I attended a talk and dinner with Sebastian Meyer, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, who lived and worked in Iraq documenting the Kurdish community struggle through war in hopes of regaining autonomy and peace. Kurds are an ethnic group native to a mountainous region known as Kurdistan, which spans southeastern Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and northern Syria. The Kurds residing in Iraq faced war (2008 – 2014) in an effort to gain back land in the region and receive political rights in the wake of the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003. Meyer was employed by a British film company to take portraits of the survivors of the Anfal genocide in Iraq, an anti-Kurdish genocidal campaign in 1988, and found himself staying in Kurdistan for several years afterwards. In his time in Iraq, he documented, through photographs, the Kurdish resilience against all odds. He quotes, “Iraq’s Kurds have paid a heavy price in their fight for self-determination, oppressed by British colonialists, Iraqi monarchists and Saddam’s Ba’athists alike. Every decade has been marred by genocide or displacement, often both.” Meyer published a photography book titled Under Every Yard of Sky which is a collection of some of his photographs of the Kurdish community and tells a story of a great nation fighting for equality.
The film Never Look Away provides recounts how a fictional artist’s experiences influence his work. The viewer follows the relationship between Kurt’s childhood in Nazi Germany and the evolution of his artwork. As Kurt tries to break from his training in Socialist Realism and discover his artistic voice, he combines his traumatic childhood memories with the experience of post-WWII Germany. Kurt combines photographs from his childhood with clippings from newspapers to create photorealistic paintings. Kurt’s artwork resembles that of Gerhard Richter. Both the fictional artist Kurt and the real artist Richter appropriate existing photographs to create paintings that almost perfectly resemble its source imagery. However, both artists question the potential of their work to fully represent a specific moment. The gap between reality and representation exists in the differences between an original experience, the moment a photograph captures, and a painted adaptation of the photograph. Art captures a moment, but it fails to truly depict the emotional and narrative contexts. Richter argues that reality is more dreadful than the moment a painting captures. The more an artist appropriates or recreates a moment, the more they remove the experience from its original context. The appropriation of photography in both Kurt and Richter’s paintings reflect the claim that as a work of art extends further away from its original context, the easier the viewer accepts the artwork. No matter the distance between the original moment and the representation of that moment, the resulting artwork is an abstract interpretation unique to the artist’s experience and the viewer’s interpretation.
In an interview Richter stated that he detested gruesome from page magazine covers but he nonetheless looked at them. In his art you can see this desire to evoke curiosity from the viewer rather than the aggressive voyeurism given to images of violence. When Meinhoff hung herself in Stuttgart the scene of her dead body on the floor would be troubling for anyone to see. Through Richter’s painting of the image at varying levels of clarity and different angles he abstracts suicide. In this abstraction the image of Meinhoff is looked at with curiosity rather than just a dead body.
There is no way that all truth is beautiful because evil is true and beauty is antithetical to evil.
Is any beautiful evil simply a romanticization of something that is ugly in its true form?
POST by Monday night a few sentences about the relationship between reality (what happened) and the paintings as representation of especially Ulrike Meinhof’s life and experience. What’s consistent? How? Why? For whom?
In order to get at “representation”, I find that it’s best to take the word for what it is: presenting something again. Meaning… not the original. Not the first. Not… the ‘real’ thing. In acknowledging this, I think it helps me better understand what exactly Kurt is getting at in these paintings. Yes, it’s technically a “remake” or the “Remake” if you will. First, it must be captured in time with the snap of a camera, then once it’s preserved, it can be transformed into another medium, like painting. I like to think that Kurt’s perspective on reality was untouched by others, as he spent his youth contemplating his surroundings with positive influences like Aunt Elizabeth.
As for Ulrike Meinhof, her consistent way of life was not enough. Perhaps her choice of medium to “represent” were her articles. Just as Kurt knew his form of medium and lacked the purpose, Meinhof similarly found a new way of life in following the RAF.
Posing a question in relation to Aunt Elizabeth’s death and mental illness: How does the relationship between the ‘A’ above middle C translate for both instances of the buses? Does Kurt simply want to remember a piece of the past or does he find the same joy that Aunt Elizabeth had? I ask, additionally, because the A above middle C is known as the Stuttgart Pitch, which is a city in Western Germany. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, though I’ve been pondering a possible relation.
