Küssende Mädchen, 2007, Oil on canvas, 100 x 130 cm
Collaboratively working in the boundless city of Berlin, the artist couple Römer+Römer, provide an opportunity to observe the modern city of today in their solo exhibition Römer + Römer: Sense of Life. The aesthetic experience of what they bluntly portray of the modern global society is separate from the question of how we should communicate within the multi-culturally experienced Europe. This exhibition studies the principal of pluralism lingering in the city culture, which Russian born artist Nina Römer and West German born Torsten Römer attempt to translate onto canvas. This couple throws up the message of the idea of life in the rapidly changing Berlin cityscape after the fall of the Berlin Wall with their unique process. The relationship between digital images and the canvas, the understanding of collaborative production and Standard of translation; the relationship of how the city culture and city space in a global society interact, and communicates, with the artist, and how everyday motive and reality focus canvas techniques, awaits. Römer+ Römers works portray the cultural diversity seen in a global society. This, of course, can easily be translated as a typical criticism against both the works and the period of plurism. To understand their work, however, there must be a break away from the pre-existing universal analytical methods of painting. Instead, there should be a focus on how the amalgamated results of digital images, from a global context, and painted images together correlate the artists’ collaboration; as an image visible in the canvas is united with bright and defining colors, but with no contours or outlines. The lack of a real sense of human touch is the reality of cityscape, and this is conveyed through the technique of the current reality captured by mechanical equipment. Their works do not portray shock, or a specific model, nor do they depict a Symbol or an allegory. They simply ‘dream of fulfilling a joint ownership with the person who shares [our] life and work. So, it is important to stay on the same page. And since unification needs to be portrayed, our feelings must become embedded together in the work’.¹ As such, they are portraying the potential of a collaborated life and production in this digital period through digital images.
Collaborative Work = Collaborative Living
Nina and Torsten are an artist couple who have been working together since 1998. It may sound reasonable for an artist couple to jointly exhibit time and space, however it is not common to see a joint exhibition of their collaborated work as we saw in Aachen, Germany and Moscow, Russia. Römer+ Römer go back to their time in Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany. This art academy was established by Neo – Expressionists such as Joseph Beuys and Nam-June Paik, and perhaps made their fateful meeting possible. It may have been a place that helped them to confront the wall of different social ideologies, as Torsten was educated in a democratic System and Nina in a socialist System. Even after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the East and the West kept their traditional ideologies and culture. Hence the continual focus of East and West in the city of Berlin may have been the driving force of their collaboration.
For them, the difference in lifestyle due t democratic and socialist Systems may have identity. However, for artists, the different Interpretation of art history, and its traces in the democratic and socialist history, may have been considered as confrontational.
Even Penck and Immendorff, professors of Römer+Römer, noted that if art accepts the ideas of the canvas as a new approach, Römer+Römer’s works would represent the overcoming of remnants and boundaries of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Further, Penck and Immendorff’s interest in collaborative work was expressed through words and images that represented the reality of the divided state in 1979 before the unification. As a response, Römer+Römer planned the German-Russian Kissing Performance performed on the 2nd of November, 2003 at 10pm, capturing the scene that connected Moscow and Berlin, and created a 150 meter long mural Underground White Birch Forest.
The collaborative work of Römer+Römer seen today belongs to the tradition of German Modern Art. The members of the group ‘Die Brücke (The Bridge)’ including Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckei, Karl Schmitt-Rotluff, Max Pechstein, Otto Müller worked together in Dresden and Berlin, and were actively opposed to the corrupted culture which surrounded their communal life.
Their public collaboration became a group that protected the origin of creativity in the face of a period controlled by war and industry. This in turn became a strength for the nearly destroyed freedom of creativity and from it stemmed Expressionism. If the period demanded a collaborative lifestyle and artworks, Neo-Expressionism led German artists to the international stage.
Also, if Sigma Polke, Anselm Kiefer, and Markus Lüpertz embodied the political division of the East and the West in the History of Art, Baselitz, Penck and Immendorff would have expressed the reality of the divided state of Germany on canvas. As a result, Expressionism was resurrected and the group became a pictorial misfortune-the ‘Heidegger’.
Römer+Römer’s collaborative work brings many questions. Their consistent joint images and projects since 1999 question where in German Expressionism they belong to, and also creates a suspicion on what may have been the subject of the international dispute – between German and American critics – about the first generation of Neo-Expressionists who controlled the world art stage in the 1970- 80s. And most importantly, the reason as to the exclusion of any dispute, suspicion and question amongst the second generation of Neo – Expressionists who are focused in Berlin.
Their continuous group process of choosing thousands of photos through open debate about concepts throughout their collaborative work process will position them in Germany’s traditional Neo-Expressionism movement. Additionally, this history will also bring forth a new bürden to them. This may be hard, but it is the driving force of their creativity and also their valuable subject.
Digital Medium = Canvas Medium
Römer+ Römers works are a combination of the digital and canvas medium. They take images of the everyday lives of city goers with their digital camera and manipulate them digitally, making use of technology as the foundation of their collaborative production.
