existence, a simplification that could offer us some firm ground upon which we built our certitudes.
Up until recently, photography adopted a logical common language to convey ideas, especially because photography was aimed at a general public for educational, moralistic and didactic purposes. Something has changed in the meantime and today some of us are using the photographic language also to present ideas that are more complex, entangled and even cryptic. This complexity mimics, somehow, the impossibility to reduce reality into a linear logic.

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PP: What kind of photographic language can be used to describe the open and never ending field of observation you survey through your camera?

MTR: I have relied on a variety of styles, so that is impossible to feel at ease while looking at the work; I did not shoot photos to represent a subject that can be identified with certainty; I accumulated a quantity of photos the sum of which is enormous and therefore impossible to handle; my work was not accurate and did not rely on linear storytelling; the work includes incoherent matter, contradictions; often I inversed the old and consumed associations between certain forms of representation / the type of camera used / the subject portrayed (for example I used a 35mm camera to take photos that are generally shot with large format cameras according to the most trite combinations of format and subject; I used reportage language to portray subjects that, differently from conventions, are non-political, poetic or inert, and so on: I played with this type of confusions/inversions).
The whole work is a linguistic game but thanks to its broken language it may offer the vision of a world that stands against classification. To answer your question, finally, I think I just offer a complex visual cluster that needs decryption from the viewer.

PP: How is it possible to make a liquid matter visible? How to translate this “anti-archival” type of research into a finite object such as a book?

MTR: The “book structure” presents another set of rules: the pages, the order of the photographs, editing “for” the book, etc. Making a book means facing a series of habits and traditional rules that, if we have followed, we would have ended up losing the chaotic and liquid matter of the work. That is why I approved the solution Yard Press suggested, that relies first on mechanical order and then on the intervention of accident. The photos – once put one after one according to the order given by me as the result of a rough selection of more than 350 photos, as a strip from page 1 to page 300 – were shuffled randomly in inDesing just by changing the position of one of the pages. This shuffling rearranged all the photos in an order that was not predictable and expected, and, on top of that, it fragmented and created overlapping of all the photos.
This chaotic result satisfied our team since it rendered well the impossibility to adapt complexity to such a highly connoted object as a book. And in the book as well, it is the viewer who is called on to go through all the visual matter without any instructions or a recognition process based on habit.

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Tariq Heijboer & Mikel H. Orfanos

Tariq Heijboer and Mikel H. Orfanos (HEYBOER–ORFANOS) are deeply fascinated by publications. Not per se the eventual realisation of a book, but more the obstacles that they’re dealing with during the process – concerning the translation of their thoughts and/or technical capacities. The different methods of archiving, compiling and contrasting their material intertwine perfectly with their concept and translate themselves into printed matter.

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Paola Paleari: Since your interest lies mainly in printed matter, what is your approach to photography?

Tariq Heijboer and Mikel H. Orfanos: Printed matter has always interested us deeply, and we apply it to photographical, textual and graphical material, or to any other visual form. We don’t have a specific approach towards photography, although we can say we prefer to derange the visual content of a photograph to make it ours. In our work, there’s always a slight intervention that changes the actual form and meaning into something new. Sometimes the change relates to the use of specific kinds of paper, the printing method or the way of editing. These interventions might clarify or distort the content of our work(s). It could be a photographic output again… but it could also relate to a textual form. For us, everything’s possible.

PP: Which aspects of the photographic archive interest you more?

MHO: I like to focus on the alteration between text and image. The aspect of the photographic archive that mostly interests me is the additional part – which means, its eventual meaning that can be unveiled or hidden according to the context. What if you replace an image with a text, or a text with an image? Every visual translation (text, photo, graphic elements, etc) can be understood in one way or another. Thus, the most interesting aspect of photographic archiving is to change, rectify or erase any addition to its content.

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PP: The re–enactment and the appropriation of the archive has been playing an important role in the art field since the ‘20s. What are your major references?

