Press information

Günther Selichar


Press preview
9.12.2022, 11 am

9.12.2022, 6 pm


Opening hours
Tue – Sun and bank holidays
10 am – 6 pm

Curated by
Reinhard Braun

Press Information

The first noticeable element of the exhibition SUB | TEXTE by Günther Selichar is found in vague words (“OBSERVING SYSTEMS,” “NOT HERE – THERE,” “PROFIL”) that can hardly be discerned against their gridded background. What observing systems might be at play here? What is located in a different place? Which profile is meant here?

All of the works belong to the series No Media Beyond This Point, created between 2019 and 2022. This title gives us an initial clue: it likely has to do with a boundary separating media from something else—our reality? But what might still exist there, beyond this boundary, let alone be depicted? In reality, the phrase originated from a totally different context. Selichar borrowed an image from a TV newscast showing a note hanging on a white fence with the words “No Media Beyond This Point.” Seen in the background are party tents and lots of people. What is strange about this is that the context remains murky; it could be a political or religious gathering, or the birthday party of a prominent figure. In any case, an area is defined that media representatives cannot approach, one that, in a certain sense, remains withdrawn from and inaccessible to the public. So this is a space in which decisions are made or, perhaps, everyday events play out, yet without one knowing in which way and through which processes, or even why these occasions are not allowed to be seen.

Indeed, this description equally applies to the deeply media-specific phenomena with which Günther Selichar has been engaging for many years now: we use media through surfaces, and we perceive them by looking at surfaces. But what “happens” behind these surfaces—what goes on there, which technological processes led to these surfaces, which legalities lie behind their functionality, what political and social decisions they are perhaps based on—(usually) remains inaccessible to us. The history of media technology, or of the mediatic, is a history essentially characterized by inaccessibility, omission, and exclusion. In a sense, one might assert that something invisible rests at the center of this history of visualization.

The words almost meld into the background because the letters have been greatly enlarged. Originally rendered in a smaller size on a screen, Selichar enlarged and photographed them with great technical effort, so that the display’s individual light-emitting pixels (red, green, blue) are visible as well. The message virtually blends with the information carrier. The diode layer is just a few micrometers deep, making it basically impossible to adjust the depth of field of a lens so precisely. The diodes can only be rendered by superimposing and editing numerous photographs. The method of capturing this visual data, which makes this “scientific” form of representation possible, originates in part from the insect research context, where a macrophotographic method is used to picture minute details. The resulting direct print on acrylic glass presents a detail view of a diode that cannot actually be depicted, let alone seen. Hence, the pictured texts reveal the representational principle of the screen itself, which in this case causes the text to disappear up close to the image surface, yet if one has found the “right” viewing position, that is, the “right” distance, then it is in fact legible after all.

This approach allows the physical and the metaphorical dimensions of mediatic representation to meet. For are not mass-media discourses unremittingly concerned with finding a personal viewing position or occupying one (currently, face recognition or selfies), and with needing to always place oneself in particular relation to the medium? But what defines this relationship? On which side of the mediatic demarcation are these SUB | TEXTE situated, which we can only decipher with difficulty? Or do Selichar’s images signify a way of describing this very boundary?

The second part of the exhibition awaits us in a darkened room and features twenty-seven frames, each holding four black-and-white photographs—it is the series called Nächtliches Realitätenbüro (Nocturnal Office for Realities), created between 1981 and 1983. Over an extended period, always at night, Selichar photographed all of the printed, moving-image, and electronic mass media accessible to him—television, cinema, posters, photocopies, video games, newspapers, magazines, books—and urban scenes to construct a copious tableau. The top two of the four photographs in each frame are images taken from a cinematic context, often showing subtitles that refer to a possible plot, while again referencing the already thematized relationship between text and image, information and information carrier. The bottom two photographs are taken from media-related contexts or scenes, sometimes alluding to their site of origin, such as cinema. The form of presentation—black passe-partouts, walls painted black—contrasts dramatically with the white cube exhibition space. This is reinforced by an additional layer of sound with excerpts from musical compositions, cinematic or television soundtracks, and nocturnal noise. This in turn emphasizes, or intervenes in, our relationship with the media images. They are not really shown for the purpose of interpretation, but rather to simultaneously exhibit the form of both their appropriation and reinterpretation.

It becomes quickly clear that some of the images contain found material, which gives rise to the question of originality and authenticity, and also of the way culture is conveyed through the visual worlds of media. Here, Selichar is navigating a realm that was tapped into during the late 1970s through the “Pictures Generation” in the United States, a group of artists that likewise dealt with the appropriation, the reinterpretation, and also the exposure of pictorial stereotypes propagated through the mass media.

Forty years elapsed between the series No Media Beyond This Point and Nächtliches Realitätenbüro. This stretch of time likewise saw the fundamental changes in media that, since the 1980s, have ushered many societies into today’s postindustrial and soon-to-be postmediatic or postsocial age. Though the 1980s may seem like a technological stone age from our perspective today, they indeed marked the beginning of an increasingly media-based and, later, digital era. “When images supplant texts, we experience, perceive, and value the world and ourselves differently . . . . And our behavior changes: it is no longer dramatic but embedded in fields of relationships. What is currently happening is a mutation of our experiences, perceptions, values, and modes of behavior, a mutation of our being-in-the-world” (Vilém Flusser).

