Symptom thing

Sabine Elsa Müller, 2014

“And as much as I’d like to believe there’s a truth beyond illusion, I’ve come to believe that there’s no truth beyond illusion.” (1)

What do we see when we look at photography? The fascination of photography lies in its special relationship to reality. To the extent that reality changes, photography also changes. Tamara Lorenz belongs to a generation for which objectivity, in the sense of a complete consensus on reality and image, has become impossible. “Every perception is completely subjective!,” this set premise of 1970s pioneers like the radical constructivists in the world (2) has meanwhile become commonplace. If there is no reality, how can there be true images? What is remarkable is that new ways open up in the neutral observation of this insight. Instead of lamenting the postmodern loss of reality with backwards-looking sentimentality, the inward departure from a generally mandatory and binding reality may be experienced as liberation.

The creative process in the practice of Tamara Lorenz is reminiscent of scientific or philosophic experimental design. It is at any rate not in the sense of positing art’s exclusive claim over creativity. What counts is the individual in their pursuit of gaining knowledge. Art, photography, and sculpture form close, mutually productive relationships in her expanded understanding; architecture, film, and music also play an important role as categories of design, and — last but not least — language.

In 2005, Lorenz carried out three series of experiments that built upon one another under the overarching title Pragmatische Prinzipien [Pragmatic Principles]: Simulatoren [Simulators], Phänotypen [Phenotypes], and Tipis [Tepees]. The context presented suggests a certain affinity and correlation that is evident again through terminology from such diverse areas as technology, genetics, or anthropology. The use of such terms opens the margins for ever newer and broader ways of thinking.

In other groups of works with titles like Höhere Mächte [Higher powers] (2007), Gewaltenteilung [Separation of power] (2007), and Axiome [Axioms] (2009) connections are likewise established on the linguistic level. Higher powers in an art context refers almost inevitably to Sigmar Polke’s incunabulum Höhere Wesen befahlen: rechte obere Ecke schwarz malen! [Higher beings commanded: paint the upper-right corner black!] from 1969. Separation of power is a key concept of the democratic state and axioms are reminiscent of Paul Watzlawik’s five basic axioms for human communication. Thus the visual outcomes are anchored in other fields of work. A socially relevant, aesthetic, political, or communications reference is attributed to them as a means for comparison.

How then may an observation, that is not itself claimed, portray or even represent an independently existing reality? An observation that does not capture reality, but rather “models of this reality whose objectivity or truth would not be verifiable in direct correspondence with an independently existing reality, but are only characterized through positive criteria of usefulness—the usefulness of suitability, feasibility, livability, or through the negative criteria of resistance, failure, and collapse.” (3)

The constructions that Tamara Lorenz depicts or represents in her analogue photographs are models like these. Models whose existence serve only the ontogenesis of the powers of perception, thinking, and memory. Whether it is a construction in the corner of a room made of wooden slats, boards, and sticks, like in Simulators, that is photographed from two different standpoints so that the viewers, torn between two equally true images, feel empowered to reconstruct the actual situation in space. Until the viewer finds that the duplicated information does not better serve the spatial location. Quite the contrary, as the assertions gained from different perspectives seem partly contradictory. Or whether spatial relationships are entirely suspended, as with Axioms, by means of illumination or a paper roll drawn between floor and wall, while the ingenious shadow effects of the objects provide a kind of subtext. The readily available composite objects — wooden blocks, metal bars, forms made out of cardboard — and their shadows cannot be distinguished from one another, especially if, as in ProZOrd (2010–12), the background is covered with deep black Molton cloth.

The new photographs show a clear position at first glance as well, which condenses into a logically incomprehensible complexity. To look at them means to watch oneself looking. Lines align in the deep space and fold back to the surface to suddenly thrust forward out of the image again. Surfaces become solids and then again a hollow form closed on four sides, whose strict limitations playfully cross the filigree lines of a room drawing. As is fitting for models, the staged lighting contributes much to the disconcerting turning point between three-dimensional physicality and a planar surface. It seems to come from the space in which it is viewed and from the image itself simultaneously.

Perspective, distances, proportions and weight, dematerialization, and haptic tangibility at resistant open edges — the compact, stage-like sets convey a merging of different layers with unclear allusions that is not verifiable in reality. The reference to reality is there, but fragmented into countless tiny parts like in a kaleidoscope. The photograph generates its own media-based reality analogous to the paradox of objectivity. And apparently this parallel world simulates reality in a form that offers the brain plenty of fodder for reflection and perception: as before it we stand amazed, all our senses captivated. We plunge into an adventure that only offers imagination. And as Donna Tartt so masterfully expresses it in the quote at the start of this text, the second part of which continues: “Because, between ‘reality’ on the one hand, and the point where the mind strikes reality, there’s a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not: and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic.” (4)

1. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch, Little, Brown and Co., 2013
2. Radical constructivism is connected primarily with three Austrian emigrants who settled in California: Ernst von Glaserfeld (1917–2010), Heinz von Foerster (1911–2002), and Paul Watzlawik (1921–2007).
3. Hans Dieter Huber, Kunst als soziale Konstruktion [Art as social construct], Munich, 2007, p. 30.
4. See note 1, ibid.