TH & MHO: We would like to refer to a passage of the book, Espèces d’Espaces* (“Species of Spaces”) by Georges Perec. The passage explains how to maintain an inventory, by ordering, compiling or structuring any kind of archive. An inventory of everyday’s things… The outcome is an extraordinary list that has been written through a voyeuristic approach.
This form of archiving has also been used in An Anecdoted Topography of Chance by Daniel Spoerri. He started on October 17, 1961 and listed all the objects around and on his kitchen table, while reporting anecdotes linked to all these things during his observation.

* […]
6 candelabra and one Calder–style mobile
5 telephones
1 upright piano with stool
10 adult individuals of the male sex, of whom
1 is having a drink
1 is typing
2 are reading the newspaper, one sitting in an armchair, the other stretched out on a divan
3 are asleep
1 is having a shower
1 is eating toast
1 is coming through the doorway into a room where there is a dog
10 adult individuals of the female sex, of whom
1 is doing her chores
1 is sitting down
1 is holding a baby in her arms
2 are reading, one, sitting down, the newspaper, the other, lying downs, a novel
1 is doing the washing up
1 is having a bath
1 is knitting
1 is eating toast
1 is sleeping
6 young children, 2 of whom are certainly little girls and 2 certainly little boys
2 dogs
2 cats
1 bear on wheels
1 small horse on wheels
1 toy train
1 doll in a pram
6 rats or mice
a fair number of termites (it’s not certain they are termites; the sort of animals in any case that live in floorboard and walls)
at least 38 pictures or framed engravings
1 negro mask
29 lights (over and above the candelabra)
10 beds
1 child cot
3 divans, one of which serves uncomfortably as a bed
4 kitchens or rather kitchenettes
7 rooms with parquet flooring
1 carpet
[…]

PP: Tariq, your book An Alternative Collection makes use of the printed page to put a traditional archive in combination with modern technologies and techniques (Photoshop, Google Image Recognition). What are the motivations behind this project?

TH: This book contains my personal collection of edited and fragmented images of art and design works. For a few years now, I have developed a strong interest in subjective vs. objective reviews. I’m also very interested in the humanistic point of view towards the historic imagery in the era of digital reproductions. Softwares and programs like Adobe Photoshop simplify our possibilities to reproduce and/or alter an image. All the images in this book are edited (rendered, deranged, lifted, smudged, stretched). Is the image still recognisable or readable as something iconic, or does it become representational (a new work of art)?

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PP: One last question for Mikel. In the book Archive, historical material connected to the 1968 uprisings is re–enacted by photographic framing and editing. Which kind of reading of the original archive do you want to create through these subjective actions? A new historical reading, a new meaning or a formal reinterpretation?

MHO: The publication Archive was born as a research to explore one of my main interests, that had to do with the following key-words: “Situationism”, “Psychogeography”, “Riots”, “May(i) ’68” and “Banlieue”.
I decided to find some archival material related to these keywords via a database/archive bank, so I took an appointment with the International Institute of National History in Amsterdam and received a confirmation of the requested books. A huge list of printed matter had been reserved for the following day. I went to the Institute and started with browsing… just browsing. I discovered that it wasn’t the main content that I was searching for, but mainly its imagery. When I say “imagery”, I refer to textual forms, photography and graphic forms, anything that can trigger an interest.
After a certain amount of time spent in collecting material like an archivist, I decided to document it through a big scanner available in the Institute, an old scruffy machine that could copy anything I wanted to put underneath the lens. I decided to include my hands in the scans, as evidence that I held those books and chose those pages. Every time I decided to crop an image or to zoom into an image, my hands would consequently enlarge or shrink, conveying the sense of proportion of the books’ dimensions.
The final result of the research is a compiled publication that includes the translation of the keywords through the imagery. The answer to this question is that I discovered that the imagery and its representation is a form of interest to me. Just the action of documenting material that was already a documentation of events was enough to give me the idea that I was developing something new. I enlarged those images, I chose them, and my hands are the physical evidence of me being present there. The eventual conclusion is that, by printing the photos on A3 sheets, I brought them back on a 1:1 scale. Thus, I did not only represent the documentation of the archive, I also translated its natural scale into printed matter.

