In her latest photographic project Claudia Rogge deals with opulent table settings, which show the classic vanitas still lifes in a new light. The topics of immortality and mortality, beauty and decay, desire and sin, which Rogge impressively discussed in her former cycle of photographs entitled Ever After, are also a strong part of the latest series called Lost in Paradise.
Being covered with different liquids and materials such as wax, liquid glass and gelatine, the still lifes are running through a process of permanent transformation in their shape and texture. The various stages of each still life are captured on camera, so that every motive is revealed in its pure form as well as in its metamorphose and final decay. Using the medium of photography, the artist creates a real vanitas-banquet in a sort of photo collage, which is elaborately merged together of many fragments.
In the contemporary art scene, Claudia Rogge is an exceptional person. This is not only because she travelled through Europe alone, in a glass lorry, but because she presented naked men on their knees, bent forward and neatly stacked, to amazed passers-by in Brussels, Paris or Munich. Mass made into shape and a compact installation transportable for Europe. Art is brought to people. They are confronted with it so that they can only choose between continuing their way or stopping. Many did stop and were eager to talk to the artist. Authorities appeared reasonable, forgot laws and rules and proved themselves curious and ready to talk.
Her experience of how masses respond to masses has encouraged Claudia Rogge to create new works, photographs that clone people with the help of the computer. What is cloning? What is it not? The term of “cloning” is restricted to the doubling of a living being. It does not mean any manipulation of the genetic material of a cell (genetic engineering). Cloning and genetic engineering, two methods of biotechnology, are likely to be combined with each other in the future in order to copy living beings after they have been changed genetically.
It is the copying procedure on the computer that from the single portrait of a human produces a succession, a pattern, an accumulation of the same person in his or her never changing posture and never changing robe. The spectator feels its fascination immediately. Basically, its subject is the origin of abstraction and its consequences. This pointed version of the ornament, created by mass, is the consistent continuation of abstraction which modern art shows in various modes of presentation. As a man-made machine obeying man´s orders, the computer arranges bodies one after the other. In contrast to the computer, the human brain is able to assemble patterns out of rudimentary structures. An attribute of intuition or of imagination? Apparently, man feels an urgent need for patterns wherever he comes across ambiguity. What does the human perception mean with regard to the identification of patterns? Is our consciousness obsessed with patterns? And then, what would the breaking of patterns mean? These are the questions to come up when you look at the photographs. The individual quality that the pictures – primarily of people – seem to promise is subordinated to some seemingly banal purpose empty of content. Thus essence, authenticity, individuality are lost in the general idea, in the stylised and paramount ornament drowning the specific in the general.
Man himself turns into a pattern, into an ornament. At the same time there is the question of whether the conceptual classification is justified. Are they really patterns or ornaments? Might they not simply be masses or forms? It seems, however, that we can cope best with the conceptual term of pattern. Siegfried Karcauer introduced the term of “mass ornament” as a sociological category. In his survey “Die Verdrängung des Ornaments” (The Repression of the Ornament), Michael Müller refers to this idea. He writes: “Fascism developed the function of the mass ornament further and used it to oppress the masses. Its purpose was now (…) to give the masses their symbol of expression – of being it”(2). Claudia Rogge´s artistic work does not deal with so restricted a field like mass ideology. Yet, such an ideology makes it only too clear what will happen if the masses change into their own content and the individual is no longer relevant by his or her own right but only as part of a whole the contents and aims of which are not questioned anymore.
The “sense of the similar in the world”, says Walter Benjamin, has grown to such an extent that our perception is even able to filter it “out of the unique by means of reproduction” (3). And unique are all of Claudia Rogge´s protagonists. Every posture, every gesture, every robe is selected individually. Every photo is checked for its “cloning capacity” first. Only then will the computer do its job. The carefully chosen format sets limits for reproducibility. For this reason, her works are available in editions of three only, which makes them almost unique specimens. First responses were seen at the Arte Fiera, Bologna. Presented for the first time, the first edition was sold out immediately and a large exhibition deal in Italy was closed. But what is the fascinating thing about the back of a young woman with her hair pinned up? Is it the fascination of a style that is no longer meant to create individual details but to satisfy man´s desire to give himself up to the unique? We usually tend to avoid tackling issues directly; we prefer interpretation offered beforehand. In this way, we keep the sometimes disturbing reality of the world at a distance. According to Benjamin, “transitoriness and repeatability” are laid out in the interpretative reproduction of reality.
This is, however, exactly what enables us not to have to deal with reality. But, does Claudia Rogge want to interpret reality or is her view of duplication the aesthetic quality of the human body, naked or clothed? Playing with contrasts, with sharp distinctions between skin and robe, is also important to her. The results, often bizarre ones, make us grin to ourselves: how can the base of a male neck produce such a clear line of light in the picture? Why does the individual not disappear behind the individual? And why are we, once and again, attracted by those ears? The strong presence, the serious forcefulness are proof of the accuracy of Claudia Rogge´s procedure. In order to turn a picture into such patterns it has to be reduced to a “formal rule”. Claudia Rogge determines this “formal rule” by clearly defined postures and / or clothes, respectively nakedness.
The disposition of the persons depicted reminds spectators of their own movements and postures, which are no mere coincidences but basic dimensions of the sense of social direction. Postures and emotions correspond with each other. Analysing the body language is helpful for a better understanding of other people. The artist´s play with perception, which she carries on, apparently, with a light hand, shows her wish to bring things closer together in terms of space and time. “If you pause motionless”, says photographer Robert Doisneau, “people will look at you.” Perhaps this is what makes Claudia Rogge´s pictures so attractive. A motionlessness that repeats itself and thus appears to be movement within stillness. Brain storm before Iconoclasm. One should, perhaps, try and approach this art the way one would approach a still life. With Vermeer, says philosopher Paul Virilio, the living world corresponds with a still life. With Claudia Rogge it seems the same yet with a slight difference: she has raised the living world of mere illusion to the status of an art icon. Our age, in which the mass media are left to themselves, has accomplished the step from the necessary to the superfluous. Claudia Rogge turns our gaze back to the aesthetic glossy print with its mass of people returning to us the individual within us. So, everything in order – and in best order.
Everything in Order by Marianne Hoffmann
Claudia Rogge was born in 1968 in Düsseldorf and she studied from 1986 to 1992 Communication in Berlin and Essen.
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