They state the use of ‘Digital photography media, like newspapers and the internet, with individual use, such as individual digital photography, changed the world of images. […] We would like to question the problem of the world of images from the digital generation’s point of view.’² To this end, they manipulate the informative image that has been stored digitally and thus is bound to be pixelated. In this, they take caution using colors in order to not be too mechanical or cold. The complete work is a collaboration of digital photography, which is the central image production system these days and form of traditional operation.
They seek their position as artists by questioning the position of such historical production methods as analogue photography and film, video, and silk screen, whilst seeking for a purpose towards today’s focus of image development in cell phones, digital cameras, scanners and computers. Their work is not artificially produced nor does it use a model, but rather represents a scene seen through the eyes of a citysider through the scent of color.
Their works expose the digital camera’s position, angle and distance without filtration. On the other hand, the image on the canvas portrays layers of colors with no sheen. The every day image captured by the camera is translated through the canvas. The canvas uses the photo, the photo is changed to a painting, and the camera equally deserves to be part of the production. If construction, situation and scenes are a part of the camera’s result, outline and contour are the aesthetics of the indefinite barrier of citygoers and the cityscape.
As a result, the digital camera is not only a proof as the principal medium. The artist is able to question what may be the message of the use of a mechanical image on canvas during the work process, and what may be the potential of digital image production in art. This concept, and the beauty of this phenomenon, may represents foundation of the reality of the reversion back to the visual concept, and is free from the search of a motive for an image production.
This can be compared to Gerhard Richter who translates a normal event or a phenomenon without any manipulation by using multiple photography prints and pop art, the main difference is the lack of contours and outlines of color surfaces. In modern and contemporary art history, the fusion of painting and photography is continuing with the amalgamation of traditional plane paintings with digital image development through a technical process. This potential certainly distinguishes it from Pop Art and Richter.
Their works are mainly composed of pixelated characters and a city scape. The overall image is not clear. If you were to question what may have been the subject of Richter s vague screens, perhaps it is sensible to question the process involved to create canvases covered with colors, and hence taps into a new potential with regards to the relationship between the image and photography.
This is an illustrative image production method and also Römer + Römer’s agony to escape the traditional illustration method of using a canvas, brush and paint to draw age. If the lightly painted canvas and images with no contour or outlines follow the mechanical process, recoating before it dries is a pixelation painting method that goes beyond an individual artist s style, and becomes the mechanical image creating method. The mechanical creation and illustrating production became the source of aesthetic stimulation. Whilst the color of the characters and surroundings are unified and layers of colors echo out, the illustration deviates from the traditional method. Digital images are reconstructed as portrayed in the overall composition. The photography motive created by pixelation became a part of the mechanical image production process. The picture deviates from the traditional restraints of the photography motive. It is unified by colors, and dotted in various colors to portray the artist’s taste. And the illustrative image production and technical image production interact with one another to derail the Post-Impressionists’ color study. The following Jeannot Simmen critique is quite persuasive; “The objects’ obscure boundaries result from the loss of outlines. The pixilated picture image is the core reason of artistic stimulation and it comes from the production process of the picture.”³
Römer+Römer’s image production method provides various perspectives. They have a place in history of the fusion of photography and painting, combining realistic images and photographic images. This demand comes from the possibility of digital images and illustrative images encountering the traditional process and mechanical medium’s hyper process. It is a general concept for a digital image to be processed in similar ways as artwork. On the other hand, the everyday cityscape translated into the scent of colors is the beauty of art. The reality, shot by a camera, is comprehended as an illustration medium that passes down the realistic illustration from Berlin, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Gerhard Richter of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, and Thomas Ruff. If the tradition of Berlin and Dusseldorf realized the ‘illustrative reality = digital image’ approach, there is the question of how the ‘pixels = traditional stain’ approach will stand in the combination of illustration and photography. This subject will be embodied if the couple visually co-produces the relation of illustrative reality and mechanical reality. Although it will be a long journey, their unique aesthetic experience will allow them to do so.
Everyday Images = Illustrative Everyday Life
Römer+Römer’s illustrated images are based on digital camera pictures of everyday motives. If the motive of photography is to convey the reality of the moment instead of the ideology, then earnest question of the content, the origin of the creation form, becomes an illustrated image. The present with no specific individuals or shocking incident-that moment comes alive on the screen through methods of painting. Such digital images contrast from photographs in the media in the sense that it is the world which the producer confronts. The reality they confront becomes a stepping stone for separation from the traditional German expressionism and the Berlin’s traditional realism. Their motto- Think global, act local”4-stems out from the idea of freeing themselves from the history which molded egos, to move towards the core of residence and creation-a global society.
The artist couple displays 12 new paintings in 2007, at Gallery HYUNDAI. In this exhibition will be As Butterfly. Walking in the middle of Berlin nude, ? Sense of Life !: Young people hiding away from the scorching sun in a forest and enjoying their youth, Kissing Girls: Affectionate homosexuals at the yearly techno party in the heart of Berlin, Kiss in Madrid: A couple deeply in love in Madrid, Spain.
