"INSALTED BOOKS", "NEGATIVE MEMORY", "GROWTH RINGS" presented at ars avanti, Alte Handelsschule Leipzig, 2. - 17. 6. 2023
Exhibition on forms of knowledge production, storage and distribution. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the death of Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus. My work looked at analogue media for knowledge storage, their possible meaning and significance today.
Many thanks to Barbara Röhner from ars avanti and Moritz Jähnig from Verein Industriekultur Leipzig for organising the exhibition.
After a longer preoccupation with books in their function of preserving, ordering and generating knowledge as also problems of the statics and exclusivity of certain forms of representation of such I increasingly turn towards materiality and its origin. In the case of a book, it is wood and that of wood is the tree. A tree presents a living form or process of knowledge, a kind of materialistic learning, a dynamic development in dialogue with its environment. In the face of ecological crises this dialog is stressed and challenged.
What is the knowledge of a tree? What lesson can it teach us? What does its biography tell us? Growth rings in the horizontal profile of the trunk tell us a lot about its life, its location and climatic environmental conditions. It is a kind of fingerprint of the tree. However, these stories only become visible in the state of felling of the tree i.e. its death.
I photograph the cross-sections of a felled tree, either still fresh in the forest or already dried – marked by shrinkage and cracks –, and prepare a template by digital editing. True to scale, I manually create engravings of the cross-sections of a felled tree on acrylic glass. The manual process of engraving is for me at the same time a meditation about the tree, about growth, age, crisis, life and death.
The engraved acrylic panes are illuminated by the edges of the panes. The engraved marks refract the light passing through them and shine.
I created new book objects for the Brockhaus Conversation 4.0 exhibition. I still had an edition of the 15-volume Brockhaus that fell victim to my salting. By salting a book, I think about preservation of knowledge in an ambivalent way. A non-fiction book, like an encyclopedia, prepares and sorts knowledge. Contrary to the flux of the world, it fixes things and facts with a term, sorts and orders them. It rescues it from the stream of Lethe, from oblivion, and seeks a timeless availability. Salt as an agent of preservation, for example of food, deprives the microorganisms responsible for the process of decomposition and decay of the basis of life: water. Thus the moment of preservation is one that contradicts the processuality of life. It tries to preserve the form against its temporality. Also the aspect of the crystallization of salt is interesting in the consideration of knowledge formation. Crystallization is a physical process of hardening, which takes place with the formation and the growth of crystals. In a sense, one could also compare knowledge formation with this. However, through my act of salting the book becomes unusable. Rather, it appears as a rudiment or fossil of a past, corresponding in part to the current loss of value of printed encyclopedias.
I grew up with Meyer's New Encyclopedia from GDR times. I enjoyed flipping through the pages and reading the individual entries about famous people who made important discoveries, or inventions, about city, country, river, etc. An informed world of connections and explanations formed in me. In my adulthood, I compared some entries from Meyers Lexikon with those from Brockhaus and found differences, especially when it came to political content. I understood how contextual even supposedly objective knowledge can be. Nowadays, general encyclopedias and dictionaries seem to have had their day, replaced by digital knowledge media, such as Wikipedia or AI.
The negatives are from my personal and professional archive. I was faced with the question of what to do with my analog photo archive. I had scanned all the negatives and was about to throw them away. A short hesitation gave me reason to think about an alternative use. So I came up with the idea to sew the negatives together along their perforations. This gave me more time to look at the material and think not only about the content, but also about the medium and memory itself. A negative is an interesting moment in the development of the image - already emerging from the latent image, it still requires translation into a positive that corresponds to our common visual perception. It no longer has the hidden potence of the latent image, but neither does it yet have the distinctness of a positive. Thus it stands for me for the indistinct moments of remembering, which vaguely anticipates an event. I am fascinated by the moments of the potential and the various translations that inscribe themselves physically-chemically into a material carrier in analog photography. Digital photography in its seemingly instantaneous results lacks a physical-chemical mysticism ;), which made photography so interesting for me. Nostalgia of the darkroom.