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Travelogue H11

April 7, 2016

Just beyond the Schirn Kunsthalle lay an enormous building site, or what I presumed to be such from the wire barricades and the near-opaque mesh and assorted information panels lining them. The latter boldly foretold the return of the city’s “heart”, by which it meant, as I read, the Altstadt’s restoration to something like its pre-war form. Above all, the restoration efforts bore on the old Krönungsweg and the alleys and squares adjoining. This path, taken by Holy Roman Emperors of the 16th and 17th centuries on the day of their coronation, led from Kaiserdom St. Bartholomäus to the Römer and so bound cathedral to city hall, spiritual to temporal.

Before the onlooker, the information panels paraded long paragraphs on the restored “DomRömer” quarter and the developments undergone by the buildings therein, as well as a series of artist’s renderings of the quarter post-restoration. Indeed, the renderings bore all the hallmarks of their genre. Individuals, or rather their images, are forcibly from one scape and thrust into another, and the violence of the transposition grips the viewer ready to look for such. For those individuals are inevitably caught in unflattering poses or arrayed in unusual walking formations. When they are not made to march into walls or to stare into space, they find themselves engaging in the lowliest of human activity: men’s heads swiveling to follow passing women, the women having eyes only for shop windows; children preening for photos while parents sneak in self-portraits.

The effect proves stronger yet when attention moves to the renderings’ purely visual aspects. Light emerges from multiple unseen sources such that shadows fall about limbs and body in patterns wholly unlike those found in real life, to the point that the viewer could only take the person herself to be said source. Moreover, those same limbs and body bristle with crisp outlines and saturated hues. Rather than fade in, the person juts out from the depiction in uncanny fashion.

All of which went to show just how much stranger the individuals populating artist’s renderings were for being deprived of their original context, that lens through which an observer arrived at some sense of the diverse conjugations of bearing, gestures, and body. If these people had, like the Altstadt, undergone a renewal, the artist responsible had, on the contrary, gone about work with an eye to obscuring that lens via a series of cleavings. This artistic procedure lent the everyday a stunning opacity of people and meaning.

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