In Focus

Lothar Baumgarten: Manipulated Reality and Materialised Moments

This [25-foot] slide-projection piece, 187 color images projected at varying intervals with a sound track, was entirely photographed and recorded in the Rhine river swamps on the periphery of the towns of Düsseldorf and Cologne from 1968 to 1976. This material also structured the storyboard for the 16mm film Der Ursprung der Nacht (Amazonas-Kosmos) 1973-77 (Origin of the Night [Amazon Cosmos] 1973-77). Natural sounds from the surroundings are manipulated and mixed into a dense symphonic modulation of up to sixteen layers to achieve a seductive phonic environment of tropical origin.

The parcours of the 187 images, which describes the life cycle of one day, contains a number of ephemeral sculptures from the same period, realized mostly outdoors. Their spontaneous and improvised presence often moved them into the neighborhood of a gesture, but kept them alive only for a moment. A dialectical discourse about nature and culture takes place within the refuse, objects of daily life in a toxic wasteland of suburban wetland near two river-towns on the Rhine. These sculptures were realized by manipulating a given context to achieve a construct with an only temporary presence. They are transmutable elements, placed to interact and merge with the habitat around them, to achieve a momentum within a manipulated new reality. Their appearance is discrete; they often seem to almost not exist.

The consideration of the context is essential in every placement. Their time-limited presence requires a precise balance of all the materials involved to become a crosswalk, an interval in time. There is an imaginative play about their mutable reality: there is a world of enigmatic qualities that emanates from these interventions. Their materials are most often of organic origin: a feather, a banana leaf, fruits, stones, an egg or a nest, mushrooms, lake, tomato and potato, or a whole menagerie of wild animals. Or they represent the magic realm of objects of daily life, like knives, shoes, tights, wire and magazines, tiles and tires, paint pigments, a chessboard and plastic bottles, cooking ware and bicycle wheels, junk and foam rubber, etc.

It is, at its best, "painted" research, and at the same time a melancholic reflection on the environmental status quo at the time. The artistic grammar of the piece erupts as metonym throughout this manipulated reality and drafts an aesthetic alphabet of the interaction between language and form. With its spirit it marks the contradictions between daily life and nature, and mirrors in its ambivalence our representations and cultural visions of nature. Archaic cultures are categorical, and in their relation to nature operate mostly through deterrence of behavior. In our modern, demystified world, the relation to nature is instead structured by intentional action.

We can only achieve respect and protection for nature through sensory culture, not through moral imperatives. It thus makes sense to paint it over and over. Nature does not set standards or parameters; it is obvious that the creative power to master the present and future lies in our hands. Nature cannot help us there.

This is a piece about a historical memory of long descent. In the film Der Ursprung der Nacht , the voice of an invisible explorer is occasionally present. It recalls the Linnaean nomenclature of South American plant species from the Amazon-Orinoco habitat and the common anthropological names of native inhabitants of this part of the world. Subtitles and graphic implications appear in changing sizes and different locations. A score of quotations guides the viewer through the cinematic play of changing sequences throughout the 98-minute film. They contribute to a structuralist reading of this scene, and connote various layers of reference to art history, iconography, literature and music, while combining the images with strata of scientific and historical memory.

My aesthetic alphabet was formed outdoors in a well known urban context. It became in part a mirror of the movement of everyday life. In the years 1967–8, I began to live an artistic identity through this type of ephemeral work. I had no desire to produce static art works which would help furnish a space. Rather, I was interested in a temporal, time-limited, and dematerialised dialogue in an urban context. These were interventions in changing form and material. At the time, I called them ‘manipulated reality or materialised moments’.

Their materialisation has its counterpart in its accordance with intonation (as in music). Through them anticipated images configure and occur even as the process of disintegration has already begun. In the insolubility of form and content lies their sensorial power, even after their complete disappearance. Through their material instability, the progression of time was made manifest when the sculptures were left behind on their own. These early ephemeral works were documented through photography or description. A number of them also played their part in projection pieces from that time. They are works for the senses and the mind.

Excerpt from

Lothar Baumgarten, ""I like it here better than in Westphalia" ("Da gefällt's mir besser als in Westfalen") El Dorado 1968-1976 (Voltaire's Candide)," n.d.