Wednesday, 25 October 2017

In Trondheim

"To Trains" the signs at Trondheim airport say and so I assume that by following them I will get to the airport train station. After quite some walking I ask a young couple that comes towards me from where I'm heading to where I can buy a train ticket. They don't know, they say, they have never taken a train. I continue to follow the signs that eventually point to stairs that lead downward to sliding doors, an empty platform and two equally empty railway lines on both sides of the platform. It is pitch dark, I'm the only human being in what feels like a science fiction scenario and so I decide to return to the arrival hall of the airport. As I climb up the stairs a young woman is heading down the stairs. Is this the station? I ask. I don't know, she says, I've never taken a train.
It was mine, says the elderly man standing next to me in the souvenir shop of the Nidaros Dom. I was slightly perplexed for I could neither place him nor what he just had said. But then it dawned on me that we had met in the elevator of the hotel where we both stayed and his "it was mine" referred to the room card that he had picked up from the elevator floor.

He was from Southern Norway. We talked about the unusually warm weather when all of a sudden he asked whether I knew Svalbard. Sort if, I said, for I had recently reviewed a photo book about it. It is really weird up there, he said. And dangerous. Because the polar bears eat you. You have to carry a gun at all times. It was warm when I was there, ten above zero, the ice was melting. The polar bears couldn't find anything to eat for they cannot hunt for fish from moving ice blocks. They soon will be extinguished.

With a Norwegian she could never have such a conversation, says the Romanian waitress, who has lived here for quite some years and with whom I had by then chatted for a few minutes. My own Norwegian experience is different (see the above paragraph), the fact that I often take the initiative and start talking is surely a contributing factor. Especially animating conversations I've had with the receptionists at my hotel (one was a martial arts instructor, another knew how to read Braille – one day, in his student dormitory, he had come across an instruction manual and decided to teach himself reading like the blind), the manager of two 7/11s (he had dropped out of informatics studies because he did not feel like spending most of his working hours in front of computer screens and loves the variety of tasks he is now daily dealing with) and the manager of a poster store that sells photographs in various large formats (the ones that sell best are prints in black and white that show scenes from the Tour-de-France – for reasons unbeknownst to her). 
To get away from your usual environment means to experience slower and longer days for you have much more time on your hands. It also means to make discoveries. In Trondheim, for instance, there's the Rockheim, the national museum of popular music where highly knowledgeable and friendly staff will introduce you to Norwegian Rock and Pop. Moreover, the town is full of fabulous architecture and breathtaking scenery.

I also learned that waffles are a Norwegian tradition, in my hotel they were offered for free in the evenings. Another of my culinary discoveries were shrimp baguettes. The first one I had was open so that I could see that there were two slices of lemon on top of the shrimps, the second one however came wrapped in plastic and it didn't occur to me that there could be lemon slices included until I had swallowed one.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Photography & Speed

Photography did not appear all at once as we know it now. Talbot's process, the almost-universal method of photography since the 1850s, produced a negative image and the possibility of printing multiple positives from that negative. But it was Daguerre's process that dominated the first decade of photography. Daguerre had found a way to make direct positive images on polished plates. Each daguerreotype was unique, since there was no negative and no printing, and the images were small and elusive. The mirrored surface that at one angle showed the image at another showed the viewer looking at the image; it seemed phantasmagorical in a way paper prints would not. Compared to painting, early photography was astonishingly fast, but it required exposures from dozens of seconds to several minutes. Morse, who was in Paris the spring of Daguerre's announcement, wrote back to New York of the new invention, "Objects moving are not impressed. The Boulevard, so constantly filled with a moving throng of pedestrians and carriages, was perfectly solitary, except for an individual who was having his boots brushed. His feet were compelled, of course, to be stationary for some time, one being on the box of the boot-black and the other on the ground. Consequently his boots and legs were well defined, but he is without body or head, because these were in motion." This man having his shoes polished and the blurry bootblack were the first human beings photographed, and it is eerie to look at them apparently alone, but really surrounded by scores who vanished into speed Photography was faster than painting, but it could only portray the slow world or the still world. People sat for their portraits with braces to hold their heads steady, and in those old portraits fidgeting children are often a blur. Landscapes were photographed on windless days when the leaves wouldn't move and the water was smooth. The bustling nineteenth century had to come to a halt for the camera, until Muybridge and his motion studies.

