ASTRID KORNTHEUER: STORYTELLING


The interlacing of spatial and two-dimensional effects in some paintings would suggest to us that at least in places the artist has arranged the theme with a view to achieving an aesthetically meaningful composition of adjacent surfaces, be it arranging the actual objects to be represented in still life paintings or arranging items that are simply on the canvas as in landscape paintings.
In photography, on the other hand, where the manifest inscription of the photographed objects into the picture describes not only an achievement, but also an inevitable product of the medium, montage in the past and digital post-production today allows us to modify an image that already exists. However, only at the expense of self-denial has photography been able to strip objects and spaces of their obtrusive nature to the extent that they would essentially function in the image. Photography per se cannot achieve what Gottfried Boehm refers to as ‘iconic difference’, in other words, a meaningfully complex interaction of the representation and that which goes beyond representation, such as spatial depth and surface composition, or of the signifying versus the intrinsic character of color. Photography can only achieve this to some extent as it either promotes an overall view of the subject or uses a theme that is in itself two-dimensional.
However, it requires a good deal of composing and arranging before taking the actual shot if photography is to do anything more than simply mime ‘iconic difference’ in a sub-complex way. This can lead to meticulous model-like versions of photographed worlds that are nothing but small worlds controlled or invented by the artist himself, such as those by Thomas Demand. Alternatively, it could result in the radical interior design Astrid Korntheuer has realized for her “Storytelling” series: Interiors are fitted with all kinds of objects, expansive drapes, blankets, pieces of cardboard arranged in an oblong position, ribbons, etc. to such an extent that these objects no longer provide a plausible context for object relationships, but instead have something untidy and junk-like about them, yet culminate in compositions that span across different objects. Thus, the artist creates a context with the image which is abundantly staged in terms of number of items, provenance, and color, which jumps out and back in space, which very effectively, even opulently, unites proximity and distance within the picture, and which comes close to developed possibilities of painting.
With his 1978 piece, “The Destroyed Room”, Jeff Wall brought this principle into being with a splash, explicitly making reference to a work by Delacroix. However, not only did this create an awareness of the surfaces and objects that the artist had arranged, but also of the dingy stage on which they were placed. At a later point in time, Lois Renner successfully combined such effects with those of a meticulously developed model – as if dealing with a picture puzzle. As a result, spatial divides are to be found adjacent to two-dimensional elements that are close at hand in a proto-Baroque manner, mixing scales brilliantly.
Astrid Korntheuer, on the other hand, has resisted the temptations of both the model-like and the latently dramatic aspect of a tattered setting. Instead, viewers of her pictures find themselves facing arrangements of cheerfully patterned drapes, blankets and wallpapers, which feature manifold shapes in an unexcited manner and do not try to conceal the fact that they are staged at in any way. Their patchwork in the photographs reminds us just as much of abstract paintings from the 1950s as of the extensive ornamentation prevalent in modern French traditions.
What about the ‘Storytelling’ promised in the title of the series? It is not particularly remarkable that Korntheuer only puts things together instead of fusing them together, thus keeping border lines between the objects (for a photograph would only be able to reject such integrity through pictorialism). What is far more crucial, however, is that behind all these arranged objects we always seek out the hand that arranged them, someone who, willful as an epic theater protagonist, begins to change her own stage design, perhaps taking one sheet or another off the line like a piece of laundry, which would turn her into an iconoclast vis-à-vis the fashionably flat meta-image in which objects sporadically wish to culminate.
Finally, there are two photographs depicting one and the same arrangement. It is presented one from the front, showing a type of composition made of staggered blocks filling the surfaces with features ranging from Klee’s water colors to Cosima von Bonin’s installations. And it is also shown from an angle that approaches the motif from the side, featuring elements of a far more slender and contorted trapezoid shape, while offering ample views of the spatial depth: Evidently, even small changes in the positioning of the camera, in other words, in our point of view, result in changed paradigms of pictorial compositions. The totality of the ‘modern’ composition of the painting as a reference medium gets put into perspective as the framing medium of photography is simply not able to keep still! Photography is by no means faithful to painting and here it is opened up to reinterpretations of space, whereby these have narrative potential, yet do not themselves narrate.

Prof. Dr. Christian Janecke, 2010

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