Lecture at the DZ Art Collection, March 6, 2020 at the symposium: Light into Darkness, Where is Artistic Photography Heading?
Published in EIKON #112, Vienna, November 2020, pages 68–71
What is artistic photography? The production of images that stand by themselves using photographic means. What is the difference between an artistic pictorial work and other images? Ultimately its autonomy. Even if that is not really a satisfactory statement. Here we are faced with the general question about the difference between a work of art and what we call reality. There are no final answers to such a question.
I’m not a photographer, even though I naturally use photography in my artistic work, sometimes indeed as a specific medium, within a hybrid, complex artistic mixture. Artists live in the same media reality of photo and video overkill as everyone else. Taking photographs has become so easy that it flows naturally into the work process as a direct means of production. And yet the demands made by photography on the artist are more complex than ever. The one perfect image, the shot of genius, very probably already exists somewhere in the history of art, in an archive or in the endless extent of the Internet. Strategic and formal resources are needed to achieve a convincing work. That is why the genre of photography will not die out – why should it? Only the margins are becoming less distinct and the unique terrain of the genre is shrinking. There will always be media specialists in art. Painting has been struggling for 100 years with the problem of defining and authorizing the genre, because here too the borders have softened, and by now they have faded away. But overwhelming results can be achieved even when standing on the smallest piece of land; that depends, as always, on the author. But I have noticed that orthodox specialists tend to dogmatize about their genre, and for me personally doctrinaire is anathema. I prefer the hybrid.
In any case, for my own artistic work definitions and boundary-drawing of this kind have no role to play, not in any technique, genre or discipline. For me everything can be potentially considered for my production as material. Because my approach in developing my projects is in any case determined by the subject matter, and the formal question is best left to answer itself, somehow there is logically a tendency towards cross-media and gladly also towards cooperation with disciplines from outside the context of art. That’s probably why my results are usually hybrids which, according to current criteria, don’t really exactly look like artworks. But they are produced with art-specific methods, criteria, strategies and attitudes in response to the old questions of children about our existence: what is a human being? What is the world? Why are we the way we are? What is reality? Why is everything so expensive? And what is the meaning of all that?
Even the question of the paradoxical logic of the image is just another detail in this connection, and a re-formulation of the ancient iconoclastic controversy, which has always been an essential element in art. In earlier times people quarreled about whether the painted image of Jesus is really the Saviour or just a symbol, or whether the wine of the Eucharist is literally the blood of the Lord. These days we argue about fake news and alternative facts. But the drastic decay of discourse ability is indeed disturbing. Faith and truth are mutually exclusive concepts. In the end, acceptance of a statement depends on the credibility of its content and its author – and the power of one’s own wishes. The crazy idea that there is just one truth, which can be researched and proven, exposed so to speak, is essentially due to our western, scientific world view, and it does bring us to land on the moon but not to objective knowledge. Quantum physics understood that. Imbuing art, and thus photography, with political and moral ideology, which is topical again now, is also an error and too short in its aim, because art is not subject to any moral criteria and artists are actually not identical with their works. And naming the good and the evil is simply banal. That is not a plea for the ivory tower! In my production questions about truth and faith, trust and manipulation have always played a major role. Were the 6.128.374 Grains of Sand counted honestly? Were the objects and materials of the Maxisockel (Maxi Base) truly stolen? Is the Luxus Avatar really based on tax avoidance?
Are photografic pictures true? Of course they are, even when they don’t copy truth. They are real objects, pictorial works in themselves, and they share their dubious relationship to reality with all the arts. That’s why an artist who is no photographer can work very well with photography.