ANDY HELLER | Ostersbaum

Opening: Friday, 08.01.2016, 7 pm

Exhibition: 09.01.–06.02.2016

Finissage: Saturday, 06.02.2016, 2 pm


On Andy Heller’s new work Ostersbaum                                                                                                         by BENEDIKT ERENZ


Repoussoir. We know it from classic paintings. A halfway-drawn curtain made of fabric and twigs, a cutaway arch or a wing of a door in the picture’s immediate foreground. The repoussoir functions as a painted or drawn frame behind the actual frame. It bestows depth on the motif, ushers the viewer into the picture, and directs their gaze. Great art it is. As it must not impose itself. A repoussoir must not step between picture and viewer, as it has to be a part of the picture, indicating a movement or dynamic element, even if made of stone or wood. Johannes Vermeer van Delft for instance, was a master of repoussoir.


This element however has taken on a life of its own in most of Andy Heller’s new photographs. As in her earlier works, in the Ostersbaum series, the photographer investigates space. Yet with this series, she’s less intrigued by grand vistas (as in räumen, 2005/2006) than by the allure of perspective.


The curtain of defoliated trees veils an urban landscape, yet remains transparent. It creates gaps and passages. The viewer is drawn into the motif, and, through the dual frame resulting from the chosen format, then again from the cunningly deployed repoussoir technique, the location attains a particular presence.


An uncanny presence.


These are places devoid of humans, but full of human life. All over we discover traces and signs of the everyday – cars, price boards, graffiti, curtains – but nowhere a soul. 


As in much of the work from Neue Sachlichkeit, the super-precise objectivity tips over into an uncanny concentration. Is this place a crime scene? Did something happen here? Is something about to happen here?


As in Heller’s 2011 work CA 94103, viewers become observers. Their gaze begins to search. Might they overlook something? Could there be a reality behind the photo spread out in Becher-style white light? What do the tree’s branches hide from us? Why does it seem as if the gaze must remain guarded?


Heller’s landscapes are of a radical banality. They are the world of Wuppertal suburbia; suburban streets devoid of “charm”, or “atmosphere”. They are motifs containing a perfect casualness, nowhere a point made. A void fills the image, apartment buildings from the fifties and sixties, when housing blocks were granted saddleback roofs still, gray architecture. In the background we see a gas station, an industrial yard, garages. Everything in pale winter colors: nondescript white, brown, black, a faded pink.


The perspective changes, viewed slightly from above, yet for the most part the Ostersbaum suite pictures precisely trace the topography and interrelated positioning of buildings, reduced oftentimes to wall surfaces. They become space protocols. Invisible paths may be inferred, and what life fills these spaces – or once filled them – can now be reconstructed. These photographs do not so much as capture anything, but rather bring something to a halt. Something has happened. Something is over. Something will perhaps start anew.


Heller’s works show the after in the present moment. They are contemporary history paintings without fable or heroes. The settings are deserted, but remain abandoned, yet still extant. History transforms into the present, and the present into history. Each moment of our life is and was, is known and forgotten.


We pull the curtain aside a bit, and close it again. No, we have not revealed or deciphered anything. And whether or not the world and life have a secret will continue to remain a secret.


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