Monday, April 4, 2011

Jeff Wall's “Eviction struggle”

by: Gunter Heeg

Three elements: The scene of the eviction: a man catched by two policemen, who try to pull him out of his home and garden. His wife or lover is running to help him and to avoid the eviction.

The bystanders (4) in safe distance.

The landscape of a never ending suburb, overwhelming the scene.

The intermedia relation:

The scene does not look realistic or natural, it is a staged scene as we know it from theatre and paintings. Especially in old historical paintings there are conventional gestures to express deep and violent passions reaching to the abyss of what can not be expressed. The german theorist of art Aby Warburg called them the formula of pathos. The gestures of the persons in the scene quote some of this formulas, for instance the man between the policemen is a rough quote of the Laokoon in the famous classical sculpture. The hold up arms of the woman is a quote of the gesture of Maria Magdalena on pictures of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But the reason of these quotes is not to reanimate these old passions, they are allusions to what has disappeared from our life. That shows us the stiff and exaggerated performance of these gestures, reminding us of bad overacting actors may be in a daily soap. Once more you can find here the in between of a remembrance of absent passions and their funny returning in the attitudes of every day life.

The truth of the image or the reference

The french thinker of art Roland Barthes in the seventies of the last century wrote a famous book about photography, La chambre claire, in which he claimed the specific of the medium of photography would be the strict link between the photograph and its reference. For example the young woman on the old photograph in the moment before she is jumping into the sea is a reference of the photograph, which can not be removed. That’s the reason why photographs are taken for serious documents that tell us the very truth, how and what it was. In the times of digital photography of course the connection between the photograph and the object of reference has come loose, also a photograph could be fake before. Nevertheless till in our days a photograph is taken as a document of reality.

How does Jeff Wall work with the documentary appeal of the photograph? First: Looking at the scene the referents are not real persons but attitudes, posing. The true referent is the pose, the not authentic. Secondly: the method to shoot the pictures and treat the shots: Wall works very hard to stage a scene and then he takes some pictures of the scene and the surrounding. Afterwards he makes a montage, mechanically or digitally, but the montage can not be seen. So you get the impression of one whole coherent picture. This allows him to move the perspective. In “Eviction struggle” there seem to be two different perspectives. One from the outside, the right sight and from above running along the road, the other from down below, from the ground of the street running through the scene up to the landscape of the suburb. In an exhibition of Jeff Wall people are always running here and there to find out the right perspective. Actually there is no one, there is no safe position for the onlooker. He gets involved into the picture, get’s evicted from his own position and has to fight his own eviction struggle within and between the elements of the picture.