Even so, photography was a profound transformation of the world it entered. Before, every face, every place, every event, had been unique, seen only once and then lost forever among the changes of age, light, time. The past existed only in memory and interpretation, and the world beyond one's own experience was mostly stories. The rich could commission paintings, the less rich could buy prints, but a photograph reproduced its subject with an immediacy and accuracy art made by hand lacked, and by the 1850s it offered the possibility of mass reproductions, images for everyone. Every photograph was a moment snatched from the river of time. Every photograph was a piece of evidence from the event itself, a material witness. The youthful face of a beloved could be looked at decades after age or death or separation had removed that face, could be possessed like an object. Daguerreotypes, which were soon sold in elaborately molded cases with cut-velvet linings facing the image that sat within, were alluring objects. Soon countless were lining up to possess images of themselves, their families, their dead children, to own the past.

Rebecca Solnit: Rivers of Shadows. Eadweard Muybridge and the technological Wild West

Wednesday, 11 October 2017


Paläo-Kunst werde häufig mit paläolitischer Kunst (Höhlenmalerei) verwechselt, schreibt Walton Ford im Vorwort zu diesem grossformatigen Prachtsband. Doch während die Höhlenmalerei von prähistorischen Menschen erschaffen worden sei, stammten die Gemälde der Paläo-Kunst von einem Menschen der Neuzeit, der auf diese Weise die Vorgeschichte abbilden wolle.

Die Paläo-Kunst, eine visuelle Tradition, welche die prähistorische Vergangenheit rekonstruiert, nahm ihren Ursprung 1830 in England. Ausgangspunkt sind die Knochen. "Nachdem Paläontologen die Überreste eines prähistorischen Tieres entdeckt und ausgegraben haben, stellt sich ein Künstler anhand dieser Nachweise in Form von Skeletten vor, wie das Lebewesen wohl einmal ausgesehen haben mag, und füllt dieses Bild mit Muskeln, Haut, einer Textur und Farbe. Für eine Zeichnung oder ein Gemälde versetzt der Paläo-Künstler das rekonstruierte Urtier schliesslich in einen urwüchsigen  Lebensraum, samt den passenden Pflanzen und einer entsprechenden Landschaft." 
Heinrich Harder, reconstructed by Hans Jochen Ihle, 1982
Explosives blasted the Berlin Aquarium in November 1943, destroying Harder’s dazzling mosaics on the facade. In 1982, the Aquarium reconstructed the mosaics, using photographs, tile fragments, and Harder's original plans. The book features all-new photography of these historic recreations.
Copyright: Borrissiak Paleontological Institute RAS

Zoë Lescaze widmet ihre Einführung ("Die Kunst, die Toten zum Leben zu erwecken") grösstenteils der Entstehung (ca. 1830) der Duria Antiquior von Thomas de la Bèche, einem Geologen, der fossile Funde seiner Fantasie unterwarf und noch nie gesehene Tiere kreierte und so die erste Abbildung (Aquarell auf Papier) der prähistorischen Welt schuf. "Ursprünglich wollte der Geologe einfach einer Freundin helfen, als er sich an die Zeichnung der Tiere machte, die einst am östlichen Zipfel Dorsets lebten und starben."

