Gudrun Kemsa. Moving Images

Evening once again

It always bothered him,
That two eyes,
Even when they belong to one person,
Never see the same.

Inke Parei, What the darkness was (2005)

The darkness that descends on the beach every night can leave amazingly clear impressions on our memory. Remembering the beach after sunset with closed eyes, an abandoned terrain, a sea coming to peace, is recalled. The wind dies down and the waves move to the beat of a fading world, that doesn't want to end. As the horizon withdraws and loses itself into the darkening sky, and with it the line that gives the eye balance and structure during the day, the sense of seeing no longer serves its purpose.

One doesn't need to go to great poetic lengths to recall the powerful images of this nightly scene on the sea. What was present during the day is no longer visible and yet, at the same time, is still strangely present. It is no coincidence that this motif builds the chronological base for the four series that are combined into this book. Gudrun Kemsa first discovered the border motif, that seems so unfitting for a photographic image, in 1992 on the beaches of Tunisia in the coastal town of Sousse. In the center of the image Sousse 1, a man and a woman pause, gazing into the emptiness of the sea. Their placement in the picture is reminiscent of the great romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich whose virtuosity transformed his figures into projections of contemplation that evoked the inexplicable nature of human circumstance. At this point one begins to understand that Gudrun Kemsa 's work is all about the process of seeing. The minimal value of the images as document forces the question, what should the eye be looking to retain?

That which is actually visible in Sousse I, opens manifold paths of cognition. All romantic notions aside, the picture presents the beach as a zone of surreal charm. The terse yellow light,so characteristic of Mediterranean countries,infuses the images with its own sense of artificiality. Large umbrellas cast excessive shadows that form archetypical circles on the sandy surface. Those familiar with Gudrun Kemsa's artistic path might think of the minimalist work of her teacher at the Düsseldorf Academy, David Rabinowitch. His sculptural floor works are directed towards altering perception and reflecting back the physical disposition of the viewer. In this photograph however, it is the ephemeral structures vis-a-vis the two figures that lead to discovery. As objects in the picture plane they are barely comprehensible, concomitantly they reflect back to a time of pre-cognition. Is it about a group of figures that are resting or is it about the intended movement that one of the two-seated figures will make? Again the viewer is denied an answer. Again it is the movement within the image that initiates the act of viewing and looking.

It is not surprising that Gudrun Kemsa entitled this 1992 series of night pieces Beach Party. They do in fact celebrate a form of perception in motion, a model of seeing that incorporates the artist's conscious use of the concept of choreography. The commonly accepted form of visual notation used to decode and map choreographed movement can be understood as the underlying premise and theme of the artist's production. In this series this strategy becomes obvious in the view of a waterside promenade. Using a slightly upward angle, the color photograph captures people strolling along the waterside. As a surface abstraction the figures open the visual fabric of the image. Only through rhythmic searching can the viewers orient themselves to the movement. It would be obsolete to relate formal photographic ideas of focus to Kemsa's work. What counts here is the activation of the eyes' impulse to identify.

The second series of photographs by the artist, produced in 2005, is definitively titled Moving Pictures. On the surface they represent panoramic images of public buildings and spaces representative of present-day architecture that is anchored in contemporary memory: Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, La Défense and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Recognition of the structures however, is eclipsed by the horizontal blurring that is effected by a reflexive gesture by the artist. The artistic impulse being, to distinguish the area of viewing as a radically autonomous representation. For the viewer it implies a meandering process of movement and recognition. A state of twilight is nurtured where contours disappear and the lights of the night evoke their own claviature of seeing.

Already in 2003, in the book Bewegte Bilder, Rolf Sachsse refers to this playful element in Gudrun Kemsa's imagery. The series entitled Choreographies, begun in 2006, clearly incorporates the dancing eye conception of viewing in motion. The series presents individuals and groups on the plateau of the monumental staircase of the La Defénse building. The horizontal cinemascope format and subject matter recalls moving pictures on a film screen, calling to mind the outdoor Potemkinesque staircase of Odessa, featured in the legendary 1925 Sergej Eisenstein film. In Gudrun Kemsa's images the dramatic element is removed. Instead she uses a slightly slanted perspective of the upper most step that pushes into the foreground and builds a Tableau Vivant, a platform of action. The figures - either solo, in pairs or in groups - seem artificial in their placement. The viewer is presented with a perfectly balanced composition that overtly defies a documentary characterization. The disconcerting moment of perception is reflected back in the manifold, referential glances of the figures themselves. Gudrun Kemsa's pictures are vexations of perception that do not allow the viewer to deny his /her obligation to look.

Last year the artist returned to the beach. In the tourist enclave in the coastal town of Adeje in Spain, she again found an abandoned terrain. Again it is night. The beach umbrellas are still open, giving off bizarrely empty shadows. This time the quiet water, gathered in mundane swimming pools, forms an amorphous milky mass. Once more the moment of emptiness seems ever-present. What could be more appropriate than looking into the darkness?

© Christoph Schaden, 2006

published in: Gudrun Kemsa. Moving Images, Heidelberg 2006, p. 54-57.

Gudrun Kemsa

Text published in:
Gudrun Kemsa - Moving Images
Heidelberg 2006, p. 54-57.

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