"Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible."
This quote is attributed to Paul Klee, who used this statement to formulate a new identifier in the face of the controversial question of the designation of good art. While the Paragone in the antique was still dominated by the dispute over genre-based hegemonic status in the three visual arts of painting, sculpture and architecture, the debate in the Renaissance and the Baroque periods transfer increasingly and exclusively into the field of painting. Within this art discipline, subcategories, such as landscape or portrait painting, became en vogue again and again and were then considered as an expression of excellent taste for a while. Above all, good art was synonymous with magnificent craftsmanship.
This view is now outdated. Even more Klee's Maxime art applies instead, based on its ability to judge, to reveal something hidden and to express a feeling that previously could not be clearly articulated. In other words, one could say that good art speaks a universal truth, which, however, does not have to be laboriously decoded, but is intuitively understood by the viewer. In this way, good art refers to a larger context of meaning through its own horizon of meaning inherent in the work of art. For this reason, the oeuvres of the world-famous old masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer and Michelangelo can still be regularly rediscovered and easily perceived as a means of identification.
Especially in times of crisis, art is irreplaceable as the medium that helps society to classify and reflect on the present. People affected by exceptional situations often feel helplessly exposed to the changed circumstances during this phase, many are plagued by fears and worries that they cannot describe themselves exactly. This sensation can paralyze the individual, or even an entire society, the history of mankind is rich in examples. One of the most prominent cases of artistic processing of a new reality in life is the Cubism movement in the 20th century. Today it is understood as a counterreaction to the progressive industrialization, in the course of which the Cubists' expression increasingly detached itself from the conventional realistic representation and was able to capture the atmosphere of its reality in a unique way.
Now we find ourselves (once again) in the middle of a crisis: the Corona virus, or COVID-19, has managed to make the world seem to be spinning slowlier at least for a moment. In contrast to the crises of the past, the exceptional situation this time came with long prior notice. And: The entire course of the pandemic outbreak was and is well documented in the special contributions that are broadcasted several times a day on all television stations, the hourly Corona updates on the radio, or in millions of contributions on all channels of social networks.
This constant education about the latest developments permeates every private area of life as well as all public life. Actually, we have an advantage because we immediately learn about the smallest development in Corona, so that we can prepare for all eventualities. The frequency of the strategy of comprehensive thematization now seems to have adapted to the exponential rate of spread of COVID-19, but it pursues an important goal: According to the saying "You fear what you don't know, and you hate what you fear. ", the ubiquitous education is supposed to reduce the risk of a mass panic; the omnipresent integration of COVID-19 is therefore nothing more than a move against collective alienation. However, this extensive informatization of society cannot help to deal with the private anxiety that arises. The logically structured information apparatus of the authorities must fail because of the blind spot, simply because the system is based on rationality. The diffuse feeling of being exposed to an insubstantial threat cannot be exposed only by the publication of more and more medical specialist opinions.
What helps is to try to name the own fear and make it more understandable. This does not necessarily mean a psychological self-diagnosis from home, but rather the search for a suitable symbol that reflects the own worries. The oldest way of exploring human emotions is art, or, as explained at the beginning, good art because it appeals the feelings hidden in the subconscious. If you believe the philosophers of the antique, at the end of an intensive experience of art, even catharsis, a purification of the soul through art, could take place.
However, these conjectures remain pure theory, which is why the self-experiment follows now. The subject of the investigation is the picture Parallelwelle XV of the German photo artist Thomas Kellner from his Flucticulus series. Although Kellner could not have foreseen Corona and its consequences when it was published in 2017, the series of works shows astonishing parallels to the current crisis situation.
Let us leave the picture layer out of the way and first of all consider the way the artist works, in which Kellner gradually assembles the entire picture from individual sections. This process is later transferred to the viewer simultaneously and makes conventional image viewing impossible. Because, unlike the conventional display method, Kellner refuses to help the viewer in the consideration of his work. The effectiveness of the image is not channeled through cleverly designed visual axes or a mathematically timed composition of the image. The first impression is mainly overwhelming, you need time to get an overview. This feeling of not being grown is strongly reminiscent of the mood at the beginning of the corona crisis, when the disease was not yet so widespread but had not yet been researched as far. If we now come back to the process of creation mentioned above, there is another parallel between Kellner's work and COVID-19: Just as the picture itself was put together in individual steps, the full extent of the infectious disease was recorded successively.
And another aspect supports the gradual continued perception: The actual picture consists of three content-independent photographs, which Kellner first cut and then combined again into a unit. This process of deconstruction and re-arrangement also challenges the viewer, since human eyesight (as a predator) is strongly focused on one point. This established process of perception is not completely prevented by the unusual composition, but at least considerably more difficult.
Before we finally turn to the level of the image, let us briefly remain on the level of the object and turn to the external form of the work. Here Kellner is against any convention, too. Instead he made the edges swing in a way that is strongly reminiscent of seismographic records or course diagrams. Again, we come across an allegory that could not be more up-to-date, as forecasts of the rate of spread, statistics of the death or recovery rate of the virus are currently an integrated part of our visual reality. Another association created by the compositional arrangement is that of the wave. The image looks as if it has frozen in the middle of a fleeting wave-like movement. As a viewer one fears the moment of the (continuing) movement and equally longs for it.
If we switch to the pictorial level with our investigations now, it quickly becomes clear that the chain of relationships at this point is far from breaking off. On the contrary, one connection after the other emerges. This includes, for example, the dominance of the color shade blue, which symbolizes hope and confidence, but also creates an interesting field of tension here. But more on that later.
First of all, we look at the three visual elements of the work, the levels, by simply being guided by the image's own movement and starting at the left edge of the image. The first section shows a swelling wave crest that continues in the further sections over the entire length of the image until it breaks out of a crown of foam on the right edge of the image. The second section of the picture shows, also up to the edge of the picture, a front of modern white house walls under a bright blue sky. The third level consists of a photograph of a floating iceberg, above a clouded sky. At this point we want to take up the reflection of the outstanding color shade blue, because it masters all three picture elements in very different ways. The tension mentioned above results from the opposing moods inside the individual image levels: while the wave from the first cut-out series shows an energetic natural spectacle, the front of the houses appears static and monumental in the photography of the second level. The first contrast results from the opposing dynamics of both areas. On the other hand these stand in contrast to the motif from the third element, the floating iceberg. Just like the front of the house, it looks colossal and immobile, but radiates a certain coldness through the gray cloudy sky, which stands out from the other motifs and causes a bold break.
The obvious divergence of the individual picture elements could easily be attributed to Kellner's Modus Operandi, but this would not mention the strongest metaphorical connection between the work and Corona. The masterly depiction of extremely contradictory moods reflects the entire accumulation of the corona experience: we see a white front of houses under a bright blue sky, and immediately think of lost normality, which today is constantly evolving from the rapidly expanding (Corona) wave is restricted. Public life is completely frozen at the same time.
The variety of possible interpretations and the metaphorical virtuosity bestow depth to the work, but Kellner's artwork achieves the emotional involvement of the viewer rather through the disclosure of a hidden truth, which – like an iceberg – is usually largely impossible to grasp sensually. Thomas Kellner uses his image to artistically refer to a larger context that may is outside the originally intended context, but nevertheless, or precisely because of it, it becomes all the more relevant. The work is detached from its original context of formation, transcended, and at last ultimately over time. And isn't that the pure essence of good art? Paul Klee would probably agree. Isabel Pelzel 2020
November 27 – 29, 2020
Gruppe 3/55, Austr. 34, 57076 Siegen, Germany