HANS-JÖRG MAYER:A Comparison
In 1994 Hans-Jörg Mayer created two paintings without titles. The practice of no longer titling paintings has its roots in the 20thcentury development of letting a picture speak for itself, of seeing it as an existing cosmos whose referentiality need no longer be discussed. One can look at the whole history of art as the history of such referents. On one hand there is the artist´s introspection; on the other, as the much more dominant pole, is the thematising of the outer world. Art is a social construct, the social surroundings pull the strings, and autonomy is unmasked as the great utopia of avant-garde.
Hans-Jörg Mayer refers in his work to the media of photography, film, and television — some of the most important subjects of the 20th century. Mediation is the issue — the media ´s influence on our perception of reality and the formation of opinions and ideas, the individual and society as a circular process. Photography, as the ancestor, began to establish a representation of the world by documentary evidence and with a strong claim of objectivity. Everyday life started to become interesting as the stage of these media developments, and the present is deeply affected by the use of visualisation throughout all the branches of the media. This leads to Hans-Jörg Mayer´s methodological starting point for media criticism, above all a critique of television, which, pretending only to represent reality, creates its own reality. Here it becomes all too obvious that his critique has strong political overtones. The global village, the moving together of the world — the Western world, of course, since a certain level of industrialisation must be taken for granted as a basis of the network— its reduction to a village caused by the nullification of distance, is the popularised euphemism for the expansionist politics of the media. Hence the question of cultural identity and borders comes up more and more frequently.
It is no mere coincidence that Hans-Jörg Mayer juxtaposes the two paintings in question — two cultural complexes of the Occident getting closer and closer from the fifties on. In the dialogue a context is created that could not be created by one without the other. Press photographs, or at least photographs derived from the print media, whose stereotypical and scenic nature intensify the artist´s purpose, served as raw material. The issue is the representation of power and politics as transmitted by the media. Bill Clinton, in a casual leisure masquerade, in front of Washington´s symbol of power, the White House. A strange mélange of public and private dominate the mass media especially during election campaigns. Mise-en-scene as a strategy for stirring publicity, publicity that cannot be generated by purely substantial matters, but rather by private matters vehemently drawn to the public´s attention, like sex affairs, family life, health, and alleged tax evasion. The media are used as instruments, and apparently they are going to even out the score with an increasing volume of private polemics.
At the level of the people, the citizens, crime is at the top of the popularity scale. Reality TV as blockbuster. Rodney King, the Gulf War, O. J. Simpson’s court melodrama staged like daily soaps take the viewer´s breath away but are, at the same time, corrected (i. e. distorted) under the cloak of information. The aspect of entertainment is central. Ideological influence through entertainment?
Aktenzeichen XY-Ungelöst, a highly successful co-production by ORF, ZDF, and SRG broadcast for the first time on German television on October 20 1967 and celebrating its 250th transmission in 1992, has also always kept the flag of investigation in the spirit of enlightenment. Eduard Zimmermann, the presenter on the right side of the screen, is the figure-head of a broadcast with an unbelievable 40% clearing-rate. Its gist can be summed up as follows: the audience is asked to participate actively in the fight against crime and to pass on useful observations to the nearest police station or directly to the studio by telephone. Some early results are shown before the end of the (live) broadcast. The transmission is more or less broadcast in real time, jumping to and fro between the three countries´1 studios. The crime, staged by actors in a climactic structure, and whose climax, the crime itself, is only hinted at, simulates reality and mediates a cinematic experience resulting in the viewer´s identification with the victim, which in its turn is meant to stimulate the viewer´s active participation. Basically, the moral implication is the individual´s responsibility in the face of society. The police force, which is said to protect us, is depicted as a well-oiled machine (which it de facto is not) working together with the people. Aktenzeichen XY-Ungelöst performs what has been decided in politics. Reciprocally, Bill Clinton represents the pinnacle of legislative power. America as the mastermind, and Europe as its executioner. Does the gesture of the stretched-out pointer denote the way the Americans see themselves culturally, namely powerful?
American photo-realism, a super-realism which grew up together with pop art in the late sixties and seventies, chose a specific technique of representation using photography as the vehicle for a content elaborated in exorbitantly precise, almost life-size paintings. The use of a photographic surface reflected the altered modes of seeing. Moreover, the realistic painting-technique simulated reality. This hypertrophic act unmasks itself walking skilfully on the borderline between deceivingly perfect imitation and simultaneous sticking to the traces and relics of painting, as well as to the illusory character of the picture as such. Photography and painting have been stimulating each other competitively throughout the last 150 years: in imitating the “artistic“ picture, photography has tried to become equal to painting and to get rid of its purely documentary, mimetic character. Yet in the photo-realistic method both media are combined for the first time, taking into consideration each one´s specific and inherent features — illusion and documentational representation. Twenty years on, what distinguishes Hans-Jörg Mayer from the photo-realistic style is not the technique, but his conceptual approach. The pictorial art of the nineties no longer wants to nullify the idea of artistic handwriting, nor does it intend to get rid of prior models. Moreover, it is not preoccupied with commerce, like pop art and its fetishism, but is concerned with implied media criticism, a constant discussion of the images transmitted by the media, a surrogate reality. We should be made aware of the historicity of images, seeing each picture as the representative of something different. A picture´s semiotic character is foregrounded: art as the code of a world trying to decipher itself.
Translatation O. L.
Copyright (c) 1996