Reality is a difficult thing to grasp, because the details of any particular moment or event only exist in the records and memory that persists in archives or in the minds of those present. There is a disconnect between reality and any recollection of that reality, as the nature of recollection entails that details are altered and affected by how those details are shared; memories change depending on emotional states, wording of a story drastically changes interpretation of facts. Art is a prime example of this phenomena, as it is said that every painting is somewhat of a self-portrait of the painter, as on some level, no matter how minutely or unconsciously it was done, the painter has influenced their depiction with their own thoughts and feelings. A photograph is a rare example of a medium which perfectly captures the details of an event; an unedited and unaltered photograph is a flawless memory of something’s truth. It is a captured and contained still image of reality at a given moment. There is a consistency in the photograph, in that it captures a perfect replica of its subject. Even though people can still view photographs and see different things from it (focusing on different aspects of it or applying themselves to it somehow), there is a more consistent baseline in several people’s interpretations of a (for example) photograph of a flower than there would be in several people’s memory of said flower. Painting a photograph is an artist’s recreation of how they perceive that photograph, though it is altered by the painter, it is more consistent with the reality of the subject depicted than a painting of the subject itself would be. This consistency is as important to the painter as to the viewer, as a stronger sense of consistency in a work forms a stronger connection between which ideas are shared.
The paintings of Meinhof capture one person’s interpretation of those pictures, particularly in how they accentuate certain features of the photographs, such as the smoothness and softness in Youth Portrait, or the varying degrees of gritty reality in the various versions of Dead. The record of one person’s interpretation of that pain is a powerful tool, as it is more emotional than the picture might be on its own.
My portfolio is a general investigation of truth, which (as seen in my definitions) is closely related to humanities. Richter’s paintings challenge my ideas of truth, especially the way I view art as a translation. In Professor Tamura’s unit we studied the photograph as a translation of truth and in Professor Bory’s unit, we studied abstract paintings (far from the realism of photo-journalism) as translation of truth. Now, in Unit 8, we are examining paintings based off of photographs.
Why would Richter paint a subject that has already been expressed in a photograph? Which is the better* representation of Meinhof: photograph or painting?
*I interpret “better” as closer to truth.
I think that I can make two different arguments regarding the reality vs. representation of Meinhof:
The first, is that the painting is less accurate of a representation because it is one step away from reality and therefore, creates distance from what actually happened. This argues: truth –> gaze –> photograph –> painting. Because Richter’s paintings blur the images from the photos, the subject is harder to see/understand.
On the other hand, I could argue that the painting is more accurate of a representation because it provides abstraction of the image, which, like Rothko, brings us closer to emotion and the truth. This argues: truth –> gaze –> painting –> photograph. Because Richter’s paintings blur the images from the photos, they break down the clear subject into brushstrokes and colors which can evoke more accurate emotion.
Why would Kurt, as an artist want to paint a photograph?
Why would he want to reproduce an image that has already been captured?
Does Richter believe that mediums like photography/painting create a harmless distance or harmful representation of reality?
Weirch’s Interview of Richter reminded me very clearly of the film’s portrayal of the interview near the end. I find that there is a very mysterious and almost abstract understanding of Richter’s words. “Reality is even more dreadful.” This quote resonates a conversation with Professor Seeband’s relationship to photos. Especially seeing his photos of his family when it seemed that life was simple.
To answer the question of the prompt, from my understanding from the texts and reading, the question of “what happened” does not rely on the personal connection the artist has with the piece but rather what the view takes of it. What is consistent is that there is a backstory, but it is rather what part of the story is important. And especially import for whom.
Looking through the exhibit knowing the backstory changes the meaning of the paintings. Similarly to how we as the viewers of the film have a different understanding of the paints comparatively to the interviews in the film. It seems as if “we know more.”
“Art does not give answers, it poses the question” – Doris Salcedo
“Yes it bothers you. But with painted photographs, so many details are left out or blurred that it all becomes a little more bearable, and one perhaps becomes a little more curious.”Gerhard Richterh
Photography can be extremely cruel, super up-front and in our faces. There is something unavoidable about the reality that is captured – that millisecond of a memory that stays ingrained into one’s mind. However, reality is even more unbearable, knowing that the photograph itself only allows us to see a fraction of the beauty and the pain behind each frame. But once that still image is blurred, smeared onto the canvass, something else comes into focus: curiosity and attraction. We all of a sudden what to understand a deeper meaning or try to look away but not necessarily know what we are looking at. That is when our curiosity gets the best of us and we can’t look away.
Kurt and Richterh don’t necessarily have an agenda with these paintings, rather just representing periods of time captured in a capsule. All of these images begin to weight you down, because it feels like there is something missing, like they are unfinished. It is up to our imaginations to evoke meaning, with the art standing in as a symbol of the pursuit for truth. As Richterh himself states, “since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth. We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth.” He isn’t making statements, he makes art. The art itself does the work.
What is consistent behind these images is one thing: simpleness. They are not meant to be grand. They are a simulation. They are photographs of objects, people, who are simply part of history. We, the viewer, give the power to the art. It becomes a relationship where art manufactures the truth and we declare it. The art captures a perspective, a moment, where we complete it and widen it. Just as Kurt did with his art series in the movie “Never Look Away,” Richterh in his whole series on October 18, 1977, stood as an understanding of reality, capturing numerous moments to create one overarching story. It never was just about Meinhof or the RAF, it was about something more, what they stood for and what effect that had in 1977 and today.
