Nacht in Karl Kutter, 2015, Oil on canvas, 50 x 100 cm
Almost only dark colors, lots of black, dark shimmering blue, in some places deep red and a few clusters of bright green, orange and white, all carefully applied on canvas with a brush. Oil on canvas, just as the most widely specified materials in the history of art.
On one of the canvases is a series of images, around which this text is centered: exactly these and many other colors are accurately assembled (see figure “Night in Karl Kutter”, Page 41). On closer inspection, there are also many shades and hues, but it’s striking how clearly separated the paint is applied on this and all the other canvases shown here. The closer you get to the pictures, the clearer it becomes that the innate quality of oil-on-canvas is reversed. Compared to other pigment bases, oil takes a long time to dry; this allows an artist to intervene and to add a touch of another color or to easily touch it up with a dab to the right or left, thus blending colors which were distinctly separated.
This is exactly what Römer + Römer do not do. The artist couple even makes a great effort to avoid merging one hue into another. The two artists have, for example, to allow large areas to dry long before they continue to work. They paint simultaneously on many canvases and continue until the right time of the natural drying process with their work on a given canvas and so secure the radical separation of colors.
During the past decade, the artists have explored and refined this, their very own technique; Römer + Römer, therefore, can now look back on more than 300 works that repeatedly vary their characteristic technique. They use a considerably limited range of colors, which reduces the millions of hues, for example, which a digital camera typically needs to separate all the information in an image into distinct color pixels, to significantly fewer colors. What remain are perhaps a few hundred hues. Even that sounds like a lot, but it results in the application to abrupt changes in hue and shade. At the same time, the technique results in that larger accumulations of paint at other points have exactly the same hue. All shades of black in the foreground of an image are often compressed into the same shade of black. In other images, their method of painting ends in an almost playful result when an irregularly shaped cloud-cutout is surrounded and is transformed and interlaced by swaths of paint. As the artists confirm, motifs in which larger monochrome fields inevitably occur – such as asphalt in a typical street view or a white ceiling in views of interior spaces, they are always quickly discarded. Often they will not even try for this.
Nowadays we see two-year old children playing with touch-sensitive displays; the viewer now has to ‘zoom out’ and removes himself from the image intellectually to recognize a motif in the thousands individual pixels. In the above-discussed image, with its predominantly black, red and blue dots, the eye has to look a long time to suddenly discern two figures in the foreground: a man on the right, a woman on the left, and they are facing each other. When the eye scans the painting’s background, it recognizes, within a sea of individual points in the horizontal center of the picture, a whole series of many, perhaps fifty, groupings, somewhat brighter points that appear as a number of people dancing. Gradually, orange, light green and white sections gather about something like lamps, headlights maybe, which radiate into the dark image area. If the eye is again focused on the two figures in the foreground, the situation seems clear: The woman drinks from a bottle, probably beer, and we have a complete picture dealing with a large crowd dancing and celebrating in the dark of the night.
The template for the image is derived, as with all other images in this publication, from a photograph that the artists made. They have the material, some of it as video, some of it digital photography, from the now legendary “Fusion Festival”, which takes place annually in the small Mecklenburg village of Lärz, a few kilometers from Lake Müritz. Since 1997, an independent cultural association has been organizing a music and cultural festival on the grounds of an abandoned military airfield; the first 600 to 800 techno fans came from the immediate surrounding area. Now, and annually, 60,000 – 70,000 festival goers make a pilgrimage to Lärz. For a few days a tent city can be seen on the edge of the festival area, whose population exceeds by far that of the resident villagers. For a few days it makes up a utopian community of the like-minded, who give themselves without regard to the real world to the pull of music and the collective noise. Again and again it is emphasized that the organizers have managed to maintain more than just a hint of the original, anti-commercial spirit in spite of the huge growth in popularity. For most visitors it is one of the most important reasons to come here.
What drives Römer + Römer, who in the last decade have been searching for motifs for their artistic project, to attend such a festival? Is it the absence of commercial sponsors? Is it techno music played by DJ Eule? Is it the utopian community in time of people so different social and cultural backgrounds on which the artists would like to participate by their images?
