“Vision is as important as language in mediating social relations, and it is not reducible to language, to the “sign”, or to discourse.” (1) Landscape is not only the designation for the ‘world outside’ but always also for something that is defined through social use—a social use in which vision plays a dominant role. Landscape is thus not only a social covenant, a convention, but also a visual phenomenon, an aesthetic construction.(2)
From this perspective we might assert that landscape ‘as such’ does not exist, that it is continually yielded through cultural production, however not solely—or by no means primarily—through agriculture, urbanism and economics, but instead as a social formation, as a visual topography that follows social distribution. And if it is true that visual culture is ‘the visual construction of the social, not just the social construction of vision’ (3), then aesthetics and imagery, aesthetics and bodies, culture and imagery are directly interwoven. Or, even more radically, “the object is inconceivable beyond the forms of its visual presence” (4). So landscape would then be something that arises, or is at least designed, through a kind of performativity of the visual.
“Enacting Landscape”, the idea of restaging landscape, ties into this conception of landscape that is not always already there, but that is carried out, becoming permanently generated, actualised, and ultimately picturised, something that does not exist outside or in front of the image but that is first elicited through the images themselves. With this elicitation the boundaries between the documentation and staging of landscape become blurred; that is, between their representation and their engenderment through and with the aid of (photographic) action—landscape as something that is not merely visible, but as something that first becomes perceptible and imaginable through a kind of “use”, through a process of visualisation, and that arrives at this “staging” through different practices of visualising it.
The quest for traces that Sharon Ya’ari pursues in Israel can be interpreted as just such a staging. He has rephotographed many sites over the course of up to several years, thus documenting the processes of change that have passed through these places: archaeological excavations, a street corner, a picnic area, a ficus tree standing at the corner of a house. It is not historically significant events that fascinate Ya’ari, but instead the overlooked changes: a felled tree, a neglected plant, or flooded farmland. The idea here is to keep ‘in memory’ the changes impacting a country whose further development remains conflict-ridden and disputed. The diptychs and series that arise in the process allow a concept of landscape to unfold that is directly associated with this practice of chronicling and representing, with traces that usually elude our perception. When one is confronted with Ya’ari’s photographs, the immediate impression is that these landscapes and detailed landscape views would be inconceivable outside of their visual presence. However, in this form the sights and vistas are not common or familiar—on the contrary: ‘the more documentary, authentic, unfiltered, and unmanipulated an image is, the higher the cultural and psychological abstraction of what it “shows”.’ (6) Indeed, in the work of Sharon Ya’ari, the landscape surrounding us is not taken for granted; rather, it is something that must first be made visible, that emerges in these complex technocultural processes of visualisation.
In the work of Michael Höpfner, the concept of performativity seems to be most self-evident, with his photographs created during hiking expeditions lasting several weeks to remote geographical regions, like the highlands of Tibet. One might initially think that the reinvention of something would be most successful where the burden of one’s own culture feels the lightest: in distant places, far away, in a different culture, on a different continent, beyond the reaches of civilisation, where one might finally find something like unadulterated nature. But this utopian vision is radically refuted by Höpfner’s projects: in places where we would expect to find nature, there is instead a landscape evincing traces of industrialisation. What is more, a yearning for ‘the other’, ‘the natural’, for ‘the East’ as a place of longing similar to Karl May’s “wild Kurdistan” will be disappointed: an invention, a projection, a discourse. Höpfner’s method thus lies not in showing panoramic images of this landscape in a state of destruction (as an accusation or expression of sorrow), but rather in showing the discrepancy between expectation and the found material as visually engaging with this landscape.
Lie Down, Get Up, Walk On (2013–14) initially describes the practice itself: pausing, taking a picture, standing up, walking a few steps, taking another picture, then walking on. In an enlarged contact print we see a few such images, while the rest remains black, as if only marginal insight could be given about this landscape through which the artist frequently meanders for weeks on end, as if almost everything remained concealed to him. Landscape in Höpfner’s work arises from a performance, from walking, halting, taking pictures, walking on. In this sense the artist is showing us a very personal creation, one that rests on collective conceptions—from which he cannot escape—about how to contradict. So in Höpfner’s photographic work landscape is literally staged and re-enacted.
Landscapes or motifs associable with landscape are repeatedly found in Philip Gaißer’s work. Sometimes as multiply exposed silhouettes of a desert landscape with cacti, as in Tour d’Horizon (2013), then again as a conceptual model in Untitled (Ocean, Biosphere II) ( 2013), as a kind of road-movie still in One Is Passing While I Watching the Scene I (2013), or at the boundary between staging and documentation in Made by Cactus Tactical Supply (2013). ‘That is a characteristic of Philip Gaißer’s photography: for all their documentary-like objectivity, his pictures retain something puzzling; there is always a tipping moment or a directed ambivalence. That remains a constant, even when themes and subjects vary: besides landscape and architectural photographs and precisely illuminated arrangements in the style of studio photography, we also just find the atmospherically flitting snapshot or the open, stage-like setting.’ (7) As is the case in Ricarda Roggan’s work (see ‘Visual Paradigm’), when viewing Gaißer’s photographs the question of staging inevitably arises, even though the artist does not use interventions in front of the camera to direct his pictorial creation. Considering what is seen in his pictures, the beholder is often immersed in a feeling of improbability and artificiality. So in both cases, the artists allow the act of presentation as such to evolve. According to Jacques Rancière, the “newly visible” has very special qualities: “It does not make visible; it imposes presence.” But these works may also show that, outside of the forms of its visual presence and performance, reality—and thus also landscape—eludes definition.
(1) W. J. T. Mitchell: Das Leben der Bilder. Eine Theorie der visuellen Kultur. München 2008, S.(2) Vgl. Rainer Guldin: Politische Landschaften. Zum Verhältnis von Raum und nationaler Identität. Bielefeld 2014, S. 26. (3) W. J. T. Mitchell: Bildtheorien. Frankfurt 2008, S. 323. (4) Philippe Dubois: Plastizität und Film. Die Frage des Figuralen als Störzeichen. In: Oliver Fahle (Hg.): Störzeichen. Das Bild angesichts des Realen. Weimar 2003, S. 113–136, S. 118. (5) Tom Holert: Die Erscheinung des Dokumentarischen. In: Karin Gludovatz (Hg.): Auf den Spuren des Realen. Kunst und Dokumentarismus. Wien 2003, S. 43–64, S. 55. (6) Jens Asthoff in diesem Katalog. (7) Jacques Rancière: Politik der Bilder. Berlin 2005, S. 140.