Category Archives: about art

Vampire Mythology and the Photographic Process

Recently I have started to teach as Visiting Lecturer at the Photography course of the Royal College of Art in London.

As a result my thinking swerved ever so often around the fundamentals of the phenomenon of the photograph. It’s history, processes and general involvement in the human condition. In broad strokes I tried to explain to myself what a photograph actually is?!

Here now I want to follow one train of thought about its past. It came to me, while thinking about the photograph as coming into existence only in darkness, on the dark side of a two-way hole. In the photographic process the image of something in the world is projected up side down into a small dark chamber. In one of its earliest forms on a glassplane covered with light sensitiv silver salts . It’s a delicate matter to create a photograph as it is destroyed to blackness when exposed to long to the violent bombardment of photons send out by our nearest star.

The earliest photographs are taken by Niepce and later by Daguerre and Fox-Talbot. Curiously the period of swift inventions of different photographic processes falls in exactly the same period as the popularisation of vampire stories in Europe . The first one being “The vampyre” by the physician John William Polidori in 1819. The vampire in his story is a middle aged count that seduces young women to then drink their blood , which helps him to prolong his undead existence. No photographic processes are showing up in the story, but this can’t be surprising, because the first photograph will be taken only 1827 by Niepce and then 1835 in much better detail by Daguerre. Only after the invention of the photograph certain characteristics seem to infuse the vampire mythology.

The processes I have in mind are the extreme sensitivity to light by both : The photographic film and the Vampire. If any of them is exposed to light too long, they are destroyed. Another aspect concerns the appearance. The ghost character of the photograph: showing in effect the imprint of something that has been and is no longer. In its own way it is undead. On the more material side, silver plays a role in both contexts . In vampire stories as poisonous to the creature , in photography as the element that is crucial for creating a light sensitive substance out of its salts.

The upside down character of the photographic image , projected onto the back of the camera box correlates with the upside-down as a signifier for evil . Language and symbols upside down or backwards have been used to signify evil. The vampire incorporates the upside down character in its animal form in some of the mythology :The bat. In Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” he descends a wall of a castle head down like a lizard.

The hole and the act of piercing a hole is a central part of the vampire narrative and at the same time the hole is crucial for the process of photography. The vampire leaves small holes in its victims, who it empties out. In effect it creates Camera Obscuras made of hollow bodies.

Some of the inter relations might seem far fetched, but in its accumulation and in respect to the similar historic timeline I suspect a cultural cross fertilisation from the knowledge about photographic processes into the mythology of the vampire story. The open source character of Daguerres method created a surge in interest and involvement in making photographs. It rose into the public mind. The French Gouvernement had asked Daguerre and Isodore Niepce to publish all their findings without patent in return for a state pension. They took up the offer and many interested citizen started to reproduce the process Daguerre had developed.

At the same time in 1835 the first modern mirrors were invented by Julius von Liebig . He had found a way to apply a thin layer of silver to a glass plane. When turning the plane around a highly reflective surface had formed. The first photographs with their layers of silver iodide were very closely related to mirrors.

As it’s well known the Mirror also found its way into the Vampire myths.

The Vampire Mythology was and is arguably so successful as it allows reinvention and development of new aspects. So it’s not surprising that in its beginnings it had been infused by the very popular semi magical processes of the just invented medium of photography.

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The unforgiving pull of death

Some thoughts on cushions

With age comes an appreciation of good cushions. They must have qualities opposing the unforgiving pull of death. They make you forget your body through distributing the pull of gravity onto such a large area that it is barely noticeable. They devide gravitational force in a very large  amount of small quantities. They try to beat gravity and in this they are machines that turn the person using them into a simulated angel : Life embracing, with a pain free mind, floating. They are a key to the shackles of reality. Dream maker, womb imposter. Utopia has been build probably on a foundation of soft cushions……

Projection of “Passanten” , video, 12min, 2008

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What is an engine?

“The engine” watercolour on paper , 2018

Toughts on Modernity and Repetition

Modernity started with tools that created the possibility of precise repetition of movement and then of production of objects. Modernity is based on precise repetition of movement. All engines, all industry, all production. Saying this; Understanding this as an artist I am not interested in precise repetition. I am bored by precise repetition. I detest precise repetition and therefore in a sense I am an enemy of Modernity and an enemy of the processes of technology. Precise repetition is a form of controlling future. A predicted movement happens with high probability. All engines are based on predicting the future. An engine is a machine that predicts and controls its own future. A machine that doesn’t behave in a predicted way is cause for anxiety. My father has difficulty to create a controllable future for himself. He is in this respect an opposite of an engine and I love this about him………………………………………………………… #writing #thinking #modernity #engines #drawing #ideas #predictingfuture #repetition #movement #history #world #industry #philosophy #stateofmind #artprocess #humanity #artist #art #contemporaryart

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Hands everywhere

During my first swift survey walk through the last years degree show (2016) of the Royal College of Art in London I noticed a curious repetition of a specific motif : The hand . But it wasn’t just a hand that exhibits itself, but a hand that acts, that touches, holds, performs. A hand that encourages empathetic identification.

