Ommatidia, Dieter Wenk, 2011 (tranlated by Patrick Hubenthal)

6. Juni 2011

Ommatidia, Dieter Wenk, 2011 (tranlated by Patrick Hubenthal)


Of course it’s a little silly to be jealous of animals. But for anyone who’s even slightly familiar with Rebecca Michaelis’s pictures¹, who still recalls the first encounter with them, that singular feeling of being overwhelmed will not have been forgotten. There’s no question that flies are unable to take part in the conversation of art. But sometimes it would be awfully nice to be armed with their faceted eyes. With a sufficient supply of visual receptors, of ommatidia, how elegantly one could adapt to Michaelis’s sometimes graphic and sometimes (as is often noticed only on the second human glance) gestural fields of imagery.
As if the total and unmediated gaze enabled by a fly’s eye would cause the image to instantly resolve, a result the human eye could deliver only later and with difficulty through the work of reconstruction. As if human slowness were a disadvantage to be combated through optical optimization, allowing the initial barrage to be transformed into the final statement of a perfectly analogous relational matrix.

The first encounter is followed by a second, a third, and slowly the gaze seems to unclench; the viewer now wonders whether he is dealing with artfully layered mosaics, or whether the artist takes a fiendish delight in putting together a puzzle that the rest of us could achieve only by making brutal cuts through the canvas or paper. Because there’s no place for our gaze to pause for any length of time. We go reeling, even now, from one element of the image to the next; we take another step back to filter out coherent fragments that turn out a moment later to be more illusions directing the gaze to what we thought was an underlying secret pattern. Or we imagine we’ve glimpsed various depth zones to which the individual segments would seem to relate, where they would ultimately form a whole after all.
Most likely we just don’t want to face the fact that when it comes to Michaelis’s images, we are dealing with abstract art. And that we won’t succeed in penetrating her enigmatic pictorial space, even though it seems to be seductively encouraging us to do just that. As though the supposed obstacles could be cleared out of the way; as though maybe everything would go back to its place if we just gave it a good shake. We still believe we can get a single inch closer to those things outside, as if we were violently forcing our way out of a railway car. (“Standing with your left foot on the grooved brass sill, you try in vain with your right shoulder to push the sliding door a little wider open.”)²


And suddenly we realize that our searchlights have settled down and a strange equilibrium is beginning to take hold. In what feels like the middle of the room, our vision meets the gaze of the image, which has taken on an air of cool superiority in the meantime. Our initial haste, our desire to drive out the unvarying presentness of the picture, has been forgotten. A game begins that one would hardly have thought possible in art anymore: that the players, viewer and viewed, remain suspended, thereby testifying to something like mutual respect. A respect arising from an intense starting situation that resembles a duel, though of course there is no provocation in it; it originates, rather, in the presumed invitation of an extreme visual experience. And this leads back to a tremendous reassurance, of which one might say that now nothing else can possibly happen. Not that anything has been immobilized. It’s just that something has emerged that feels like an expansion of our other reference values. An increasing stimulation, an enhanced attentiveness, that proposes to become the sounding board for the next encounter. And with something close to fright we realize that this seemingly timeless calm is due to a very specific situation that is certainly not capable of assuming responsibility or liability for what exactly will happen when the spell is broken and that same sort of helplessness we had been hoping to ward off with this exercise sets in again.

I + II

Yes, we’re just at an exhibition. We’re looking at pictures and studying them closely. But if we haven’t had the sensation at least once of being put on display ourselves, before the pictures and for them, then we haven’t seen anything


1. I’m thinking of images such as Tarabas (2007), Akira (2008), Estagua (2008), Googleplex (2007) and Destinat (2007).
2. Michel Butor, A Change of Heart, trans. Jean Stewart (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959).

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