In front of Bateau Ivre pictures young people of the left wing leisurely enjoying lunch in the shade of a tree, as if to prove to us that Berlin has a diverse culture in it. Next to it are City Pirate, a young man walking in the center of the capital of Germany, demonstrating , and a piece with the writing “I Don’t Believe You Guys clearly visible for the audience in I Don’t Believe You Guys.
Just like the diversity of language reflected in the title of each piece, the works of Römer+Römer expose the diverse sights of the city of Berlin to us, with no means of filtering. The bakery in Berlin in Salut Bakery and the sight of people having a meal in a Turkish restaurant with the flags of all nations to welcome the World Cup games in Hasir Restaurant during the World Cup, a group of people of different nationalities in one pool in Encounter in the Prinzenbad and the attempt to cool down the heat of the city by spraying water as shown in Water-jet in front of Pamukkale-Spring, are all common sights in the city.
The scenery of this city-what the two artists call “interesting Amalgam” – could be judged as something positive or negative. What is important, however, is the sight of this very moment in the present, which catches their attention. The cityscape created by the interaction and clashes of different cultures – their point of interest – can be verified in this exhibition.
This diverse way of life and culture is enough to serve as the source of energy for the artists’ creative activity for delivering what is not a mere replica of everyday city life but the pure joy in creation. The cityscape they see before making judgments becomes visible on the screen and the ordinary city life and paintings become the source of creation. Hence, the motto ‘Life is art, and action is a work of art’ comes alive in color and image on their canvas.
The digital image translated to paintings reminds one of an ordinary scene of a European city. The cityscape where the wave of globalization is absorbed the fastest emerges not as a merely engulfed painting, but a reality, as it is thoroughly read by the eyes of the audience.
If the tense relation between artistic values and productivity was pursued by the usage of silk-screen in pop art, one could say – in a global context – the scene of the city is translated through mechanical methods to be read by the cultural life and paintings. Pop Art had brought up the question of whether it is possible to create an ego of an ordinary person in the pop culture. Römer + Römer take another step from there by changing the role of an observer to active participant in the global culture in the city-by being proactive in the practice of beauty. The notion of city culture closely interacting with the life of the community and the idea of global culture becoming art itself is already quite far from the industrial methods of art in Pop Art. Naturally, the life in the city represents international culture today, and the present becomes the standard of analyzing the image of an art piece. As the present is put into a method of creating a painted image from the mechanical process, these art works are international. They do not distinguish the agenda af an artist and the route n ordinary person, but instead mix the two in one, as the source of their creation and the root of their works, to argue that “what is global is art and local action is the of art. Their argument is legitimate. Therefore, the standard of analysis is if the global culture, and the method of image-creation fits the global culture adequately.
Römer + Römer visualize the global culture by merging graphic media and the digital image. The absence of contours and the outline points out the coexistence of Russia and Germany, Asia and Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Turkey and the Arabic culture. This is the reality of Berlin-where different cultures coexist, but not with extreme caution or conflict. The process of transforming digital images to graphics acts as a very appropriate method to expose the city, where diverse cultures interact and become more exposed to globalization.
The reality in art and the reality of life in the city leads a discussion while keeping a bit of tension in it. This would well be the sweet victory of the Romer+ Romer, who had seen through the fact that the generalization of ordinary life had been read by the system of mass production and creation of image. The source of creation of this couple who cooperate for their works has now materialized right at this moment, making global culture the root of their artwork. And the life in the city has emerged to the surface of the international art community.
The works by Römer + Römer displayed in their solo exhibition Römer + Römer: Sense of Life at Gallery HYUNDAI, Seoul, secure the relation of image and an international city in the history and the tradition of Germany, as well as in graphics, photography, and the global community. This exhibition makes one concede to the fact that an image created through cooperation now stands as the standard of understanding the history of a region, and that this is still continuing. Also, one can recognize that the relation between pictures and graphics sprouting from modern art has made the logic ‘pixels on a digital camera = the spots’ a new possibility. As these artists are observers of global culture and they materialize the source of their creation by co-creation, one may wonder how Seoul today would come across to them. And a question is raised, what is the role and possibilities of artistic experience brought by the global culture in a city and the city-culture in globalization in this exhibition? A scene of a city, with no one special in it, and the scenery of no specific importance-but one that holds the present and the past within is visualized. This scenery approaches the audience with the question of whom the creator is and up to which point is the artist’s creation.
1. An extraction from an email interview with the writer, May 26, 2007
2. An extraction from an email interview with the writer, May 26, 2007
3. Exhibition Catalogue, Jeannot Simmen, Römer+ Römer, Cafe-Bistro-Hauptstadt, Galerie Michael Schultz, 2006 4. An extraction from an email interview with the writer, May 26, 2007
Essay for the catalogue “Sense of Life”, HYUNDAI Gallery , 2007
Translation: Jenny Seong Eun Lee, Youngwon Lydia Kim