Petra Kohle & Nicolas Vermot Petit-Outhenin — It depends entirely upon the hue of the lighting
Petra Kohle & Nicolas Vermot Petit-Outhenin
It depends entirely upon the hue of the lighting
Past: March 13 → May 11, 2013
In her collection of essays On Photography (1977) Susan Sontag points out that even though a photograph seems to have a more accurate relation to reality than a drawing or a painting, it is no exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth.
The enduring fallacy that the camera never lies is the starting-point for a newwork by Swiss duo Petra Köhle and Nicolas Vermot Petit-Outhenin. Interweaving photography’s invisible processes of selection, exclusion and suppression with other discriminative practices, whether cultural, political or archival, it constitutes a meditation on the elusiveness of truth.
Titled It depends entirely upon the hue of the lighting (2013), their exhibition revolves around the transcript of two interviews the artists conducted with Rosmarie Nohr, a former student at the Institute of Colour Photography in Leipzig in the early 1940s. It occupies both levels of the gallery: on the ground floor, large rectangular monochrome photographs displaying the primary and complementary colours evoke the objective systems of colour measurement employed by photographers — which wield authority despite their supposed neutrality. The monochromes also testify to the fact that the primary and complementary colours crop up far more often than any other words during the course of the conversations, while constituting a photographic constant across time.
Nearby, a mural consisting of photographic emulsion developed directly on the wall depicts three arresting still lives made by Nohr during her studies, suggesting that photography might have become a placeholder for everything she was unable to do or say under the Nazi regime. Hanging on a wall, three framed still lifes by the artists exhibiting similar formal concerns break down the spatio-temporal differences between their work and hers, asking how those political events came to pass and how similar situations should be dealt with today. The performative installation in the basement fleshes out the narrative begun by the works on the upper floor. Alongside a table, three chairs and two still lifes under glass, this time by Nohr, a light-absorbing molleton curtain hangs from the ceiling. It conjures up the artifices of a photographer’s studio and recalls the artists’ 2012 installation Exercice d’isolation — which underscored the photographer’s reliance on the molleton curtain and the spotlight in order to direct and focus the viewer’s gaze on a particular area of the image. The transformation of reality to meet photographic requirements calls to mind Vilém Flusser’s remarks on photographic or technical apparatuses and the danger of letting them rule us, rather than us ruling them.
Even more selective are Nohr’s memories of participating in Hitler’s project to establish a detailed photographic archive of important mural paintings — a project alluded to by the mural on the ground floor — in order that they could be reconstructed if they were destroyed. It never occurred to her at the time to question the criteria on which the selection of these works was based, just as she was unaware of the connection between these criteria and the classification of certain kinds of art as ‘degenerate’. In the same way, she continually sidelines political and ethical issues during the interview: her focus on technical matters eclipses questions of responsibility — as suggested by the title of the exhibition.
The issue of accountability is taken up in the performances of the script: the roles of interviewer and interviewee constantly shift between reader A, reader B and reader C, underlining the collective nature of responsibility and the fact that we are all caught up in rules and systems that we adhere to or enforce.
By also inviting audience members to participate in the readings of the script, It depends entirely upon the hue of the lighting comments on the present as much as the past : it underscores the importance of coming forward — and beyond that, of speaking one’s mind — and at the same time asks us to reflect on the selective actions we ourselves carry out. Translated into the language of the country in which the performance takes place — in this case French — the transcript exposes Nohr’s memories to yet other sociocultural contexts, thereby engendering new interpretations and comparisons with analogous situations past or present. By dissociating such behaviour from Nohr herself and transposing it into other times and eras, It depends entirely upon the hue of the lighting highlights its continuing recurrence. While evoking Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal return, the work also emphasizes that such behaviour cannot for all that be condoned. Such is the shady commerce between art and truth.
Opening Wednesday, March 13, 2013 5 PM → 9 PM