Sabine Folie

Untitled (The Artist at Work) #17

Untitled (The Artist at Work) #17 by Klaus Scherübel is from a series of around 20 works that have been realized since 1994 dedicated to examining the present day conditions of artistic production. “Examination” suggests that this is more studium than punctum. However, in my opinion these two elements come together in Untitled (The Artist at Work) in an exciting and ingenious way. First of all, it is clearly staged photography. These are not random snapshots with “blind spots” that hold you captive, because they are elements that would be unclear, would cause discomfort, disturbance, or fascination-a punctum. The tableaus are carefully arranged, although appearing surprisingly ordinary, and show the artist at work. But it is not work in a studio, rather a seemingly uneventful daily routine, showing the artist crossing the street, reading the newspaper in a café, during a break in a tennis match, choosing wine in a wine store, at the movies, or, like this, in the library browsing through some books, Untitled (The Artist at Work) #17. The contemplation takes place during everyday tasks and research, and these actually happen everywhere and all the time. There is neither a structured day for the artist, nor a structured place. In terms of his activities, a conclusion about the result of his contemplation or whether he is in the middle of leisure time or work, which are inseparable, cannot always be drawn from the outside. Actually, he paradoxically never rests and never works. To a certain degree, he embodies the paradigm of immaterial work in a post-material age.

In all literalness, the motif iconographically incorporates the genre of the interior, whose dimension cannot, however, be addressed in the brevity provided here. At the same time, the photo refers, beyond its factuality, to allegory: one involuntarily thinks of The Art of Painting: The Allegory of Painting by Jan Vermeer. But let’s stay with the title of the piece, which, in turn, argues a paradox. On one hand, it contains Untitled, wriggling out of providing information in the title, while on the other hand, it readily offers a description in parentheses: The Artist at Work. A title, as it essentially became an “obligatory” component of the photograph according to Benjamin, to establish its evidence. It is also crucial here that the legend is an integral component of the work, as it guides the photograph out of its vagueness and assigns it a certain iconographic topos. The technical declaration on the label confirms in a self-referential way that the legend is in no way optional, rather it is part of the work itself.

The tableaus and especially #17 are, therefore, intended more as a studium. However, a critical point is the frozen movement of both absorbed and directed attention that sparks the punctum that draws us into the photo and fascinates us, namely that which refers to what the artist might be thinking, what he is working on, what he is conspiring. The introspection and absorption, the pathic state of receptiveness that is not yet able to share a result aside from this state itself, is what captivates us and nourishes the eros of intellectual curiosity. But with all the old master absorption, there is also a nonchalant, idle dreaminess that mischievously holds the viewers in suspense.

For the context of the exhibition and the subject, one photograph was chosen that is consistent with the virtually standardized presentation format of documentary photography. The work itself also exists as an installation in which the motif is projected as an unchanging slide in cinema format, and chairs in front of it suggest a lecture situation. The statement of the work also changes depending on the dispositif.

From: Punctum. Bemerkungen zur Photographie / Punctum. Reflections on Photography, Séamus Kealy ed., (Salzburg, Salzburger Kunstverein, Fotohof edition, 2014); translated from the German by F. P. Boué.