„Das Rheinprojekt“ (complexe 1)

 

Picture overview

 


A scientific documentation of reality requires not only a visual demonstration of things but above all a cogent rendering of exact measurement results. These measurement results represent mathematical values within a coordinate
or reference system. An artistic visual conception in contrast needs such figures at most to demonstrate an aesthetic relevance. The size or dimensions of a work and the amount of time invested in the creative phase are important
features when classifying or evaluating this artistic undertaking. It is obvious for example that the choice of a specific pictorial format is generally important in painting because the intended work statement is often first optimally communicable with a certain visual dimension. The same holds true for architecture, where a building only then evokes the desired impression of sublimity, a representative aura or dignified enormity when it acquires a certain dimension.

Analogously, project art of the kind Stephan Kaluza has realized with his documentation of a geographical space only then unfolds its artistic cogency when photography captures a complexity that can not be perceived by the naked eye: the goal is a documentary recording of complex phenomena in
their totality through horizontal photography, whereby the dimensioning of the project is focused on the long meandering course of a river or the contours of a continent. Standing on a riverbank or on the seashore, we can let our eyes roam as far as the turning of our head—that is our physical anatomy—allows. We can also undertake a time-bound excursion of a—in the true sense of the word—“manageable” section of a riverbank or shoreline and gain a visual impression. But we are not in a position to perceive at once the
entire course of the Rhine or the contours of a continent.

Stephan Kaluza links into this fact with his project complexe (1)—rhein. Together with his team he has walked the full 1,620 km of this river’s course, from its source at Piz Badus in Switzerland to the estuary mouth in Rotterdam. Including
breaks, the hike took around eight months. During this time the complete left bank of the Rhine was photographed: a photo was taken from the right side of the Rhine once a minute. Across this terrain, frequently without surfaced paths, one can walk on average between 70 and 90 meters in a minute. This stretch of land covered corresponds exactly with the space that the human eye can capture of the other side of the river between the preceding and next photo
stop. In this way a gapless photographic documentation of the entire riverbank ensued in 21,449 shots, a selection of which is presented in this book.

If one wanted to show in an exhibition all these photographs in a single line, a 15 cm-high row of photos would demand from the viewer that they pace a stretch of 4 km until they had seen the complete documentation of the Rhine’s left had seen the complete documentation of the Rhine’s left bank. The principle that Stephan Kaluza applies resides in a visual compression of geographical phenomena with a complex extension (here the river). As the documentation of an art project, such an exhibition of the complete photo series would afford the viewer their own experiential space, a space decoupled physically and visually from the geographical reality: on this 4 km-long row of photos the viewer has in
front of them the entire body of water the Rhine carries for 1,620 km. But one would only need around 48 minutes to pace the photos in hiking tempo, whereas under normal conditions of current velocity this body of water requires
several days to flow from the source to the mouth. With this compression of visually recorded space the project thus also performs a compression of time.

The actual length of such a river permits in day-to-day life only a perception of segments. First the technical diminishment through the medium of photography makes it possible to experience the (river’s) reality as a whole. Whereas a
traveler is restricted to a series of perceptual impressions of reality that follow “one after the other” and so function much like cinema, the documentation conveys this reality in a single simultaneous image. This montage is far more than a stringing together of 21,449 separate photos; it condenses
them into a singular elongated image.

Aesthetically this occurs through a sublation of perspective: although each photo taken on the riverbank was from a central perspective, in the montage the vanishing points and with them the spatial depth effect are sublated automatically. For this reason the viewer is not presented with the background
landscape staggered in depth as in a classical panorama composition; instead there is merely a scenerylike foreground with a row of houses or a monotone horizontal harbor wall.


Stephan Kaluza has consciously avoided creating a panorama image, for neither the photographer nor later the viewer are to gain the terrestrial perspective typical of the classical lookout or the military vantage point, affording a view from above that is literally an “overview.” On the contrary: the ground-level standpoint is important for this visual conception, and this includes the restricted angle of vision that such a standpoint permits the naked eye. Likewise, the walking movement is a conditio sine qua non for the specific
character of this visual aesthetic. Then only the slowness of movement admits the intensity of perception that the photo series reflects: it is solely in this tempo that the specific fixation on details like the dense brushwood, quay walls,
groynes, and bridgeheads is possible. It is therefore essential for the unconditional will to furnish a replication of the perceptual-physiological authenticity that technological ingenuity like the zoom, the special lens or the grip are consequentially dispensed with.

Over the eight months of the project the changes in the vegetation are recorded in passing, shifting with the changes in season. The same holds for the course of a single day; the intensity of the sunlight differs and the meteorological conditions undergo continual change, ranging from mists, sunshine, cloud cover, through to rain. In the presentation of the series these time differences are cancelled out, although the photos were not edited in any way. In terms of the visual aesthetic outcome of this photography, this is just as an astounding fact as the aforementioned sublation of perspective.

With this project Stephan Kaluza has ventured into uncharted territory, artistically and photographically, for before him no-one had documented the riverbank of the Rhine in itsentirety. In terms of the technology employed, such an undertaking has only become possible in recent years with the innovations of digital photography, enabling a documentary recording and its seamless presentation in a single strip of images.

Artistically complexe (1)—rhine is neither Land Art nor a synthesis of art and science for the purpose of topographically plotting a landform. The latter is at most a secondary aspect, outside the realm of artistic endeavor. Artistic interest
focuses instead on the aforementioned visual conception: to capture a complex reality in compressed form. The actual river landscape is simply a case example.
Nonetheless, it is patently obvious that a culturally and geographically
prominence, as the Rhine possesses as a major European river, was required to allow the project to unfold its striking aesthetics, rather than some arbitrary and banal stretch of landscape.

Stephan Kaluza is naturally fully aware that one encounters elements that are mythically and historically charged in public consciousness when taking the Rhine River as the structuring instance for such a visual conception. The artist
can ignore this, however, by not only photographing the charming vineyards but also unsightly industrial facilities and monotone quay walls. Ultimately though, all the motives possess an equal status thanks to the length of the photo
strip, so that the photographer could not fall into the trap of indulging in personal poetic inclinations, disregarding bland factory grounds, or evading those tourist-folklore subjects which have long become hackneyed through postcard photography.

Everything has been captured and recorded, really everything, and nothing is subjected to a cultural or social-aesthetic ideological valuation proclaiming it to be “narrowminded,” “Romantic,” “urban,” or “ecologically damaging.” All of these valuations are annulled in the photo series. By defying this tradition of artistic Romanticism methodologically and aesthetically, Stephan Kaluza links into a specific relationship between the image and technology, one that for
example Walter Benjamin and others have described as typical for Modernism. This taps into an important contemporary issue: how in our present day the perception of everyday reality is being influenced by digital images, still fairly
novel for us. – Has digital photography brought us to the threshold of a revolution in seeing, comparable only with the cultural-technological innovation ushered in by the Gutenberg printing press over 600 years ago? And ultimately
does the appropriate temporal measurement for our contemporary age lie in the postulation (of a rediscovery) of slowness?