On the Possibility of Alpine Photography, Susan Funk
The artists demonstrate how, in just a few steps, they can take apart and rearrange our collective visual memory, into a form free of pathos and supercharged imagery.
The work horizon colours is based on found footage. The artists use a digital photograph of Mount Watzmann near Berchtesgarden in the morning light, which they found on the image hosting website Flickr. As the highest peak fully anchored in German territory, this mountain bears meaning in the patriarchal visual lexicon.
With a purposeful gesture, the artists remove the (overburdened) meaning of the image and set it free again. What we are shown is a contemporary depiction of a mountain—one that raises urgent questions of the possibility of landscape painting in our time.
Mount Watzmann was already a popular motif in German Romanticism. Ludwig Richter attracted attention for his monumental depiction of the mountain in 1824. A few years later, Caspar David Friedrich also felt the urge to portray the mountain. But Friedrich clearly distanced himself from Richter’s conception of landscape, which he considered too overburdened and therefore unnatural. In contrast, he took a more restricted approach, stylising the mountain, devoid of people, as a pyramid reaching the sky. The heightened nature symbolism allowed Friedrich to reduce the painting to just a few elements, which could be decoded step by step.
Even though its meanings have shifted over time, this heightened nature symbolism has left its mark on today’s pictorial vocabulary. Art appears to play a significant role in the construction or deconstruction of myth: whereas the Alps were used as a means of propaganda during National Socialism, today we might associate their depiction with conservatism, nationalism, reactionism or kitsch.
So how objective can an image be?
As the basis for their conceptual work, the artists use a digital photograph, a medium that is, in itself, already rather value-neutral. However, it is not a pure image of nature. Such a pure image would have to be from the divine perspective, an idea that has become obsolete since the Enlightenment. Even the debate over satellite imagery shows that, despite today’s ultramodern imaging techniques, one cannot speak of objectivity. Then as now, the human perspective always inserts itself into the image, and a fragment of a world view is always communicated.
In the original photograph, the subjective inscription is still clearly visible. The photographer seems to have been moved by the ambience produced by the sunrise. Kindermann and Klar enlarge this picture to a length of 59 metres—the full length of the hallway for which the work was to be designed. They then reduce the resolution to 59 pixels in width and extract a 1-metre-by-59-metre strip, following the central mountain ridge. They print the resulting pixel strip and mix each individual colour value in wall paint before applying it to the wall.
As visitors walk along the strip, the original mountain experience—in which the full picture remains inaccessible—is physically evoked. It almost seems like a precautionary measure, so that the monumentality of the mountain range does not become too overwhelming. Also, the division of the reference image and the conversion of the picture into black and white work against any metaphysical immersion.
The artists use various media (found footage, digital printing, painting), oscillate between these different states and ultimately decide on a synthesis of disciplines. Thus, they pay tribute to both classic alpine imagery and to the photographically documented pleasure any mountain wanderer might feel. It is not a matter of a competition between the disciplines, but rather of exploring the limits of landscape painting. A longing for the lost unity of humanity with nature arises, but quickly dissolves again. Only the sky is the limit. Yet, something is left behind.