A Library of Possibilities
Das Rote Zimmer, Raum und Liebe, War alles Falsch? Speaking in a tempered and yet distinct manner, the voice of the artist overlaps and structures our reading, left to right, of the covers of the succession of carefully laid-out books that appear and constitute the 2009 film work entitled From the Library of Wolfgang Frommel. Judging from the sources and the working method used by Alexandra Leykauf, we have every reason to believe that what we see here are real books from a real person’s library that she has come upon in a real place. Arranged like the single frames of a film, the work slowly unfolds. A grand literary journey into a largely European past, structured to suggest exciting, dramatic interiors. Such are the allusions that first come to mind. And even if we cannot directly examine what the encasings of these volumes contain, we still produce images out of this bookish architecture – not only literary meaning or its absence. This act of the imagination, this projection of images, this leap from one layer of meaning, one surface or even one taxonomy to another, has long been integral to the artist’s work in films, photographic collages and installations.
Whether we imagine the artist meandering through someone’s private library making her own sense of it, or whether we see her as following up on some instance of serendipity, finding imagery that will lead her in the direction of some impossible or purely mental space, it is certainly all about looking. And although the supports of most of her works – such as theatres, cinemas, libraries and museums – reference the ritualized functions of 20th-century civic enlightenment and entertainment, there is nothing nostalgic or fetish-like about this. A topsy-turvy modernism if anything, even when it is Baroque – and highly spielerisch, to use a word that hints at the playfulness involved.
The three books all have red covers – perhaps referencing the idiosyncratic principles famously coined by Borges. Further to this, as mentioned before, they inscribe and project an apparently impossible, if highly stimulating and not in the least coincidental context of space, love and truth-seeking as construed by the artist. In a way, she is the author. It is also important to say that we sense this involvement on her part from among other things the pace and diction, which in some way flesh out the titles. These are of course super-flat – nothing but surfaces and words – and this structural emphasis obviously clashes with the whole idea of books. The desire for depth and the coarse flatness of all the photographic exteriors that inform Leykauf’s work leave the viewer in an unstable situation. This is exactly where we are meant to be, and where she herself tries hard to stay. It says a lot for her take on photography that she doesn’t see or use the medium as something primarily burdened by the errors and limitations of the spectacle.
For Leykauf, the concept of“off” represents the ways in which “space, love and truth”, or whatever words we choose to describe the freedom of the individual, potentially evade predictability and superficial meaning. It involves the whole array, not only of sites and theatres, but also of viewing devices on which a great deal of Leykauf’s work focuses: short cuts, side entrances, empty looks and counter-perspectives as accesses to movie theatres, film sets, theatrical props, backstage areas, empty museums, partitioning walls, showcases, formal Baroque gardens and shadow-play projections. As in Negative Cinema from 2008. At first it looks like some survival of modernist vestibule décor, but on closer examination it shapes itself into a papier-mâché relief representing some very ‘off’ angle on the main activities of a theatre balcony space. It is beside the point, so to speak. And physically, of course, it is a negative representation only in the sense that it is a three-dimensional cast of an image of space. All the gazes that are normally focused in a particular direction are now at liberty, almost like ghosts, to roam through – and I assume also to question – the cues that support our looking and its character.
The theatre of the imagination that Leykauf suggests to us possesses a multitude of forms and effects, static as well as in motion. They are played out as kaleidoscopic effects, the clash of the real with trompe l’oeil, spaces within spaces, sudden details brought out by lenses and other leaps of scale, glimpses through showcases in empty museums resembling the single frames in a film, mirrors that do not mirror, folds that signify contrasts of front and back and, dare I say again, depth versus surface. The theatrical nature of her take on the world not only creates images of architecture, it points equally to the architecture of imagery. And in this counter-perspective of a kind, the things that usually contain and frame – theatres, museums, projection devices, gardens – become unpredictable actions and points of departure for other ways of conceiving and arranging the world. This is of course a long-standing tradition, and looking at her work brings artists like Manet, Fontana and Nauman to mind, with their liberation from spatial regimes. The coarse, xeroxed quality of most of Leykauf’s imagery seems not only to strive for structural flatness; it also creates a certain sobering distance, and in so doing restrains the most possessive gazes of those who wish to control it.
A couple of so-called analogue collages, as well as at least one film work, thematize the idea of a momentary lapse of reason, where the reflecting and projecting properties of a mirror malfunction or cause instability by suggesting a deviant, internal agenda in the mirror. As if it depicts something other than expected, not unlike the Shadow Theatres that the artist designed using simple cut-outs back in 2006, in which she performed pictorial surgery on old, found images of shadow plays as a way of deluding and destabilizing the spatial order and the context (who is projecting and what is being projected?). Rather like the books from the library of Wolfgang Frommel. It is as if the artist seeks to gain access for herself and the viewer to the device itself, and ultimately to the actual process of looking. But only to look for its ‘off’ potential. The spatial order and logic of the art museum – the museum as medium – certainly lends itself nicely to the magic lantern of Alexandra Leykauf’s work.
Dorothea von Stetten Kunstpreis, catalogue
Kunstmuseum Bonn, 2011