With the launch of privatized television (in Austria, not until 2001!), the establishment of VHS (video home system), the introduction of the compact disc (CD) in 1983, and the release of Apple’s Mac(intosh) computer in 1984, the idea of a world mirrored by media came into being, a world only accessible to us through media, a “borrowed reality” of sorts. In using this term, Selichar makes reference to Arthur Schopenhauer, for whom the world (around the mid-nineteenth century), in a way, only existed because of our imagination. Such conceptions were fulfilled, as it were, 150 years later thanks to the media surfaces and media environments in which we have found ourselves immersed over the past forty years or so. °“In all corners of daily life we were suddenly confronted with media-related commodities that, due to rapid technological development, were continually being renewed, improved, enlarged, or even reduced and mobilized. Even the already existing media like television and cinema were technically overhauled and became more alike in terms of image format and aspect ratio, not least due to new utilization concepts . . .” (Günther Selichar).

Nächtliches Realitätenbüro engenders a space that we would today call “immersive,” a space in which we become absorbed, in which we are embedded—embedded in the aesthetics and the narratives of media. To this end, Selichar avails himself of various means: cutout, citation, and montage. The result ends up being a kind of critical reinterpretation, one that could even be described as détournement, in allusion to the Situationist International. The act of removing highly different visual contexts from their origins and resituating them, of coalescing and enriching them, causes the narratives, temptations, and stereotypical promises (most evident, of course, in advertising) of this imagery to collapse. The aesthetics and, most especially, the politics of representation (what and how something is presented for seeing) of these different media are subjected to a critical examination, that is, the media surfaces themselves are challenged. Nächtliches Realitätenbüro in its title remains ambivalent, as if it involved business dealings with reality (a place for bartering or a store?) in the dark, meaning in the uncanny or at least in secret. The work engenders a space in which retrospective questions become possible, questions of how these images came into being, of what can be found “behind” the pictures—which production processes, which technology, which opportunities for dissemination, but also which political or even ideological concepts, that is, which “SUB | TEXTE” have decisively influenced and determined their conditions of formation. “But techniques are not fetishes, they are unpredictable, not means, but mediators, are end and means in one; and therefore they weave together the fabric of which society is made” (Bruno Latour). The work of Günther Selichar entangles us in these challenging questions of how extensively we are involved in weaving this fabric—together with media, but also under their influence, while both complying and exercising a certain resistance. What do we know about this relationship? What is accessible to us, what remains hidden?

“Normally we always look only at the content being imparted while disregarding the technology making this content available to us,” explains Selichar. This is why he has spent many years concentrating his artistic-scientific practice on the very aspects of these devices that are usually not noticed, and that have led to countless technological gadgets populating our everyday lives in a totally “natural” way, becoming integrated into our social interactions. In the case of visual media, Selichar is interested in the preconditions necessary for images to even take form to begin with, in the programming that allows us to access the pictures in the first place, predefining them at the same time. A decisive phenomenon in this respect is clearly the monitor, the electronic display that still today fascinates the artist.

Although the two photographic series are separated by forty years, Nächtliches Realitätenbüro also explores that boundary described at the beginning: “No Media Beyond This Point” or, to phrase it differently, no access to whatever is found beyond this “point,” beyond this boundary, and, thus, to what happened behind these black-and-white photographs that has now allowed us to see them. After all, with his projects and also with this exhibition, Selichar is enabling us to experience this boundary, which—like the “fourth wall” in theater—would otherwise remain unnoticed or have to be masked so as to grant the spectacle a place in our own reality.

Reinhard Braun

The book Günther Selichar: Nocturnal Office for Real(i)ties (revisited). Subtexts on Working in and with Mass Media accompanies the exhibition, featuring parts of the artist book Nächtliches Rea­li­tätenbüro from 1984 and a conversation between Günther Selichar and the curator Reinhard Braun.

Parallel to the exhibition in Graz, the Museum der Mo­derne in Salzburg will be showing a comprehensive retrospective of the artist’s work titled Dominion of the Screens from November 26, 2022, to March 12, 2023.

Günther Selichar (b. 1960 in Linz, AT, lives and works in Vienna, AT) is a photographer, media artist, and theorist who has been working for more than thirty-five years on topics dealing with the mediation, technology, perception, and presentation of images. He studied art history and classical archaeology at the University of Salzburg (AT) and the Art Institute of Chicago (US). From 2007 to 2013, Selichar was a professor of media art at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig (DE), where he founded the class “Mass Media Research and Art in Public Media Space.” Moreover, he has served as a guest professor at national and international art schools. His solo exhibitions have been held most recently at Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Artmark Galerie, Vienna (both 2022), Fotografski Muzej, Maribor, as part of the Festival of Photography, Maribor (SI, 2021), and Fotogalerie Wien, Vienna (2020).


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