Richterh is trying to understand what is, just like the rest of us living our lives. He just does it through painting. It’s not purposeful or personal, its an analogy. It is for us to contribute to and figure out the truth alongside him.
“Theory has nothing to do with a work of art. Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures. A picture presents itself as the Unmanageable, the Illogical, the Meaningless. It demonstrates the endless multiplicity of aspects; it takes away our certainty, because it deprives a thing of its meaning and its name. It shows us the thing in all the manifold significance and infinite variety that preclude the emergence of any single meaning and view.”Richterh’s Notes, 1964-65
Both Kurt and Richter use painting as a medium to contemplate and investigate certain life happenings. These two artists could be representing reality using fantasy ideas in their work. In Never Look Away, Kurt paints as a type of therapy intentionally aimed to communicate the truth. However, Kurt never promotes his paintings in a way where they would effectively translate his overwhelming fear. Merely by creating this art, Kurt is pursuing the act of “making yourselves free” and “liberating the world.” His work is potentially dangerous because it is truthful. Kurt is willing to take this risk because “everything that’s true is beautiful.” Richter also uses his art to represent certain truths and situations that have occurred so the audience does not forget. For example, in Richter’s “October 18, 1977” collection, he shows the progression of a scenario by increasingly blurring the images in the series showing the frustration he has with the audience’s ignorance and lack of attention. Richter claims these paintings “can give us new insights” on the horrors of the past. Like Sontag, Richter emphasizes “we can’t simply discard or forget” the atrocities of the past and “we must try to find a way of dealing with it.”
After watching Never Look Away and analyzing many of the paintings by Gerhard Richter, I believe the connection between reality and his paintings is that the paintings evoke the feeling and emotion of reality from the viewer. Two stills from the movie jumped out at me the most while watching the film, the scene when Kurt stands in front of the bus as they blare their horns and the scene when young Kurt puts his hand in front of his face as his Aunt Elisabeth is dragged away. In both of these scenes, “reality” seems to blur away, the sense of sight of what was happening in the moment disappeared. In both scenes, while his vision is blurred Kurt seems fully present in the emotion of the moment. In my interpretation, this is what his Aunt Elisabeth meant when she said “Never Look Away” ; allow yourself to be present in the moment and acknowledge the feelings that you experience. The effect of blur in Richter’s painting allows the viewer to explore their emotions within a fleeting moment of reality he creates. Richter’s painting have no intrinsic meaning or statement, so the viewer is allowed to use their feelings or life-experiences to interpret the blur in whatever way makes most sense to them.
Richter’s painting of Ulrike Meinhof’s dead body is not intended to depict the actual reality of her death. However, Richter’s painting of Meinhof allows the viewer to ignore the visual subject matter and replace the blur with their feelings about Meinhof and construct their own image within his painting. In the movie, Kurt is told to “Never Look Away” and with the blur in these paintings the audience isn’t forced to look away like they would if they were presented with an accurate image of Meinhof’s death. The blur creates an image that allows the viewer to be present in the moment contrasted from photography or realistic photos which leave no room for the opinions of the viewer.
Much like in the movie “Never Look Away”, Richter painted pictures and drew blurry lines through them. This adds mystic and power to the pictures because it makes them less realistic and more imaginary. Simply translating a picture on canvas can be pretty but it holds no true power. However, like Kurt, Richter added power and meaning to his paintings by adding a surreal element to them. Both artists made them less grounded, more spiritual. This makes the audience connect to their art even if they do not know who is depicted. When human form is deformed, people tend to look at it with more intrigue and a wish to put back into form in their mind.
Richter’s series definitely appears to be harmonious in that the photos are all in the same color scale and appear to have motion or blur to them, making it seem as though all of them could exist within the same moment. Though some are subjects and some are landscapes, they seem to take the viewer to an alternate world.
Richter is claiming in the interview clip that observing his art is no closer to the experience of reality than observing a photograph. At the heart of it, they are both just replications of what really happened, and each. is just intended to make the reader feel a piece of that reality. He is playing on the idea that we consider art more based in “realism” to be more “real,” and that photography is the most “realistic,” when in reality none of it is “real.” The only real part of any replication is the feeling it evokes, and Richter blurriness helps create a feeling of disconnect and fuzziness that would exist in a memory of the reality.
Part of the experience of Ulrike Meinhof’s life is that the public didn’t get to experience all of it. I think that we could interpret the blurriness of richter’s portraits to represent that missing information, but also to represent the complications of what she stood for in the collective conscience of German society. (Is that a jump?)