Detail: Café Bistro Hauptstadt, 2006, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 130 x 170 cm
In olden times it was the village community, church and pub included, nowadays it’s the omnipresent cyberworld, Blackberry and netcommunities included. The “global village”, predicted by Marshall McLuhan, installed itself faster than expected, and it has become the all-embracing western reality. Rebellion in the kind of ’’The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola” (a film by Jean-Luc Godard, 1965) with the RAF ¹, the SDS ² and Women’s Power against mummery and patriarchy has become a thing of the past. Kids today culture-cruise through virtual realities by Google-hack and Open Source. Nobody is potty, all are i-Poddy. Poona has ceased to be the earthly utopia, it has been superseded by the clone- addicts of the Raelites and Elohimites – see the bitterly disdainful settlement of accounts in Michael Houellebecq’s novel “Die Moglichkeit einer Insel” (La possibility d’une lie, 2005; The possibility of an Island). The present grasp on reality is a different one: The loss of tactile immediacy is being compensated through the electronic apparatus. Telematics is the name of the miraculous technique for omnipresence and ubiquity. The distance to habitual reality seduces Romer + Romer to libidinous performances of unification (see # 6). The computer-generated images point at their dpi-aesthetics of colour fields without outlines (see # 3-5). ’’What will hurt you, will heal you” is also valid in the digital age. An old myth tells about Telephus, king of Mysia, who was wounded by the spear of Achilles. The wound would not heal, and the asked the oracle, which gave the answer quoted above. According to the legend, Telephus asked Achilles to again stab his spear into the wound, and it closed. The technical media for generating images with their
endless variants of presentation “hurt” artists in their existence just as much as a precise stab with a spear. But the use of the image generating machines alone “heals the wound and generates something new. Advanced artists use and cunningly get in under the computers’ guard and create more than just highly paid teams of graphic designers and communication services. It is astonishing, but the new images (non contextual, non-conforming to the program) are, even today, being invented by autonomous artists. One could compare that to photography, which, about 100 years ago, made the accurately realistic painters redundant. At the same time, photography freed painting from the chore of realistic rendering, a radically new kind of painting became possible: abstract and autonomous painting. Photography had its trouble for nothing, it just was good for the rendering of visible reality. Old and New Media Anything classical is conventional comprising an agreed set of signs. Classicism appears to be a canon of reduction, essence, and synthetic rules. The forms constitute a classically simple arsenal of aesthetic conventions. In contrast to that, anything new and opposing adopts open structures, appears to be an amorphous assemblage. The new impulse of high gravity topples all that’s already wavering, tottering. Digital media with their medially generated and produced images attack the traditional canon. This means showing the red card to art produced by hand, with canvas, colour, and brush. But such a simple opposition doesn’t really help, it’s too easy. Anyone who sees the situation as a front war, will only please those who laugh, and the cynics. Digital images are in the lead as they are fast and simple, not because they show much imagination or innovation. Grown up with them, an artist will not retract to live in an apparatus-free paradise. Image machines like digital cameras, scanners, the internet, beamers and the like are possible starting points for an artistic production of images, they supersede sketches and designs made by hand. Only the heterodyne superimpositions of craft, and media by manufacture and by apparatus become interesting, and Römer + Römer produce compelling adaptations. Areas as Faces Every user is fascinated by the build-up of images on the computer screen. The electronically generated pictures come up step by step like in an artistic process. Every data parcel “throws” new layers on the screen as if by magic. Stencilled areas of colour appear, just as if there were an automated, speedy silkscreen-printer working inside. These areas/contours haven’t got a definitive assignment yet, remain amorphous and ambiguous. This leaves much to the all-embracing, everything seems to be related to everything. By and by contour evokes figures and objects – epiphany by apparatus. Römer + Römer work with computer-generated images. They set out from photographs they have taken, from their view of the world focussed by their interest. The starting point is the world they live in, which appears strange to them. The original image undergoes the first metamorphoses in the computer, but the process is stopped short of a reality of glamour. Römer + Römer oppose the aesthetics of high- gloss, the perfection of anaemic high-resolution rendition. The finished work in photography remains “the death mask of the concept” as Walter Benjamin put it in “Die Technik des Schriftstellers” (The Writer’s Technique).
