Artists: Navid Nuur, Franz Erhard Walther
In the exhibition Short term stability two artistic positions confront one another, which both fundamentally use the body and its action in space as basis of aesthetic exploration. Also inherent to the works of Navid Nuur and Franz Erhard Walther is a reflection on the gaze. Building on the exhibitions Asymmetrical focus (2009) and Subsequent formation (2011), Short term stability explores the question of the constitution of space in relation to a given dispositive of the gaze, but expands this topic to include the dimension of a bodily, kinesthetic action. The subject is the focus of the investigation, but it is also put to the test and called into question. The artists subvert the regimes of the gaze and the body—either in a filmic-performative manner (Nuur) or a spatial and participatory one (Walther)—which conceive the subject as the sole center of perception and as the ideological center of an authorial “way of world making” (Goodman). In contrast, a process of seeing based on kinesthetic experience and inextricably linked with the bodily action of the viewer is explored in interaction with the medial apparatus (in the work of Nuur) and the dispositive of the gaze and physical action (in the work of Walther). Creating a choreography for the body, the respective media—the camera in the case of Nuur and the spatial dispositive in the case of Walther—function as an interface of the image/gaze and the body/subject, thereby consistently mirroring social and socio-cultural conditions.
Within the context of the exhibition Navid Nuur’s work seems to pose an opposition to that of Franz Erhard Walther, on the one hand in terms of the apparently documentary visual language in Nuur’s video, on the other in terms of content, since Nuur’s work explicitly considers and reflects on the medialization of the gaze. From this perspective Ausdehnung mit Zentrum (Expansion with Center) by Franz Erhard Walther has a “pre-medial” point of departure, at least at first glance and if one (still) defines the concept of media in technological terms. The ostensible counterpoint that Walther’s work forms to Nuur’s reflection of a medially defined notion of reality through an interest in issues of visual surveillance and control can be explained by the varying contexts and periods in which the works emerged. The two works are separated by a period of over twenty years. Thus a window of time opens up between the two works, which calls into question the idea of a media- and technology-based concept of progress. The contradictions between the two works, both in regard to their staging and context, would thus be all too easily explained. In other words, the juxtaposition of a pre-medial with a media-reflexive work initially forms a contradiction, unless one uses the term “media” also in reference to the body—in space—so that it is ultimately understood as the actual media of the works.
Navid Nuur’s aesthetic practice is—and herein lies a significant affinity with that of Franz Erhard Walther—not (or, no longer) linked to notions of the art object and singular work. In this point one can identify an association with the once revolutionary and new concept of the artwork, which Walther postulated and developed in the 1960s: the work is constituted in a spatial and relational manner, reflective of the given context. It is formed only in the process through which it is perceived, instead of suggesting an object-bound, essentialist existence.
The starting points and objects of observation in Navid Nuur’s works are often everyday and situation-based phenomena and circumstances. Certain constants in his aesthetic strategy include the open quality of his works, the emphasis on the aesthetic processes of production and, to an even greater extent, on reception as well as the ephemeralization of perception through a poetically intoned metaphorical and formal language. Nuur creates observational and perceptual situations that are often in a state of change, even if such change is only noticeable to a liminal extent, as in the work shown. Such situations thus facilitate a reflection on the standpoint of the viewer, on the one hand, and the context of perception/observation of the work, on the other. In this sense Nuur does not create installations or documentations of installation-like or performative settings; instead he generates tenuous, temporary, and variable perceptual situations, which themselves indicate the instability of perceptual process and enable viewers to become aware of their own aesthetic capacity.
The three-part projection When doubt turns into destiny (1993-2011) shows a number of filmic shots and sequences, in which the artist attempts to outwit the sensor of the kind of ordinary motion detectors found in back alleys and factory yards, that is in urban non-spaces. He moves so slowly that the detectors are just barely kept from responding, that he just barely avoids turning on the light. As a result, one sees almost nothing; the artist moves through the darkness almost imperceptibly, until at one point he is caught in a frozen position by a light activated by a motion detector. In three simultaneously presented and looped film sequences the viewer is confronted with a kind of animated motionlessness. Nuur acts out an extreme slowdown and restraint in his movements, an anti-performance designated for the given regime of gazes. In these series of film images Nuur creates a portrait of urban non-spaces and demiworlds, which—omnipresent to the point of being banal—oscillate between a conventional and medially determined reality, sites that imperceptibly but definitively contribute to the artist’s actions and movements in space.
As one watches the artist in his “suspended” motion, or simulated slow-motion, one’s mental pre-image, perceptual image, and post-image, that is the past and present, begin to merge. This temporal converges creates a paradoxical observational situation: cause and action as well as action and effect end up in a kind of feedback situation, in which both linear causality does not apply, and observation does not function purely as an instrument of monitoring and control. By strictly maintaining a type of movement that subverts the system, Nuur is able to make the observational dispositive itself observable. In doing so he neither negates nor parodies it, but makes it visible and questionable in its systemic and social function.
In the 1960s Franz Erhard Walther developed a notion of the work of art that was no longer limited to the object or the phenomenology of its appearance and that did not attempt to track down some sort of essence of its being. Instead, Walther’s interest was focused on the process of perception and the resulting possible modes of action around or with the object, which thereby shifted from being an object that was looked at and contemplated to being an initiator of spatial and social action. In the exhibition context he presented his works in so-called “storage form,” that is without function, folded up, stacked. Sometimes he expanded upon the presentation through demonstrations of the work, which showed the inherent potential uses and applications of the work in space, without giving strict instructions or designating such demonstrations as absolute “directions for use.” Only in action (or the enactment of the work) does the notion of the work unfold. In its state of storage Walther’s work thus evokes potential actions and intersubjective constellations. For example, one could try to use the spatial arrangement in situ or imagine it in public space. The stipulations on the part of the artist are consistently left open; only the sculptural arrangement and constellation sets kinesthetic and action-inspiring guidelines.
The focus thereby shifts away from the static object and the perception thereof, towards the perceiving actor and his or her action. Even if Walther’s works are always entail a process-oriented and performative dimension, they do not inherently contain something actionistic or interactive and participatory. Instead, with his sculptural installations Walther opens up a potential space for kinesthetic action; bodily experience, sensory perception, and imagination are inextricably joined and form a context that is always formed in the given situation, in situ, and that can lead to different forms of action or active processes on the part of each individual viewer. Without perceptual action there is no work—the viewer thus becomes the author of the work in part. Walther’s work thus always remain incomplete. Instead of a contemplative dimension they have a “real aesthetic” one, which unfolds through action. His works are not self-referential and certainly not tautological. Nor are they ostensibly minimalistic; they are essentially context-based and inspire viewers to reflect on their own perceptual processes in relation to social norms and orders, with the notion of the work of art itself also representing such an order/category.
The respective formal languages of Navid Nuur and Franz Erhard Walther are not employed to create a poetic staging of absence and intermediary spaces, of the invisible and ephemeral. Instead, action, process, and sequence are immanent to an emphatically phenomenological form of perception. The work is only fully consummated in the process of realization on the part of the viewer. Neither in Nuur nor Walther’s practice do the work and viewer pose a dichotomy. Instead they form a reciprocal relationship that, however, does not lead into a participatory act, let alone a functional form of “use.” In both positions the regime of the gaze
becomes legible as a socially determined pattern of order and regulation, the grammar of which is constantly changing and shifting. It holds true that there is no perception without the perceptual act of the subject; but equally valid is that there is no perception without the coding of the gaze by the dispositive.