Every summer, from 2012 to 2015, Nina and Torsten Römer have visited the festival. Outwardly they cannot be distinguished from the other festival guests, apart from the fact that they, as most others are more passionately busy with their digital cameras than the others. They must have felt that they could once again find the type of images here, so particularly well-suited for their very special painting technique. They see crowds that were pressed together in a confined space. They observe situations by night and day; they find individuals in very unusual poses, surrounded by a colorful sea of colors. They photograph the crowd from above and so again and again create new backgrounds and compositions. Simply by visual impulses from the bizarre crowd, they have been able to expand their private photographic cosmos.
In order to describe the tone of the preliminary final chapter of this cosmos, which the artists have found at “fusion”, it seems necessary to look back at the images which have emerged in the last decade. In them you can see how the search for motifs in the immediate vicinity of artists began in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. The series with the title “Bistro Bagdad” is a striking example of this. Römer + Römer portray a colorful urban environment in which very different ethnic groups, in confined spaces, bring a neighborhood full of disconnects and contradictions. The motifs are strikingly non-composed and testify anyway in their played casualness naturally – or even more so – to the intense preceded scouting.
Just after that, the images suggest an even more conscious scouting for motifs. Römer + Römer travelled very deliberately to Korea and Japan, and years later to Rio de Janeiro, to search for sequels to their already begun compendium. During their trips they accumulated more than 6,000 individual photographs, a huge archive, from which they filtered images on the computer, which are then edited, trimmed and color-adjusted.
In Korea, the artists soon noticed that they would not find what they were looking for. The crowds were outwardly always uniform and visual contrasts and disconnects did not exist. What they knew from Kreuzberg they did not find there. In Japan, it was different. The youth culture of manga lovers and anime admirers was captivating with their brand new visual interface. Colourful, almost shimmering compositions that can be almost effortlessly translated into the very own technique of the artists were there the rule. Also at the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, colors, glitter and lights abound; still, for the artists, the scene was a challenge: The dancers on the floats live for and are burning to be photographed. The visual surface of the spectacle therefore corresponds to what the artists are looking for, but the intention behind it is completely different. Carnival is a festival of colors, which is only staged to be seen by thousands. The photographs, from which Römer + Römer, after returning to the studio, wanted to select templates for their pictures, aroused too much the impression of vacation photos, as they are made thousands of times in Rio every year. It was, therefore, not so easy to break out of the pattern of the predictable and staged pictures.
In the case of the “Fusion Festival” in Lärz, this problem seems to be suddenly solved. The Festival guests were very mixed, but they do not pose for anybody. And if they do so, there are poses that are designed to not to appear as such. There is a huge crowd, but it is not dressed monochrome. Even the background of the motives is almost never a large uniform area, but heterogeneous, colorful and mixed. To the searching eyes of the artists, it was possible to vary the frame and perspective on the visitors repeatedly and thereby to re-compose the resulting photographs. In this way, Römer + Römer managed to create their own visual cosmos which has its origin in this extraordinary techno-festival, yet is not a reflection of it. The resulted canvases have become a separate block within the artists’ current decade of work.
Römer + Römer switch effortlessly from a single canvas, in which a political banner stands in the center, rolled out suddenly during a spontaneous demonstration at the festival, to night shots, where small illuminated islands of magical lights were staged as if on a stage of coincidences. On another picture you can see a couple embracing in the middle of an empty field. As a spectator, you almost imagine the crowd inevitably absent at this moment, the crowd you know from the other works. To the change of motifs is joined an almost playful handling of formats. There are extremely high-formats in which the subject is laterally so severely shortened that there is an extreme compression. Other images have an almost exaggeratedly cinematic widescreen. Even oval screens appear in the series, which directs a highly-centric view of the action to the center.
In the “Fusion Festival” Römer + Römer have apparently found perfect material for their painting project. Until today. Tomorrow the scouting will probably begin all over again.
Translation: Michael Cullen