Günther Holler-Schuster

Nowadays, when we talk about painting, we know that it always carries with it an element of sentimentality, due to its historicity. In both its most radical expression, abstraction, as well as in its relationship to reality, painting seems to have been formulated to the nth degree, and thus no longer seems to be absolutely necessary. The process of abstraction is a 20th century phenomenon, and is therefore a closed matter. Material development has likewise been fully accomplished. By now, almost all possible materials have been used in painting. Photography, film and com­puter-enhanced image-formation media have now completely taken over the achievements that painting still enjoyed in the 19th century. Like painting, photography is now beginning to have decorative and sentimental effects. A point seems to have been reached, whereby painting and photography cannot be spoken of as fundamentally different disciplines. Rather we rather speak of pictures; of visual organisation. Pictures, irrespective of their origin or production technique, are the basis for new pictures. The history of painting has embedded itself into our visual consciousness, as have various pictures from the fields of the electronic media, film and photography. Artists as well as audiences converge on the visual, thanks to this instrument. The fact that painting has little to do with reality is well known. Kandinsky impressively describes this depiction of reality in his book „Über das Geistige in der Kunst” [1911/1912] [trans.: “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”]. Face-to-face with Monet’s “Haystack”, he saw a picture for the first time. “I experienced a dull feeling that the subject matter of this picture was missing. […] It was all unclear to me and I could not draw simple conclusions from this experience. […] Unconsciously, the subject matter was also, however, discredited as an inevitable element of the picture. [1] The result was the dissolution of subject ­matter in painting. For us, more familiar pictures than Monet’s „Haystack“ are those from the mass media. The latest instances [war in Iraq, Tsunami, youth riots in Paris] make it plain to see that these are also examples of a lack of subject ­matter. We see pictures which adhere to aesthetic criteria, rather than ones of ­content. The pictorial aestheticism of these accounts of catastrophes and violence appeals to our conceptions of beauty, and not to our consternation in the face of these events. The caption to the picture gives us an explanation. Only now do these pictures – which otherwise remind us more of the cinema – gain documentary ­value. “The catalogue informed me that it was a haystack.” [2] Thus the avant-garde pathos, present in photography – in relation to painting – until the 1970s, also ­dissolved. Photography not only took over the illustrative functions of painting, but also – with its most sober implementation, reportage – forfeited its autonomy and became decorative. Many present-day pictures, such as those taken of wars, can be defined at very “painted”. Christine Weber’s work seems to apply itself to this point exactly. In her painted pictures, which she takes from newspapers, magazines and famous films, she shows us scenes which we think we know. However, we are irritated. The original content has been removed, and new content formed. The fact that the girl is from the film “Kill Bill”, or that the bodies stacked on top of each other are ­footballers celebrating a goal, is secondary. Ultimately, it is a matter of a picture, not of the documentation of an event. This assertion can still be made in connection with pictures from the mass media, although in the case of the latter, it is not a matter of pictures. We are reminded of Magritte’s famous picture “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, in which the question is posed as to whether painting is relegated to the visible part which encloses it, or if painting creates something invisible which is equivalent to it. Thus the following is true: „This is not the girl from the film ‚Kill Bill‘“ or „This is not a group of footballers celebrating a goal“. Foucault declares that, for Magritte’s picture, similarity and affirmation cannot be separated. He takes us back to Kandinsky, whom he credits with this breakthrough regarding this principle: „Both the similarity and the bond of representation are displaced by the ever stronger affirmation of those lines and colours which Kandinsky described as „things“ – just like the church, the bridge, the knight with his bow. Naked affirmation, unsupported by any similarity; an affirmation which when asked „What is it?“, can resort only to the gesture which it created: ‚improvisation‘, ‚composition‘.“ [3]

Christine Weber does not paint abstract pictures, though; at least not in the sense that Kandinsky did. Thanks to her discrediting of the subject, whereby she paints and does not, for example, photograph, she reaches a point which can be related to the term ‚abstraction‘. Thus on the one hand we have Monet’s „Haystack“, and on the other, aestheticised documentary photographs from the mass media. Boris Groys considers the „[...] slow transition from painted picture to photographic picture [to be] the real event in 20th century Art.“ [4] The photographic picture however seems to be being absorbed by painting once again. Regarding Groys, it could be said that painting only has a chance of survival if it presents itself as a mimicry of photography. [5] There is a definite impression that one cannot live without the other any more. In Christine Weber’s work, this dovetailing finds clear expression. Her artwork offers us a very dense programme. She alludes to the problem which we are confronted with when face-to-face with almost all pictures: what do we want to see?

[1] Wassily Kandinsky, „Über das Geistige in der Kunst – insbesondere
in der Malerei“, new revised edition, Bern 2004, p.13 [2] Kandinsky,
I.c. [3]Michel Foucault, „Dies ist keine Pfeife“, translated by
Walter Seitter, Munich 1983, p.27 [4]Boris Groys, “Das Versprechen
der Photographie“, in: “Topologie der Kunst“ [ed.] Michael Krüger,
Munich 2003, p.118 [5] Boris Groys, I.c.