Once again I learned that photography sometimes is like cooking: when you want to try something exciting for the first time, don’t do it in the presence of important guests. But I also learned that in Marianne’s presence, failing means that in the end it still is going to be an awesome afternoon resulting in pictures we both like – good to work with a professional. And just like Beckett writes: »Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.«
I am also happy about the three derivative works that came from the shoot: a portrait of the photographer by Marianne (seen in pictures 4 + 5); a Feiyue »Vlaschits Edition« by me (from slipping on paint) and »Painting the Artist« by Hyo Lee.
And despite my clumsiness (that not only led to Feiyue »Vlaschits« but also saw a falling SB 800 just miss Marianne’s head), the Comme des Garçons-robe Marianne’s neighbour and fashion designer Thomas van der Jeught gave us in his infinite trust stayed clean.
Next Monday (23.6.2014) at the Archiv für Gegenwart (Mühlfeldgasse 5, 1020 Wien) you have the opportunity to see Marianne Vlaschits – who by the way is also responsible for the highly acclaimed cover art of Hercules and Love Affair’s latest album The Feast of the Broken Heart.
Thanks to the generosity of NHM’s communication department, I was lucky enough to receive an invitation for the opening function/book presentation last Tuesday. Apart from recommending to go and see the exhibition (until September) I took away some food for thought from the opening talks.
Christian Köberl, the museum’s director, explained how the Natural History Museum – an institution that is widely associated with stuffed animals and a vast collection of rocks – came to host an exhibition covering a problem that is clearly man-made. He linked it to two other exhibitions currently on display: Trading in Death – the Final Mass Extinction? has the commercial interest and its impact on nature as a common denominator. Experiment Life – Gabonionta overlaps as it shows the oldest complex life forms known to man, which share the time and the place (Gabon, 2.1 billion years ago) of a highly above average activity in natural nuclear chain reactions similar to the counterparts in man-made reactors nowadays. Whether there is a causal link to the advent of the first complex, colonial organisms is unclear but interesting.
The museum can shape the context and thus shape perception. By putting three different, seemingly unrelated temporal exhibitions on at the same time, a very constructive overlapping is created – interferences come into being simply through putting three seemingly unrelated things next to each other.
The power of a book
Lois Lammerhuber (of the book’s publisher Edition Lammerhuber) recounted the media reception. Despite the lack of a Chernobyl jubilee, all the important news outlets had already covered the publication and exhibition. When he asked German state TV, who filmed for two hours in the exhibition, why they were doing it, they answered: »Weil ein Buch erscheint« (»because a book is being published«, where the German »erscheinen« can both refer to an »appearance« as well as an »epiphany«). Lammerhuber was visibly impressed by how he, in letting a book appear, can force something onto the agenda of a world that would otherwise not have taken notice at that point in time.
As the two preconditions he identified Ludwig’s willingness to commit to such a long term project and his capability to make something visible.
Making a difference
Gerd Ludwig gave a few insights into the way he works. Even though the subject of his images is suffering and destruction, the are aesthetically pleasing. Aesthetics to him is the grammar of photography.
He views the fact that he does not have to work under a tight time constraint as his biggest privilege because it means that he can talk first and then take the pictures. The trust he establishes through the conversations greatly helps reduce the momentary amplification of suffering he inevitably causes by taking a picture.
He finished by telling a story from Sicily: one night an enormous number of starfish were washed ashore. In the morning, when the sun rose, they started to dry out and die. The children of the village noticed and started carrying them back to the water. An older man from the village stood and watched and said: »you can’t save them all, your enterprise is futile – the little you can do doesn’t make a difference«. One child, holding up a single starfish, replied: »And yet for this one, it does make a difference«. Ludwig wants to be this child always.
Access to our World
Finally, the section chief Michael P. Franz closed the circle Christian Koeberl established by opening the exhibition with a Gottfried Boehm quote: an image, he says, pre-formulates the access to our world.