Artist Blog

Every week an artist whose single image was published by Der Greif is given a platform in which to blog about contemporary photography.

Falk Messerschmidt – Phainesthai

Jul 12, 2015 - Jeremy August Haik

Today I'm bringing you a project by German artist Falk Messerschmidt. I've written about Falk's work previously in Conveyor #6 (PDF) and I'm continually drawn back to his work. Any successful act of appropriation is an act of transformation (that's what the courts in the US generally say, at least) And while there is no shortage of artists working with appropriated imagery and historical narrative (myself included), what sets Falk apart for me is the way he transforms the historical meaning of his images through his careful selection and arrangement of images coupled with a clever use of language, both written and spoken. Here's what Falk has to say about his practice as a whole:

I’m generally interested in archives, image-text relations, narratives and the photographic matter. My method can best be described in drawing feedback loops and non-linear connections as well as creating or pointing on the ambiguities between and within these respective fields. I’m fascinated by the incoherence and inconsistency of what is there and how we name and see it.  The serendipitous findings when doing excessive research on a current body of work are regularly the welcome foundations of new ones.

The images above are from his latest project Phainesthai which, like many of his projects, comprises multiple interlinking components. I asked Falk to give me a few words on this latest project:

Phantoms are "something which one can‘t forget but which at the same time is impossible to be recognized“ writes George Didi-Huberman in The Afterlife of Images. In my work phainesthai [φαίνεσθαι; old greek: to imagine something, to appear, to seem and to give a show] I interrogate the phantom characteristics of photography which I find to be revealed in the fractures of its materiality. These fractures in turn give evidence of one of photographies most distinguishing qualities: that it touches upon the real. Meaning is happening primarily when the inclined spectator allows himself to "read was never has been written“.

Phainesthai consists of three parts: The first part of the work, Index, serves as a prologue. The second is L, a fictitious diary which is based on texts of photographic theory and mainly, yet loosely based on the life and writings of the Russian psychologist Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky. For the third part I have gathered photographic material from various archives including my personal one and recombined, edited and recontextualized it in 40 Plates & Panels.

And here's an excerpt from the fictional diary

June 12, 1934 Yesterday L died. He was my twin brother, though he did not know me or did not want to know me. At least I suspect he didn’t. He knew of my existence. Of that I might be certain. But you don‘t look over your shoulder each day to check if your shadow is still there. It‘s just understood that it is behind you, when the light comes from the front. Only on really dark days is he absent. As L is now. I remained. Maybe on bright days people disappear, on the dark ones their shadows. His eyes had always been fixed upon me so intensely. As if he wanted to keep hold of an image. And yet I‘m the dark one of us and not unlike him. Some even say that we‘re similar. Only much more relaxed in the eye area. [...] October 12, 1935 Walked in the park. On the way home I watched some children as they were playing a strange game. They looked each other straight in the eye and remained petrified for several minutes - as if someone had stopped time and than if one moved, he dropped out and had to turn his face to a tree. Unbidden this memory came to me: Sometimes L stared at me for a while and with peculiar intensity. I usually danced around then and avoided his gaze, but that did not impress him. I‘m probably not what you would call a visual person. [...] October 14, 1935 Finally dared the first experiment with the apparatus. It has a remote control. So it is easy to make a self-portrait with it. Sank to my knees in front of the black eye of the camera and pressed the trigger. Suddenly the sun pierced through the cloudy curtain and flashed in my eye. The negative, which I developed in the evening, was of excellent blackness. You could not see anything in it. From Ls diary I feel like a man who climbs the dark stairs of a medieval tower. It‘s been a while since I‘ve looked out the window and reassured myself whether I‘m getting somewhere or if the outside world still exists. ––– Falk's website can be found here