Das Bild Duria Antiquior wurde als Lithographie reproduziert und verbreitete sich rasch in den Wissenschaftszirkeln Londons. Verschiedene Wissenschaftszweige, unter ihnen die Paläontologie, entwickelten sich in dieser Zeit rasant. "Für viele bestand der Reiz der Fossilien darin, dass sie das Unendliche endlich erscheinen und unermesslich viele Jahrtausende wahrhaft physisch (be)greifbar machen konnten." 
Tree of Life
Alexander Mikhailovich Belashov, 1984
All-new photography of this colossal Russian mosaic shows the work teeming with animals, spanning millions of years in geological time.
Copyright: Borrissiak Paleontological Institute RAS

Die frühen Paläo-Künster, so Zoë Lescaze, wollten so recht eigentlich gar nicht besonders fantasievoll sein. Ihre Werke erschienen vorwiegend zur Illustration wissenschaftlicher Werke. Ihre modernen Ausformungen haben, wie wir alle wissen, schon längst Hollywood erreicht. "Heutzutage ist die visuelle Kultur von Dinosauriern  und anderen prähistorischen Tieren geradezu übersättigt." Doch nicht die ganze Paläo-Kunst ist Mainstream. "Einige Werke der Paläo-Kunst sind breite, gut gepflasterte Boulevards, andere dagegen verwinkelte Gassen – sie alle aber führen in unerwartete Gegenden der menschlichen Psyche." 

Aufklärend fasst der Klappentext zusammen, dass es sich bei diesem Buch um eine beeindruckende Sammlung von Kunstwerken aus wichtigen naturgeschichtlichen Museen, düsteren Archiven und Privatsammlungen  handelt. Zudem enthält dieser Band, neben vier Faltblättern, auch "neue Fotografien zentraler Werke, darunter auch Charles R. Knights Dinosaurier-Gemälde in Chicago und wenig bekannte Meisterwerke wie A.M Belashovs monumentales Mosaik in Moskau." 
Tyrannosaurus and Edmontosaurus
Ely Kish, c. 1976
Copyright: Eleanor Kish, © Canadian Museum of Nature

Für jemanden wie mich, für den die Paläo-Kunst absolutes Neuland ist, tragen die kenntnisreichen und wohlformulierten Texte von Zoë Lescaze ganz besonders zur Wertschätzung dieses beeindruckenden Werkes bei. Nicht zuletzt, weil sie mir klar gemacht haben, dass die Paläo-Art auch immer ein Nachsinnen über die Frage ist, ob die Menschheit als Art überdauern wird, was mit sich bringt, "sich seines eigenen Lebens und unvermeidlichen Todes bewusst zu werden." Ich fühlte mich durch die Beschäftigung mit dieser zwischen Fakt und Fiktion angesiedelten Kunst wunderbar bereichert.

Zoë Lescaze
mit einem Vorwort von Walton Ford
Darstellungen der Urgeschichte
Taschen Verlag, Köln 2017

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

False Memories

Thirty years ago, I shared an apartment with my younger brother Thomas in Lausanne. Of the trips that we did together to places nearby, I particularly remember one by car to the Lac de Joux. The area around it looked sort of moon-like, lots of stones, it radiated the aura of a windswept, rugged terrain. Now imagine my surprise when, a few days ago, I revisited the place and it didn't in the least resemble my memory.
Don't get me wrong: I liked what I saw yet started to wonder what strange tricks my mind seemed to have played on me. Was it maybe another lake and I had simply mistaken it? I've decided to explore the surroundings of Le Pont, where I had gotten off the train, and discovered another nice lake, Lac Brenet, that had absolutely nothing in common with what had been on my mind for all these years.
And so I did what one does in the days of the internet and googled the lakes of the Canton de Vaud – yet there weren't any pictures of a lake that looked even remotely close to the pictures in my head. Had I been dreaming? And if so, for thirty years? Possibly but it doesn't feel right, it feels truly weird. And then my friend Peggy said the windswept, rugged terrain that I occasionally had talked about had always reminded her of Lac de Bret near Puidoux that she knew from visits with her parents – the restaurant shown on the internet looked indeed similar to the one I've always remembered but everything else was much too green. Maybe I should once visit in winter?
It is of course one thing to say that memory is creative, it is however quite another to experience it the way I did while in Le Pont. Disturbing? Definitely! Fascinating? Sure – but above all pretty irritating. Given all these uncertainties in regards to the past (and, needless to say, the future), we're probably well advised to concentrate on the present.