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Photographer Florschuetz: Cut, Deconstruct, Omit

Copyright: Thomas Florschuetz, Courtesy: Galerie m Bochum
Untitled (Palace) 56, 2006/07 (Photo: Thomas Florschuetz, Courtesy: Galerie m Bochum)

3 November 2011

If you expect quick answers from Thomas Florschuetz’s images, you’ll quickly be disappointed. His architectural photographs from Berlin do not reveal much at first glance, but that may be the point. By Arne Scheffler

Undoubtedly, the Palace of the Republic had seen better days. Scaffolding stands somewhat forlornly in front of the glass façade, construction debris lies about, water collects in puddles on the floor. Most of the interior panelling has been dismantled; the rooms seem dirty and bleak. When Thomas Florschuetz explored the former GDR showcase in early 2006 with his camera, all that was left of the once proud edifice was a ruin.

Okay, one could say, that’s what happens when a building is torn down. Dirt, barrenness, rubbish; what else will you see there? Yet there is plenty to see. The longer one looks at Florschuetz’s series of Palastbilder (Palace Images), the more one gets the impression that not merely a structure, but something much bigger is facing its end. The strong contrasts and the emphasized depth of focus that Florschuetz chose for his shots produce a clear and almost implacable look at a scene that could not be more desolate. Only rubble is now lying in a place where progress and futurity were once propagated. The temple of utopias, one could think, is corroding through and through, the façades of the brave new world are torn for all the world to see.

Copyright: Thomas Florschuetz
Photo gallery: Pictures of the construction site

Soberly, calmly and perhaps a bit perplexed, the viewer views the remains of an illusion, at the remains of an experiment, at the remains of old (East) Berlin. Is it a photographic farewell? “Why farewell?” Florschuetz asks. In his Palastbilder he, who himself came from the GDR and ventured his first artistic steps in its capital city, is thinking more of “change.” For him, construction sites – even if, as this one, they only lead to demolition – are transitional situations or procedural moments.

Florschuetz’s series Enclosure (Neues Museum) is similar. Here, too, the subject is a ruin, the subject is change, and here, too, there is not much to see at first glance: walls, pillars, corridors and passageways and building lines. Nonetheless, the Neues Museum, deteriorating for almost forty years after major destruction in the war, was being reconstructed at the time the photographs were made by architect David Chipperfield in a way that may not appeal to those who prefer restorations that are true to the original. He does not eliminate damages to the building, but preserves them. Flaking décor, broken jutties, bricks coming to the surface are all planned in. The intention is to reveal what the Neues Museum has gone through over the years of its existence and Florschuetz goes along with that.

His images make it clear that this place as seen better, more glorious days. Scratches and dents cannot be denied, but by contrast to the Palace of the Republic they do not express decline or lost hope, but are very befitting of the building and lend it the famed romanticism of decay. In the Neues Museum, transformation has a positive aura, for which the construction site situation again denoted by Florschuetz also speaks. Its aim is not demolition, but preservation. The cables dangling from the ceiling indicate more a new beginning than an imminent end.

Regardless of the question of what Florschuetz’s images show, their distinguishing feature is ultimately their formal structure. The Zwickau native perfectly masters the play of lines and details, depth of focus and contrasts, giving an impression in the Neues Museum that the three-dimensional space is a two-dimensional tableau. The abstraction positively leaps to the viewer’s eye, yet that is not Florschuetz’s sole intent. He also examines the problems of space and spatiality, which he attempts to approach through deliberate reduction.

Right in the middle or merely near by?

There are not many general views to be seen in the Neues Museum series; instead fragments are what count. Florschuetz cuts, deconstructs, omits and one nonetheless has the feeling that the building is more recognizable than in other, assumedly sweeping portrayals. Why? Perhaps it is our basic human ability to visually grasp details. Florschuetz ponders, “The human viewpoint of a situation is in itself an excerpt of something larger. The view through the camera lens then, is actually a further fragmentation of this.”

No matter where you look, you see only fragments. Yet, that needn’t be a disadvantage for portraying space. Florschuetz says, “It gets interesting when you put the elements that make up this fragmentation back together again. Then, the space that you’ve omitted becomes dynamic and new lines emerge into the non-visible space.” In other words, the image does not stop at the edges of the fragments, but the omitted space becomes a space in one’s imagination. Perhaps this is so familiar thanks to the viewer’s ability to continue the lines through association.

It is by no means surprising that primarily formal criteria are decisive for Florschuetz’s images. He clarifies, “If I would only focus on the documentary aspect, I would come to entirely different conclusions. The formal component makes and determines the image for me.” The viewer should not stop at the level of the objects actually portrayed by Florschuetz, which is what those apparently do who claim that there is not much to see in his images.
No, there is plenty to see, it only depends on how much you want to see. Do you see only barrenness or an exposed palace? Do you see only pillars or marred beauty? Are you right in the middle instead of merely near by, right in the middle of this place and this space? There are no across-the-board answers, but that is fine, as Florschuetz’s pictures do not impose themselves on the viewer. Each must decide for themselves what they see in them and what exactly makes them so interesting.

As part of the Paris Photo international photography fair, the Goethe-Institut Paris in cooperation with Galerie m Bochum presents the photographer Thomas Florschuetz. Between 11 November and 21 December 2011 a selection of works from the series Enclosure (Neues Museum) and Palastbilder will be shown there under the title Museumsinsel.
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