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Roland Lüthi, Ursula Sulser & Linda Jensen

Comets in Counter Space
A Diaporama from the Archives of Comet Photo AG

In collaboration with ETH-Bibliothek’s Image Archive, the exhibition venue Counter Space in Zurich presents a three-part, associative image and sound project based on the historical genre of the diaporama.
The three-part diaporama at Counter Space comprises a selection of photographs from the hold­ings of the former Zurich-based photographic agency Comet Photo AG. ETH-Bibliothek acquired the collection in the year 2000, enabling users to access a broader range of image material. Thanks to around 900,000 press images dating from the early 1950s to the 1990s, some of which have been digitised, the archive has received a tremendous boost. Around 27,000 images from these holdings are currently available online, roughly 500 of which are featured in the exhibition.
Roland Lüthi from the Image Archive of ETH-Bibliothek, Zurich-based artist Ursula Sulser and composer Charles Uzor from St. Gallen teamed up with the curators of Counter Space, Angelo Romano and Linda Jensen, to design the exhibition, which comprises three image projections set to music.

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The first projection displays images related to the agency itself: the Comet staff taking, developing, blowing up, filing, arranging, viewing and organising photographs. Tools ranging from photographic equipment and Dictaphones to index cards containing the metadata and views of the archive’s current location at ETH Zurich are also on display. The other two projections feature actual contem­porary documents created by Comet Photo AG in almost half a century: press images and reports from Switzerland, and photographs from trips and holidays abroad, all of which provide an insight into the world as seen and captured by the “Comets,” as the Comet staff dubbed themselves.

Paola Paleari: Why did you decide to re-stage a huge archive as Comet Photo’s one? How did you manage to avoid getting lost in the process?

Linda Jensen: There was a will to situate the archive differently, within an independent art space. To work with the site and its characteristics. The site, a former bank, is now a building being made available for cultural and social uses for a limited time. The former offices have been transformed into an exhibition space that lines one of the busiest streets trafficwise in Switzerland.
The presentation at Counter Space, despite the inevitable subjective handling, also suggests a will to take a distance from a purely artistic interpretation in favour of an attempt to activate historical materials in an alternative way, which Roland and Ursula will detail in a moment.

Roland Lüthi: The idea of the exhibition project emerged during the preparatory work for a book project. In the fall of 2014 the image archive of the ETH- Bibliothek started to systematically select and digitize a considerable amount from a total of 900,000 Comet images, as a starting point for the work on the book. This pool of some 20,000 images then also served as a reservoir for the creation of the exhibition. It can be considered as the “Comet essence” in a 24-minute-long video.
From those 20,000, a selection of about 500 images was made for the three videos. There was never any real danger of getting lost in the process because the amount of images was already limited.

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PP: Why did you adopt a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach? How did you reach an agreement on your different visions?

Roland Lüthi: The diaporama with the Comet images took shape from the outset. The diaporama genre determined the whole following process: we needed both sound and moving images. Basically I was doing the selection process in the archive, Ursula was doing the video and Charles was giving us the music.
The most difficult part was the sound. We tried a lot of different music, voices and sound recordings. We experimented with all three and gradually removed them, until we came to a final version with only two acoustic music tracks. Finally, we got to a very quiet and meditative result. We wanted people to be able to follow their own thoughts and drift away.

PP: Apart for its poetic nature, are there other reasons why you chose the genre of the diaporama instead of the slideshow?  

Ursula Sulser: The genre of the diaporama is able to host a large amount of images, wherein one uses several slideshows simultaneously. In our case, it is in actual fact not a slideshow but a video, which was assembled in FinalCutPro. This process allowed us to create strands of narratives with images fading into each other.

PP: On which criteria did you operate the selection of the images to be displayed?

Roland Lüthi: The selection for the two main videos was rather intuitive. The main guiding line was the avoidance of “iconic” images, meaning the really “good” images that found their way into the print media of their time and also in the recently published book about Comet. Take for example the reportage on the wedding of Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer in Switzerland in 1954. We purposely did not choose the images of the couple coming out from the wedding chapel, but the pictures that show the red carpet on which the couple would later walk on. These are very beautiful but unspectacular images which are able to create small narratives. For the third video we selected “behind the scenes” images of the agency: photographers at work, archivists in the archive etc. It runs separately from the two main videos.

Links to videos
Projection 1 and 2
Projection 3

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