HIDE AND SEEK


We are currently seeing a Renaissance in depictions of the landscape in art. Contemporary artists are repeatedly selecting and tackling the subject, not least in the light of a new sensibility to the transience of nature and its destruction by man.

In some of her work, Astrid Korntheuer likewise focuses on this theme. In one of her first series, “Glör”, dating from 2003-4, for example she photographed the dam of the same name in the Ruhr Area, where the reservoir was temporarily empty. Although nature has the upper hand for a short time in the man-made basin and forms unique vegetation, it is, in the truest sense of the word, doomed. It can only thrive until the water comes back. As one of Korntheuer’s most emotional series, the photographs also reflect this planned transience in their gloomy coloring, which suggests nothing positive. The artist herself calls it the “state of waiting for a certain loss, the melancholy of the inevitable”.

The choice of the visual section is typical of her approach. Similarly to the “Patagonien” (“Patagonia”) series, the angle crops the assumed expanse, and thus aims far more to investigate the structure of the landscape than produce a classic panorama picture. Although one or two horizons sneak into pictures in the “Patagonien” series, they always leave the things that are there vague, do not articulate them or cover them up. These works are not characterized by a documentary style, which we could still have attributed to the “Glör” series given the special temporal limits of the newly created landscape, but rather by the fact that individual elements in the scene are given a prototypical status. Although the picture titles promise a documentary character, when viewing the “Patagonien” series you move cropped section by section through the lands of the so-called “end of the world” and yet never gain an impression of the whole of Patagonia from the independent façades which we cannot place. In this way, the individual pictures, like the whole series, become more abstract.

Korntheuer seeks to infuse some of her series with the fascination she feels for abstract painting, especially that by Pollock and Kirkeby. She has even called a group of forest photographs “Paintings”. And indeed, the pictures thrive on a similar removal of the borders of the picture surface as the “Drippings” so typical of Pollock. For the artist, colors, shapes and lines are very obviously more important than making forest and vegetation easily recognizable. The assumed chaos is subordinated to the surface. An apparent coincidence in the cropped section of the picture obscures the thoroughly deliberate choice of the same and the effort to subdivide the image in order to create a composition.

As such, Korntheuer takes the liberty of manipulating the real spaces she photographs in favor of abstraction. In this way, she changes the incidence of light in her series “Loh”, touches up horizon lines and thus promotes the mystification of the “forest” as a theme, an entity that already has mythical connotations anyway. The eye finds no real purchase in the picture, the impression we get has something quivering, something unnatural about it. In Korntheuer’s forest photographs, the vegetation acts like a shielding curtain. Impenetrable and coolly, it does not invite us, and we are only present in the form of viewers, to immerse ourselves in the idyll of clearings and leaf canopies, which the theme of “forest” unusually promises, rather the vegetation makes us aware of our position as outsiders and reveals nothing of its secrets.

In the “Loh” series, the artist also seeks to explore the veracity of the medium of photography, especially black and white photography, which has always propagated the illustration of reality. The artist plays with this claim to truth. Through manipulation, the landscape image becomes something artificial, constructed, the vegetation reduced to its structure, its pure surface.

This curtain-like composition and the removal of the borders of the picture surface are also evident in Korntheuer’s museum photographs. While the excessive signification may be deterring for some, for others it is inviting, it rouses curiosity. These photographs of museums are like I-Spy images, which pay homage to the original shape museums took, namely curio cabinet. Two-dimensionality achieved by exhibits with small components positioned next to each other and overlaying each other replaces the perspective, makes it almost invalid. Again, it is about the composition. Admittedly, there is an infinite amount to discover, but here too, the artist manages to make the objects and the real spaces abstract. As with the landscape and forest photographs too, here we seem to stand in front of an impenetrable barrier. There is no way through. It is thus that Korntheuer also thematizes the concept of the museum in itself. While photographers like Thomas Struth and Reinhard Görner, who likewise focus intensively on the inner life of museums, portray the museum interior as something holy, sacred, sublime, in Korntheuer’s work it becomes a kind of playground. Here, we have to “rummage” our way through; the “master piece”, if this is at all available, first wants to be found and is not delivered as such on the plinth with the accompanying interpretation.

However, an exception in the artist’s work with reference to the composition is the “Horizont” (“Horizon”) series, created on the North Sea. Here the world is quite clearly divided into an above and a below, the dyke forms the exact middle. Based on Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Seascapes”, in Korntheuer’s works the otherwise small-component aspect now replaces two-dimensionality, sobriety and calm. The reference to an abstract, pale, minimalist color-field painting is obvious. And yet here again she remains true to herself. However you look at it, there is never a real perspective. Despite the obvious panorama picture, the expanse remains hidden, behind the dyke. The view is again trimmed. We cannot but ask what is “behind” it.

 

By Nadia Orlopp, 2007

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