The central pillars in Ulla von Brandenburg’s artistic work are threefold – temporal indeterminacy; the conception of other, different spaces at the threshold between the real world and the spiritual realm of the subconscious and the unspoken; and the related conditions of production or mechanisms of staging. Often, the artist makes use of analogue pictorial forms without, however, indulging in nostalgic reminiscence of a now lost, more authentic age in the past, or simply fulfilling the …
The central pillars in Ulla von Brandenburg’s artistic work are threefold – temporal indeterminacy; the conception of other, different spaces at the threshold between the real world and the spiritual realm of the subconscious and the unspoken; and the related conditions of production or mechanisms of staging. Often, the artist makes use of analogue pictorial forms without, however, indulging in nostalgic reminiscence of a now lost, more authentic age in the past, or simply fulfilling the yearning for the preservation of artistic and craft practices. Rather, Ulla von Brandenburg’s goal is to employ the latter as vital, living skills. Her new work group, “Vorhang” [Curtain], pays reverence to the technique of cyanotype (iron blueprint) – one of the oldest and most straightforward of photographic copying techniques, which has been known since 1842 and was initially utilized for the “photographing” of plants. Subsequently, cyanotype was employed to reproduce architectural plans and technical drawings. Right up into the 1950s, it was well-known under the term “blueprint”. It was by means of the cyanotype that a woman first attained international recognition in the field of photography. Anna Atkins (b. 16 March 1799 Tonbridge, Kent; d. 9 June 1871 Halstead Place, Halstead, Kent) was an English botanist and illustrator. She published the first book illustrated exclusively by means of a photographic procedure and is generally considered to be the first female photographer.
The process in question is based on the ultra-violet sensitivity of certain iron salts and produces pictures or images in a gleaming ‘Prussian blue’ (also known as ‘Berlin blue’ or ‘Chinese blue’). Ulla von Brandenburg deliberately breaks off this creation process after the production of the negative, thus creating the impression of an X-ray – likewise an early photographic technique, one which made it possible for an image to pass through a repelling surface (the skin), so making the boundaries between inside and outside appear obsolete. It is no surprise, therefore, that on the artist’s blueprints, alongside other objects from her repertoire, curtains can be seen in the foreground – architectural elements that can be pushed aside with all the ease of a movement of the hand and which, nevertheless, separate distinct worlds from one another. The curtain motif is, initially, one of the classic topoi of painting that “uncovers” reality – i.e. is a form of secular revelation – but at the same time reveals new images and thus new illusions of what “reality” might be. Hence Ulla von Brandenburg’s pictures always show a threshold space – that place where the separated realms are in immediate conflict with one another and where the “over here” and the “over there” each unfold their individual sense in this neighbourhood relationship.
Ulla von Brandenburg transfers this principle to the photogram, lays open the conditions of creation and at the same time formulates an access to reality that has been part of the self-understanding of this art since the emergence of the photographic process: the world can be grasped visually and portrayed in its “imprint” as a shadow. Shadows are ambivalent phenomena. On the one hand, they can be defined as the absence of light: on the other hand, the shadow is dependent on light and on the object behind which it hides itself in order to become visible in its existence. As the silhouette of a specific body, light and shadow are physically connected with reality, but at the same time they leave a good deal of it in the dark or shift it into the realm of memory or the imagination. For cyanotypes, this principle is fundamental: the genesis of the blue surfaces results directly from the shaping, creative power of light, from the automatic process of its inscription on the light-sensitive recording medium, which captures not only light but also time. Precisely the long exposure time and the sensitivity of the emulsion and the image-bearer lead to unforeseeable aesthetic peripheral effects in the photo-chemical process. Ulla von Brandenburg thus not only makes visible the temporal course of image production, but at the same time makes it into the subject-matter of her pictures. In a performance that will take place in the Gallery on the opening evening, the process character of her works and the mutual relationship between photographic automatism and painterly intervention will be subjected to a poetic re-evaluation.
While Ulla von Brandenburg’s new works open up the dimension of the imaginary, they allow us to experience objects, materials and images/likenesses that attract our perceptive powers and at the same time constantly point to a sphere of production beyond what we see. Reduced to shades of blue, the visual vocabulary supports the subtle equilibrium between the virtual and the real, conjoining the temporal aspect with the potential interpretations that embrace these two spheres. With poetic power and clarity, Ulla von Brandenburg evokes the simultaneity of presence and absence – and this with astonishingly uncomplicated means.
Translation: Richard Humphrey