Interview with Wolfgang Scheppe and Florian Böhm
Josephine Minutillo / New York / 0|8|2002
- Why was New York chosen as the “point of departure” for this exhibit which originated in Berlin and travels to Rome, Munich and Paris?
FB: I moved to New York in 1998 and since then I began collecting visual impressions and traces of its surface. The nature of the project is to take a lot of pictures everyday. After time you can extract a significant selection of images from the mass.
WS: NY anticipates elements of a meta-city: an experimental model for an obligatory new class of generic city. This generic city anticipates the shape of a global type of metropolis. This type will make an end to any historical, architectural, cultural, economic differences and idiosynractic qualities, that used to define our picture of a city as being embodied by landmarks. The real landmarks of the city of tomorrow, as being demonstrated and incarnated in NY, are elements of normality, standardization and of everyday life at the low end of economy.
- Though the images in the exhibit depict scenes which are common to many cities, is there something uniquely New York about them? Is that still possible in a world where globalization has left many seeking a lost “sense of place”?
WS: The uniqueness of NY is the fact that NY offers a first glance at the loss of uniqueness. The substance of a city lies in its normality rather than its uniqueness. Uniqueness will be a nostalgic fiction.
FB: For instance the “plastic crates” resemble a very generic urban scenario: the need for impromptu chair solutions. In New York it is common practice to use a particular milk cradle from the producer “Parmalat” as improvised chair solution. So only the particular type of object or materials are sometimes very local, the structural phenomena is mostly generic to the metropolic city.
- Does the exhibit offer something more than a visual encyclopedia of the city? What specifically can be extrapolated from these images?
FB: I hope it does. I hope it can change your sensibility for your surrounding, a change in perception of the ordinary, a shifted view on something that has become invisible by its omnipresence. The images are arranges in a way that they have an effect on you, wake you up, make you see things for example reveal social and economic patterns that shape the modern urban environment, understand things in their context.
WS: Autopoiesis. Self-organizational quasi-natural systems of improvisation forced by the need of everyday survival.
- Do you think individual images are interesting in their own right, or only when viewed collectively in the context of the exhibit?
FB: The context defines the angle of how to look at something. I think a single image can be beautiful and interesting but in very different way than if it is presented in a series of analogies. Here it becomes something else, f.e. evidence of a pattern. You not only see the characteristics of the particular image but start looking rather at its”differences” in relation to others. That way information can be extracted that would be impossible to see just by looking at a single image.
WS: For more than 14 months we worked on layout and to define an order and a sequence to the pictures from the archive, to decode their generality by a kind of visual grammar. I do not like the idea an isolated esteem of individual pictures. Our oeuvre is not the photography but the archive.
- Discuss the advantages/disadvantages (if any) of digital photography/new technology that enabled you to organize such an extensive library of images? Are we bombarded with images nowadays because of it? If so, is that a positive or negative thing?
FB: There have been extensive photo archives in the past, just think of the Eames work for example. The new digital technology, though, changed photography forever. It is very interesting to look at what happens to the nature of images being produced as result of this new technology. The availability of small digital cameras able to generate thousands of high resolution images cost-free on a daily basis becomes reason enough for a lot of people to take a shot, or better to take a couple of thousand a day. In this way images get produced that wouldn’t exist otherwise. It does seem to have an inflationary effect on the traditional concept of photography but also leads to a new quality of image production, that we are fascinated with. I think Endcommercial is to a great extend a result of this change.
WS: First reduced costs and improved productivity (1 Giga microdrive provides memory for more than 10000 pictures) of digital photography made it possible for the first time in history to develop a technique of visual notebooks. Their quality of trial and error, their casual and often incidental character seemed to me to be a new approach to empiric and realistic iconography. Something that got lost at the beginning of the last century. Something that existed in ethnology and other empiric sciences. The pictures are overstimulated with are products of the fictionalized iconography. This picture is typically not a casual digital picture, but a staged production, a fabricated visual lie, see text Berlin.
- How did your “periodic table” develop? Is there a sociological aspect to this project?
WS: The quality of the diagrams is that of a taxonomy. A taxonomical order systemizes phenomenons due to analogies and similarities judging elements of their appearance. While analyzing and researching our archive we found similarities, types of figures, strange coincidences. After identifying these they were transformed in themes and subjects for new shootings and field researches. New material was collected to verify or falsify categories of the taxonomy.
FB: The Diagram was extracted from the material after screening and structuring the image archives into themes, not the other way around. In this way it is rather an empiric investigation with a result that could have not been anticipated fully in the beginning. The material reveals many aspects, sociological, political, economic, urbanistic etc… But we didn’t plan for it to be anything.
- Is it possible to walk down the street now without taking photos?
WS: It is impossible now to walk down the streets without constantly subsumizing microscopic and nearly invisible fragments of the street to categories. It is impossible to walk down the street without seeing social qualities in objects. We see a lot of necessities in things that are mostly perceived as being coincidental.
- Discuss the design of the exhibit in the storefront gallery.
WS: We were looking for something impossible. We like the nature of the book. Privacy of perception. Concentration. Exposition to only one ore a limited number of pictures. Linearity. Succession. Reading. Turning pages. Any exposition in space denies this qualities. An exhibit is public, simultaneous, accidental in direction and hierarchy of decoding. The storefront installation is an exploded book. It translates the quality of the book into space. It is a casual user interface with a strict mode of perception.