Martin Blume, Douglas I. Busch. Vestiges

Vestiges

"This is how one picture the angel of history. Her face is turned toward the past. What looks to us like a chain of events looks to her like one long catastrophe unendingly piling up wreckage and hurlingly it at the angel’s feet."
Walter Benjamin

Looking at hte past has always been an activity that is fraught with high ambivalence. When in 1940 Walter Benjamin interpreted the figure of Angelus Novus in a Paul Klee painting, he captured a moment of duality that applies to our own era as well. In Benjamin’s account, the angel of history is hurled backwards out of the storm of paradise into the future, whereas the witnesses of the past unceasingly disappear before him into the distance. Using a discomfiting metaphor, Bejamin describes humanity’s habit of reflexively falling back on the quarry of collective and individual memory in an attempt to ferret out the roots of personal identity. However, the bitter realization that time waits for no man shows how vain this untertakting is.

What remains is the wreckage of the past consisting of vestiges and remains of human existence. But today we have at our disposal an invaluable tool that comforts and consoles us as we sift through the shards of existence. This tool is none other than the wondrous process, known since Plato’s time, whereby images can be generated by light that is captured in a dark chamber in such a way that the world is documented in shapes and forms. The magic of photography, which is able to capture a single moment on film, may be on its way to becoming a lost art by virtue of its very omnipresence. Nonetheless, as Walter Benjamin realized, just leafing through a childhood photo album, or close study of the art photography of the past, can still vividly reveal to us the fascinating power of the photographic image.

Douglas Isaac Busch and Martin Blume have mastered the art of still photography in the grand old manner. Their Vestiges project sifts through the remains of an era that the Renaissance termed “the Middle Ages.” A friendship of seven years‘ duration between two artists from opposite sides of the Atlantic has resulted in a search for artifacts that seeks to document the cultural roots of both artists. The search, as well as the friendship, has found its visual expression in photographic images of American and European forts from the ninth to the sixteenth centuries. These two artists‘ investigations of Anazi forts in the four Corners region of the U.S. southwest, as well as knights‘ castles in the German state of Rheinland-Pfalz and the Alsace region of France, has followed an extraordinary seismographic trail. These two artists were of course not driven by the desire to make archaeological discoveries, nor did they have an aesthetic bee in their bonnet in the manner of Romantic painters who created pictures of the present infused with melancholy. Vestiges is instead an attempt to investigate the wreckage flung at the feet of the angel of history, and to reconstitute this wreckage visually using the unmatched precision of large format photography.

“Large format photographs banish time, are a dike that hold back time, slow down its speed and acceleration”, notes Peter Weibel. He also describes, in a Benjaminesque sense, a contrary motion that at least provides the illusion that time has momentarily come to a halt. If you look attentively at the photographs in this book, you cannot help noticing the subtile tension that inevitably accrues to examinations of the architecture of ruins. The exposed locations of these forts high atop cliffs and mountains, making the structures visible from afar, stands in stark contrast to the impenetrability of their thick walls that precludes even the slightest glimpse of the interior of the structure. In their metamorphosed imaged form, this seeming impregnability somehow seems inconsistent with the unmatched hyperrealism of large format photography, whose ability to perceive detail far outstrips that of the naked eye, and which hypnotically pentrates every last nuance of the surface of the stone. Interestingly, it is the towers, turrets, stairs and even the wells, which constitute the richly varied architectonics of the entrance into the interior, as well as all manner of archetypal signs, forms and structures, that appear to be echoed on both sides of the Atlantic. It could be that the synergistic images created by Douglas Busch and Martin Blume have created a window in time that enables us to perceive a universal way of being that fell out of consciousness decades ago.

The power of photography could perhaps have consoled the angel of history somewhat. Walter Benjamin says that the angel would have actually liked to linger in the field of wreckage so as to wake the dead and put the smashed pieces back together.

The angel of history is called memory.

 

© Christoph Schaden, 2005

 

published in: Douglas Isaac Buch/Martin Blume. Vestiges, Stuttgart 2005, p. 5.

 

Blume, Busch

© Martin Blume Fleckenstein, Elsaß

text published in:
Martin Blume / Douglas I. Busch - Vestiges
Stuttgart 2005, p. 3

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