Opening: Friday, 11th June 2010 at 6 PM
Exhibition dates: 12th June - 24th July 2010
"Das ist weit schwerer, als über die Farben etwas beizubringen, daher erscheint mir diese Abhandlung auch als ein Meisterstück, zu dem mir noch das Werkzeug fehlt." Ernst Jünger in « Gärten und Strassen »
Hamish Morrison Galerie is pleased to present Redox, an exhibition of new work by the artist Erik Niedling. This is Niedling’s second exhibition with the gallery.
Niedling’s work often addresses the ways in which photography documents and records history. Sometimes, this has manifested itself as an exploration of Germany’s past, as in his previous series’ Forst and Archiv. On other occasions, he has examined history as a concept, as in Status: a series of photographs that document the inner workings of a museum. And in his previous show with our gallery, entitled Formation, Niedling explored the history of photography itself. The artist presented a series of enigmatic photographs made from glass negatives that were part of the estate of the Erfurt-based photographer Walther Haage. When Niedling found hundreds of Haage’s negatives from the 1930s in a locked attic, he realised that he had uncovered an important moment in German photographic history. Part detective work, part archival project, and part conceptual piece, Niedling then turned Haage’s negatives into his own photographic prints, simultaneously acknowledging and laying claim to his predecessor’s pioneering work.
In his current series Redox, Niedling continues to deal with the history of photography. But this time, he reflects on its nature as paper document – its role in conserving information, and its meaning today and in the future. At first glance, the nineteen large photographs seem to show a single black surface. But with time, viewers are able to identify subtle light reflexes, fine modulations and movements. Single letters, and sometimes words, start to emerge from the blackness, but rarely whole sentences. Viewers eventually discover that the photographs in fact depict the ashes of newspapers, which Niedling collected and ordered into their various sections – Business, Arts, Science, Editorial and so on – and then burned.
On the one hand, burning the papers is a violent act. And in a city like Berlin, it’s also loaded with a dark history. But on the other, Niedling’s violence illustrates the fragility of history; not only the documents that record it, but also the way we remember it. The fragments left behind are like relics, partial pieces of information that lose almost all of their meaning. And with their meaning, our memories start to fade too. Of course, photography is a medium that is supposed to achieve the opposite result: it should capture information, stopping its decay and preserving memories in permanent form. Niedling handles this tension ironically, by making photographs of information that he himself has destroyed.
All of the images in Redox are black and white. This seemingly straightforward mode of presentation is more complex than it first seems, as Niedling subtly explores the relationships between these supposed polar opposites. The use of black and white photography sets up two immediate associations for viewers: first, the early developments of the medium from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth centuries; and second, the supposed objectivity of photojournalism. With both, viewers have become culturally trained to expect a kind of honesty – we make a presumption that the image we’re presented with is “true”. While Niedling is by no means the first photographer to challenge such a presumption, he does do it in unique ways. For example, his burning of newspapers – a traditional source of reliable information – turns the “black and white” realities they present us with into something partial, ambiguous and easily misunderstood. Suddenly, the stories these papers tell us become unsafe.
Niedling’s formal handling of black and white also questions the strict psychological, metaphysical and aesthetic distinctions we often draw between them. By carefully developing the various tones of black, his images become richly nuanced and almost Baroque in their detail. Against the battleship grey of the gallery – a colour that is itself caught between black and white – each photograph enters a permanent turmoil: an irresolvable relationship between its status as aesthetic object and the image it presents. By deconstructing photography’s formal and cultural history, Niedling’s works enter a permanent twilight, their true meaning suspended somewhere between the image and the object. They become “horror vacui” – empty spaces that our minds try to fill, using the tiny fragments of information that were saved from the fire to reanimate our memories.
Erik Niedling was born in 1973 in Erfurt, Germany. His work has been shown extensively throughout Germany, including at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg and Angermuseum, Erfurt. In conjunction with his solo exhibition "Formation" in Berlin a comprehensive catalogue was published by Hatje Cantz. Erik Niedling lives and works in Berlin.