The hand is one of the the most ancient representational motifs existing in art . Negative and positive handprints have been found in caves and on rocks dating back up to 39 000 years.

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But it has been relatively absent in the art of recent years.  What the hands formed , the  result of their work has been subject of exhibitions, but less the hands themselves.

My thesis now is that there is a renaissance of the representation of hands happening and I see two  contributing factors. 

1. The hand in the viewfinder of our eyes

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The most important factor is the relatively new but omnipresent everyday connection of the hand with the image. Through touchscreen technology the hand is now often and directly physically connected to the image. Today through the use of smartphones and tablets the hand  has become part of  a very large and growing number of images. During our interaction with digital images the hand is often in the foreground or center of the image. One might argue that the hand was also present when in the past we were looking through pages of  museum catalogues or photo books . The difference might be subtle, but then the hand was only active at the edge of the image. Now it is active in its centre. It swipes over, it pinches and double taps. The hand is right in there. Physically. Overall the hand has become a larger part of our daily optical view finder. The heightened frequency of the hands presence is reflected in its taking stage in artworks of recent contemporary artists. And this doesn’t just effect art school graduates.

At the last Turner Prize exhibition at  Tate Britain in London every shortlisted artist had to a larger or smaller degree images or representation of hands present in their work.

2. The making of objects vs the end product

A second factor for the appearance of the hand as a motif is more speculative and more subtle in its arguments: There seems to be a shift of focus in the arts towards “the making”  and away from the “end product”. Artworks now often reflect the way they are made in some way. This is connected to Bertold Brechts ideas about theatre and the importance to show its construction and context within the play. The revival of the collage , of art and crafts and  the return of performance art are all signifier of this trend. In painting abstract process based painting has been all the rage during the last ten years. Marks, material and process have been playing Ping Pong at all the art fairs. It has been young artists that are pushing these interests. My suspicion is that therefore the hand as a central instrument for making art has  become more prominent in artworks.

 

The net as a new model for the world

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I am not too interested in fashion trends in art ,but more in the question why this shift is happening now?

I sense that the world has become more fluid through information technology and social media. Everything is connected with everything it seems. At least it all is caught in the same net.

Water is a better representation of this condition than stone. The fluid closer to it then the solid. Every object is viewed now as more or less part of this net.

water

Information in all directions is attached to the object and it is itself information for other connected objects. Its only logical, that objects including artworks are now viewed in this way. So “the making of it”  is the information we want ,we are used to, we want to convey, as it has become the way we see the world.

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two thirty in the afternoon

state of mind...at 2.30...

state of mind…at 2.30…

(written for the Royal College of Art catalogue 2014 )

Agatha Christie made sure that nobody ever saw her writing. She didn’t have a study or specific space where she would work, but instead placed her typewriter on the kitchen table after the children had left for school and she had cleared the dishes. By the time when everybody returned home her typewriter had disappeared again and she would be in the middle of making tea. At least this is what I read.

At 2.30 in the afternoon I start shrinking. A little bit like hulk, who slowly looses his anger and turns back into a small naked man. I have to prepare for a quiet, powerful and invisible portal that is awaiting my mind to cross through daily at around this time. It’s school pick up time. Behind the portal awaits another world: Tedious, structured, exhausted, obeying, with tied shoelaces , brushed teeth, money in bank accounts, hands shivering, stairs, flag poles and homemade pizza. A world strange and deterministic. Slowly it opens its wings and around 4 pm it stands in front of me glorious, cold and all engulfing with fingers, tasting sweet as jelly babies. I rehearse one last time and dissolve once again like fizzing aspirin. A small naked man, fairly happy, mysteriously normal.

The gaps that were wide open during the morning have disappeared, the world is solid again. It has to be. I exchange words with people that look like my parents; I look like my parents. I am boring, serious and use the word “No” during every other breath. At least that is how my son describes me. It doesn’t help that I try to explain the dialectic virtues of using the word “No” and what Hegel thought of it. At 4.30 pm I look at a tree and don’t see the tree, but only a symbol of a tree. While before entering the portal the world was breathing a complex, surprising and somewhat paradox pool of light and words, it now had collapsed into textbook symbolism and the logic of cause and effect. It wasn’t always like that and isn’t always like that, but like a pendulum that is kicked, after a while it starts steering the same course again. Its monkey business ! I explain to myself . Biology. The work that has to be done is to kick the pendulum, to create unbalance and take a glimpse through the gaps of matter and mind that open up in the process.  After all, it is said that it has been a tiny unbalance that had created the universe. Now it is drifting back into vast and cold balance. The process we call time. I piss on time, I throw rocks at it and grapefruits. Recently I noticed the portal getting tighter. Clearly soon I wont be able to pass through it anymore. I just hope I will be on the right side of it, when it happens.

Markus Vater

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