Goethe V&A Residency Goethe V&A Resident Helmut Völter

Cloud Studies | Book: Helmut Völter
©Helmut Völter

The Goethe-Institut London and the Victoria & Albert Museum are collaborating on a new long-term residency programme: the Goethe V&A Residency. German artist Helmut Völter has been selected to be the first Goethe V&A Resident artist.

Völter is a graphic designer and artist from Berlin. In his work, he combines research with the authorship and design of books and exhibitions. His interest lies on the role of photographic images within history, media, art and science. The double character of scientific images as rational evidence and aesthetic objects often formed the starting point of his work.

Völter’s latest project is on the Japanese scientist and photographer Masanao Abe (1891–1966). Abe, a physicist, observed in the 1930s the clouds around Mt. Fuji. He used film, photography, stereo film and stereo photography to document and measure the clouds’ movement. His images and films combine the precision and structure of a scientific study with great aesthetic potential. Völter’s exhibition on Abe’s cloud research was shown in the Izu Photo Museum in Japan in 2015. His book Cloud Studies will be published in spring 2016 by Spector Books. Earlier books by Völter are Cloud Studies about the history of scientific cloud photography and Handbook of Plants Growing Wild in the City, a guide to the botany of cities.
Völter’s book design has won several awards, including the Walter Tiemann Prize as well as a silver and a bronze medal in the competition “The Most Beautiful Books of the World“.

  • “View on Mt. Fuji”, from the book: Helmut Völter, The Movement of Clouds around Mt. Fuji | Foto (detail): Masanao Abe, Spector Books 2016 ©Helmut Völter
    View on Mt. Fuji
  • Exhibition view, “Masanao Abe: Mt. Fuji and Atmospheric Science”| Foto aus (Ausschnitt): ”Visions of Fuji: Fuji Paradigms”, Izu Photo Museum, Mishima/Japan, 2015 ©Izu Photo Museum, Mishima/Japan, 2015
    Visions of Fuji: Fuji Paradigms
  • “Handbook of Plants Growing Wild in the City”, showcase, 2009 | Foto (detail): Helmut Völter ©Helmut Völter
    Handbook of Plants Growing Wild in the City

Research interests at the V&A

Goethe V&A Resident: Helmut Völter ©Helmut Völter „In the photography collection of the V&A, an image of two skeletons caught my attention. Roger Fenton took the photograph “Skeleton of Man and of the Male Gorilla” in the British Museum in 1855. The skeletons cast distorted shadows on the wall behind them. Did the available natural light sources force Fenton to take the shadows into the picture, or did he maybe include them precisely because of their beautiful irregularities? The commentary of the photograph reveals an interesting detail: The gorilla’s upright posture is described as unnatural for a living gorilla. What seemed at first like an objective scientific comparison turns out to be an error, or maybe even a fraud with the intention to let the gorilla appear more similar to man. In the late 19th century, the gorilla was at the centre of the debate about Darwin’s evolution, because he seemed to be the closest “relative” of man.

Fenton’s photograph is the starting point for my research project at the V&A. I am intrigued by its aesthetic quality, and by the variety of stories and questions that arise from it.

During the residency, I want to develop a series of displays about the diversity of ways to look at a photograph. The displays will be centred around a photograph from the V&A collection, which is set into a “constellation“ — a combination with other images and objects that highlight and comment different aspects of the photograph in the centre.

The design of the displays will use improvised and reused furniture as well as a variety of reproduction methods and materials. This follows the idea that the constellations are like essays—experiments to explore the multiple meanings of images, but also experiments with their aesthetic potential.”
Helmut Völter