Areas Instead of Lines
Römer + Römer leave the areas in ambiguity as to colours. The areas (or planes) “run” evenly coloured over different objects, unifying them, but not outlining them. They don’t define the objects’ separating isolation. The lack of outlines points to something beyond cultures. The rough appearance in pixels is an aesthetic provocation, comes in to being in the process of the making, comparable to Genesis (Genesis 1-2), before the first day, when everything was still unseparated. The original images are processed by computer, resulting in a digital design of an image. This serves as the starting point for a very much Old Master type of oil painting on canvas of the two “Meisterschüler” (master students)³ of the Dusseldorf academy of art. Implementation is not happening “mechanically” like in a computer, rather the points of transition are marked or areas unified by colour. Here we are confronted with the opposition to the high-resolution object photography of the Becher class at the Dusseldorf academy.⁴
Stains Instead of Lines
Around 1915, the German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin came to distinguish between classical and baroque art by the visual differentiation of linear and painterly concepts of the image: ”… seeing in stains [marks of colour] instead of lines, something we call painterly and this constitutes a marked difference between the 17th and the 16th Centuries.” This development of art, from the linear to the painterly, gradually lead to the depreciation of the line ”… as the visual axis and guide for the eye …in more general terms: understanding the objects by their tactile character … The plastic and continuous way of seeing isolates the objects, for the painterly eye they become unified.” The depreciation of the outline as a means of separation opens painterly possibilities: Depth instead of flatness, open forms instead of closed ones, multitude instead of singularity. Digital photography and painting combined enable Römer + Römer to abandon continuous rendition for a painterly art. We find a comparable position in the art of Franz Gertsch. Gertsch´s creation of a photographic raster of slides compares to Römer + Römer’s digitalised stains of pixel-areas, the painterly triumph over the enclosing and separating photographic raster.
Performances of Unification – Römer + Römer From 2003 Onwards
Any utopia promises a future beyond today. A better, more beautiful, a liberated life follows after earthly wanting. Artists are different, they make things real right on the spot, now, on this side. Römer + Römer personally demonstrate the unification of east and west: The artist Nina from Moscow and the artist Torsten from Aachen get to know each other at the Dusseldorf academy studying under the out-of-this-world artist Penck and live and work together as artists ever since. They also make others happy, perform erotic unification with happenings like “Blind Date in Paradise”. In 2003, the project “German-Russian-Cuddling-Performance” makes an ironic commentary on the fraternisation between the Russian President Putin and the then German President Rau (German-Russin Cultural Encounters). “The presence of Utopia” (Harald Szeemann) opposes ”a linear historic thinking” and hope for a hereafter. This was the reason for the ingenious curator of exhibitions to stage his comprehensive 1983 show ”Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk” (The inclination towards the Total Work of Art). It presented the multitude of artistic positions striving for totality, the combination of life and art. Artists from the Russian constructivists to Joseph Beuys symbolically demonstrated the global thought of One World. The manifold performances of Römer + Römer constitute the present reflection of this inclination; these actions in real life are matched by the unifying areas of colour in painting.
The Café Bistro Capital
The title of the show, “Café Bistro Hauptstadt” (Café Bistro Capital), points to a Turkish-German snack bar, and, at the same time, to the multi-cultural and desolately lonely megacity of Berlin. One senses ”a certain melancholy mood, not seldom to be observed in Berlin” as Römer + Römer wrote in an e-mail on this work, ’’the city is, in large parts, often empty. Two persons (the owner and a customer) in a snack bar, which is ironically decorated by the status of Berlin as the country’s capital. There isn’t any communication. The joint is neither a cafe nor a bistro, just as Berlin isn’t a true capital yet … In Berlin you find an abundant creativity for new names for public houses (Club der Visionare [The Visionaries’ Club], Neue Bohnen [New Beans], Vor Wien [Before Vienna], Café Jenseits [The Hereafter Cafe] … ) Looking at the snack bar we thought of a little homage to Edward Hopper. The title also alludes to the Café Quatre Gats by Picasso, the Caffe Greco by Guttuso or the Cafe Deutschland by Immendorff. But our picture is about a simple snack bar, a cafe bistro. A remark on the side: ‘Bistro’ is also a Russian word meaning ‘fast’.”
1 RAF: Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction), a German terrorist group of the 1970’s 2 SDS: ’’Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund”, an extreme left-wing German students organization of the 1960’s and ’70’s
3 The highest degree you can get studying art at an academy or art school
4 Bernd and Hilla Becher were the academic teachers of the “Struffsky” group of photographers (Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky)
Walter Benjamin: Die Technik des Schriftstellers in dreizehn Thesen, in: Einbahnstrasse, Frankfurt am Main 1969 Michel Houellebecq: Die Moglichkeit einer Insel, Cologne 2005 Harald Szeemann: Der Hang zum Oesamtkunstwerk, Kunsthaus Zurich, Aarau 1983 Heinrich Wolfflin, Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe. Das Problem der Stilentwicklung in der Neueren Kunst, Munich 1915 Telematik. NetzModerneNavigatoren, ed. by Jeannot Simmen, Cologne 2002
Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Enzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, 2. Reihe, 9. Halbband, Stichwort “Telephus”, Stuttgart 1934
Essay for the catalogue “Café Bistro Hauptstadt”, Gallery Michael Schultz, 2006
Translation: Charles G. Rump