The Image Will Have Been
The image has stopped making something visible. It is retracting from its promise to function as visible evidence of an event. The image is no longer usable in that way, and no longer wishes to be so used. Katrin Mayer adopts it like an image that will have been. We can view this image, but its pictorial narrative will already have re-lost its validity. Let us take an image from the visual essay “When one cannot read the original language, one rapidly loses oneself in translations (veils, fringes or clothing...)” produced by Katrin Mayer for a series of academic publications. It is an extremely seductive image, by which I do not mean what can be seen in it. No, the image itself cries out to be exposed. Here, being exposed in something other than making visible: we see a person whose body is covered by white cloth, apart from an eye slit and a raised upper arm. Indeed, it is only the uncovered arm that allows us to see that a person is concealed beneath the oppulent textile. The location of the black and white photo, which appears somewhat older, suggests a room in a house. The floor is laid out with tiles and there is the indication of a door in the background. It could have been taken in the Arab region, but not necessarily. Equally, it could have been produced in a studio or in a clinic, as one might speculate from the source given. We do not know. The veiled, photographed body turns away from the eye of the camera. The person’s arms span an expanse of the opulent white robe that looks something like a screen. In an almost physical way, we experience how the image dazzles us as a consequence. The white area turns the image into a screen that throws back something that the image has not delivered. It stops making something visible. The arms directed upwards and holding the textile seem like a demonstative action, with which the paradigm of visibility is blanked out and concealed. This gesture contradicts the desire for structural transparency; it does not aim to explain the world like a schoolmaster or enlighten us regarding unfair conditions (politics, the economy), either. One might suppose that Katrin Mayer has an interest in social conditions when examining her works, in particular with reference to gender constructions and image production. However, her strongly research-based projects resist such labels. Mayer does not hold much with classifications; we shall come to see why. The image will have been – instead, the temporal entanglement suggested here unfolds as a form of possibility. Besides those of publication, Mayer prefers to use the parameters of the architectonic sphere.
In fact, the individual image is an inadequate starting point from which to approach Mayer’s work. Since her diploma presentation “Shaking the Lines in the Mirror of Time” (2006) at the College of Fine Art (HfBK), she has been working with families of images that she assembles herself; ordering, rejecting, bundling and re-arranging them. The materials may be taken from various sources. There are no hierarchies between the still from a video she has made herself, the archive photo, the screen shot or the magazine image. Text excerpts and fragments from books, studies and essays are also incorporated on an equal basis. Instead of a struggle for position and status, her projects formulate a “disposal of the differences” as Georges Didi-Huberman said in relation to the montage technique in Brecht’s work (Fn1). Here, the individual image is not existent in a loose context with other materials; rather, “montage is employed only to show (montrer) the divides that gape between every su(b)je(c)t and all others.” The outcome is a weave of different narrative and temporal threads. In part, the image is laid open; it blocks the view of or conflicts with another image.
We find ourselves in the midst of this weave: the movement of the body in space adopts an essential position in her latest work “If I put my glasses in the vitrine, they will never break, but will they still be considered glasses?* Or: Screening an Archive”. Mayer has selected and enlarged a handful of images from ca. 19,500 archive pictures by an East German commercial photographer. Above all, they show women at work in socialist production in nationally owned companies, while one image shows men dressed as women during carnival. Women are again the focus, although here it is not as a theme or a category. Rather, it seems that Mayer is most familiar with women and therefore likes to work with them or rather with their pictorial features. Panes of glass of different types facilitate the disposal of these images in space, that is, an ability to place them at a distance from one another and define an interim space in which the body can move. As in many other works, here the architectonic (or graphic) space becomes an essential thread of this configuration. In a similar way to the individual photograph, a search is made in the given space for referential conditions, tactics of concealment, and potentials for alienation. The panes of glass carry, reflect or cover up the images. In this broken weave of narrative and temporal threads there is a possibility to lend shape to the spaces and times between the images. From there, an image unfolds that will have been in the viewer’s future perspectives and images, without the presentation having asserted visibility. The texture is revealed, it frays and becomes tangible and vulnerable at the edges in a physical as well as a narrative sense. “One shows and exposes in order to dispose – not of the things themselves (...) but of their differences, their reciprocal shocks, their confrontations and conflicts.” It is a matter of “bringing things into dys-position” (Fn2), throwing them out of the established order.
In Katrin Mayer’s case, distrust of the individual image may result from knowledge she acquired during her studies. Mayer studied art history and German philology before turning to artistic work. She has received training in the academic, art-theoretical techniques of image observation. In that context, an image functions as a means of demonstration as well as an object of desire, and can be used to classify and argue a point in academic studies. Mayer works with such learnt techniques in her artistic projects, but she employs her knowledge for a different purpose. She goes into picture archives in order to release the images from their ‘house arrest’ (Derrida). She suspends the archive’s topological working methods, in which Derrida sees a patriarchal order, inasmuch as her handling of images corresponds neither to that of the unbiased archivist nor of the conscientious art theorist. She compares images in order to play through heterogeneous relations: a fashion photograph by Belgian designer Martin Margiela, in which a model elegantly covers her head and part of her face with her jacket, conflicts with a group of policemen in Rabat. We have to deal with such adjacency without any explanation. Sometimes, the sources of the images give information about the conditions of production and reception, as is the case with the above-mentioned visual essay: there we are given fairly precise details about the image sources. However, the picture caption appears like a running text. (The complicated relations between text and image are another key aspect of Mayer’s working method and would require a second essay.)
In Mayer’s work the image has lost its statutory origins. Fortunately. As a consequence, it has the right to become has-been. It exists already and will go on existing, but in a changed formation and constellation, within different references and groupings. It will conceal itself and cover up its visibility in order to evade the public eye, without abandoning its presence in the public sphere. The nature of its relationships touches upon adjacent spaces and volumes. In this constellation everything that is exposed loses its secure order of visibility.
*quoted after Christian Boltanski
Fn1 and Fn2: Georges Didi-Huberman: „Wenn die Bilder Position beziehen“, München 2011, S.101.
published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition:
Lieber Aby Warburg. Was tun mit Bildern?
Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Siegen
2. Dezember 2012 bis 3. März 2013
Layout: Maren von Stockhausen