Exposing the Seams of Pictures
To turn a visual document inside out like a glove is how Alexandra Leykauf likes to describe the way she manipulates found photographs. The comparison, which suggestively evokes the intimate gesture of taking off a leather glove and making appear the seams on its reverse side, feels apt when considering some of her most recent works.
Tent, Bureau-cabinet, Cabinet with shells, carpet roll (works, 2012) consist in black and white photographs silkscreened onto shaped aluminium supports. The lightness and colourless quality of the material make up for its rigidity. When folded into a shelter, a free- standing prop or fixed on the wall and protruding into space, the aluminium assumes a delicate origami-like appearance that reveals the reverse side of the images. Like a glove being peeled away from a hand this revelation of another side creates a rupture within the illusionist space of the photograph.
An image is seamless when it is included in the pages of a book and thereby inserted into a stable narrative in which it has a fixed meaning. When it is cut out, the photograph no longer has secure location and meaning. In selecting and collecting images, Leykauf renders them homeless. Yet at the same time, when she transforms these pictures into three-dimensional objects she gives them another home constituted by the specific conditions of the gallery or the exhibition. Tent thrives on this contradiction between homelessness and place. It uses a photograph of the lavish inside of a Turkish tent captured at the Siege of Vienna in 1683 and preserved since in the Wawel collection in Krakow. Displayed indoors the tent looses its function of protection from the outside. The image used by the artist shows at the same time the inside of the tent – evoking thereby its protective quality – and the museum space beyond it. She plays with these visual ruptures – the juxtaposition of the patterns of the tent with the glossy parquet floor - when she enlarges and folds the picture: The tent becomes an inadequate shelter: its inside appears far more extensive than it actually is thanks to the illusion of photography. In emphasising the oppositions between indoor and outdoor, physical and photographed space, Leykauf makes visible the seams of her picture, that is the different elements by which the photograph conveys information: framing, lighting, subject matter and angle of shot that here all become more conspicuous as we scrutinise the picture folded into a shelter in order to make sense of it.
These seams are significant even if the photograph is banal in appearance. Leykauf stresses her preference for those un-authored, unremarkable photographs: “if I took an iconic photograph, there would be a tendency to not look at it beyond what is already known about the image, it would be treated as a cliché”. These illustrations of objects and buildings that she encounters in books usually go under the telling name of ‘reproductions’. Such photographs are both the essence of photography and its negation. Closely matching the properties attributed to photography from its inception; they are faithful renderings of things in two dimensions. At the same time, the term ‘reproduction’ reflects the exclusion of other properly photographic qualities such as lighting, framing and so forth that attract the viewer’s attention away from the object and towards the image. Working with photographic ‘reproductions’ enables Leykauf to approach the medium as a raw material that can easily be manipulated as if it were clay or painting.
In folding a picture of a Rococo cabinet inlaid in its upper section with a perspective view of a piazza with an obelisk surrounded with buildings [Bureau-cabinet], the artist creates a real volume out of one that is only suggested in the furniture piece. At the same time she renders the illusion more tangible, she also underscores that it is merely a decorative pattern that rests on the cabinet, itself flattened into a freestanding photograph. Yet even a photograph such as this one, a mere ‘reproduction’ of a furniture piece obeys certain photographic conventions. To be considered as a valid, reproducible document, the image required to be clearly legible as a photograph of a rococo cabinet, and, for example, to not present any unseemly shadows or distortions due to an inappropriate choice of camera angle and lens.
These characteristics made the photograph appropriate for its insertion in a book amidst other reproductions of furniture that exemplify particular styles and craftsmanship. The book itself, like the Cabinet with shells, is a device destined to classify and organise cultural artefacts, creating small inventories of the world we inhabit. Leykauf’s Bureau-cabinet brings these points to view by superimposing two conventions of representation of the world that place the human body in its centre: that of geometric perspective and that of photography.
Both of these systems aim at depicting the world from a fixed position. By cutting up, folding and pasting photographs, or curling them into a scroll like Carpet roll Leykauf unhinges this centralised viewpoint. Looking at her work, our position as viewer becomes precarious, permanently destabilised. We need to hang onto the seams of her pictures and attempt to follow them in order to render her images intelligible and make ourselves at home in them.
 Public discussion between Alexandra Leykauf and Sophie Berrebi, Musée d’art modern de la Ville de Paris, Paris, 6 May 2010.
Lieber Aby Warburg, was tun mit den Bildern?
Museum für Gegenwartskunst Siegen
Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg, 2012