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In the name of Infinity

Björn Drenkwitz, Infinity, 2008

Observations on the Work of Björn Drenkwitz

A colorful kite floats in the air and draws a figure eight in the cloudless blue sky. Certainly a great amount of skill is required to be able to complete the symbol in its entirety, and yet it gives the impression that there’s nothing simpler. It takes the kite only six seconds to complete this motion; six seconds to virtually depict the symbol of infinity – a paradox. In the video, the motion is repeated continuously and captures the viewer’s eye. The eye automatically follows the figure-eight motion and searches, at first mesmerized, for deviations in the execution. Slowly it is lulled and develops a feeling of infinity, or, irritated by the constant repetition, averts its gaze.

Infinity is not truly conceivable for human beings. In “one million years before, one million years after,” On Kawara attempted to make the immeasurability of infinity comprehensible. In this almost unimaginable span of time, there is a “before” and an “after.” This in turn refers to an “in between,” specifically to the precise moment at which the millions of years past and those to yet to come intersect. Time is depicted linearly as an “endless” continuance before and after a specific event and, in this way, points to the uniqueness of the “now” positioned between the two.

The infinite loop of the video also refers to a point of intersection. Here, however, this intersection constitutes the link between the two loops rather than a point of separation. It is the continuously returning point in the closed loop of the endless motion. While On Kawara shows the burden of time, Drenkwitz depicts an untroubled image of infinity. This has to do with the fact that the symbol of infinity is created here by a flying kite, an athletic act that we associate with amusement. It can also be attributed to the distance from which it is viewed – playfully shown in the endless blue of the sky. This gives the impression of indifference for things that human beings cannot understand anyway. Instead, the viewers themselves become part of this endlessness by actively participating in the figuration of the symbol of infinity.

Björn Drenkwitz, Prybjat , 2006

The installation Prypjat consists of a black and white photograph taken during World War II mounted on the wall just above the floor of the exhibition space. Depicted is a man sitting in a snow-covered landscape on a bench made of birch branches. In the distance, one can make out an apartment building; a few small trees and bushes give the impression of a deserted place in the vast planes of Russia. The picture was actually taken in the Russian city of Prypjat. A candle casting warm light is placed on the floor in front of the photograph. The photograph, illuminated by the light of the candle, is filmed by a video camera connected to a beamer mounted on the wall. This in turn projects an enlarged image of the photograph in the glow of the candle onto the wall. A bench is placed in front of this projection, on which the visitor may sit.

Björn Drenkwitz, Prybjat , 2006

What is striking about this installation is its mise-en-scène. The candle is a significant staging instrument: it is positioned between the photograph and the video camera without being visible in the shot. Its light illuminates the picture. Here one takes a look behind the scenes of the improvised and intimate sphere of the film production. The visitor wants to know what is depicted in this small photograph and approaches it. In doing so, he creates a draft, which causes the candlelight to flicker. In this way, the image projected on the wall appears to be slightly in motion, like in old films. The viewer unknowingly becomes a co-designer of the projection. At the same time, he is invited, as is the case in a movie theater, to sit on the bench and experience the performance. The bench is an exact replica of the birch bench in the photograph. Consequently the viewer finds himself in a comparable situation to his unknown vis-à-vis and sits face to face across from him. The viewer is pulled on stage, so to speak, and encouraged to put himself in the man in the picture’s position. A communicative situation arises between the image and the viewer – an attempt to overcome physical and temporal distance. It also confronts the grandchildren’s generation with that of their grandparents, who, for decades, remained silent and never answered the many questions posed to them by their descendants. Even when the flaring candlelight gives the projection the slight appearance of movement, as if to timidly break the silence, the man in the photograph never reveals his story. The viewer finds out neither who the person is nor why he was photographed, lost on the side of the road, much less who took the picture. Was it taken by a friend of the unknown subject? It was certainly not a professional photographer, because the picture is too blurred. The impression, characterized even by this small image remains one of solitude and infinite loneliness. That time has come to a halt is underscored by the fact that the supposed film is actually a static image. Here, the word “infinity” is loaded to the fullest extent with the concepts of changelessness and boredom. The irony of the story is that the city of Prypiat had 48,000 inhabitants at the time of the nuclear disaster at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl on April 26, 1986 located just four kilometers away. From then on, the city became a ghost town, contaminated for millions of years to come. The souvenir photograph in Drenkwitz’s installation and the story of the place in which it was taken provide On Kawara’s “one million years after” with an eerie reference point in reality.

In this installation, two realities oppose one another: the projection refers to a true story in a precise place at a specific time, which, however, cannot be exactly dated back to a specific day. The photograph is suggestive enough to set the scene in the time of war, full of privation, in the endless planes of Russia. There is nothing left of this reality. Standing opposite this is the viewer who sits on the bank as an anonymous person from the present. In order to satisfy his curiosity about the work, the viewer is encouraged to interact with it. The situation on the bench in which he is engaged is that of an actor on a stage. He is more or less conditioned by the image and the presentation. This resulting reality is that of the stage. The mediums of film and theater are dialogically and equally contrasted within the medium of art.

Danièle Perrier
January 30th, 2011