The Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser describes the dimensions of space and time as »inextricable«. Equally inextricable is the way in which fragmented real moments in time and space are combined with imaginary ones in Michael Michlmayr’s digital photography. The artist sometimes stages the meeting of these dimensions in a theatrical way, placing figures and architectural segments together in an apparently coincidental new setting. In doing so, the function of photography as averment seems to have disappeared completely, even though references to the extra-pictorial, real existence of urban spaces, people or parts of buildings do still exist in Michlmayr’s work.
FOTONOVIEMBRE 2009 brings together works in which Michlmayr positions people and buildings within an urban context in a supposedly coincidental way, at times arranges them geometrically, or else lines them up in horizontal and vertical strips. We look down from high up as if onto a street map, stand opposite a building, or are confronted with the (urban) experience of space from the ground.
In works such as La Place (2005) or Fußgänger (2005), Michlmayr presents a view of urban space from a bird’s eye perspective: in La Place (2005), the artist uses patterns on the ground and (groups of) passers-by to construct an imaginary urban space. Like an involuntary picture puzzle, some of the incidentally dispersed (pairs of) figures are repeated. It is not the passers-by who occupy the urban space, as was once the case in ›Vie de Flaneur‹; rather, the pieces of the puzzle are fused into an invisible montage by means of digital photography, just as Flusser established interconnectedness as a »characteristic of everything spatial« (Flusser). In Fußgänger, Michlmayr assembles intensified close-ups of his figures, fixing them in multiples in an upturned perspective, as if they were sliding down the wall. In doing so, the triangular outline of the shadows which the hurrying people draw after them produces a cinematographic perspective of bodies in motion.
Some of Michlmayr’s works, such as Skyline (2007) or Skyscraper (2008), evolve from architectural fragments. Using montage technique, he takes uniform individual motifs and then arranges in series or grids. The parts of buildings that he employs for this purpose at first seem to be anything but spectacular, and the people and objects are positioned in an ornamental fashion. In Skyline, the artist deliberately distorts the perspective, furthermore adding six storeys to the right and left (doubled), so that the pictorial aspect of the building could be extended arbitrarily. In Skyscraper, Michlmayr also multiplies the storeys, depicting them in an apparently endless way, in order to illustrate the architectural aspirations of the New York metropolis. Moreover, Michlmayr’s extension of size, form and colour to heterogeneous perspectives indicates in particular the delimitation of space in a world that is always in a state of dissolution.
»Nevertheless, the intersection of PHOTOGRAPHY and art [...] does not occur via PAINTING, but rather via the THEATRE«, writes the French philosopher Roland Barthes. Traces of theatrical production are to be seen in Michael Michlmayr’s Heldenplatz (2005), where multiple pedestrians pass from right to left and vice-versa like figures in a puppet theatre, in front of a brick wall reminiscent of a stage set. The people seem as if they are being pulled back and forth, parallel to each other, like paper figures on a string. Michlmayr’s scenographic vision of space can also be encountered in his work entitled Monument (2007). Like photographic theatre, the tourists in Schönbrunn appear in double roles as parallel images in different positions, while joggers run in between them like secondary figures.
As a result of the multiple presence of people and buildings, Michael Michlmayr’s art not only gives rise to scepticism about the truth content of the human impressions, but above all potential doubt about digital photography as a medium. As Barthes declared: »coincidence and enigma have taught me that PHOTOGRAPHY is an uncertain art«.
Claudia Marion Stemberger | artandtheory.net (© 2009)
translated by Peter Waugh