doppler
"doppler" 2004
Memories are made of this
von Stefan Berg

Suffusing the works of Jörg Wagner is an atmosphere of a deeply penetrating, seemingly paradoxical state of absence. This is already apparent in the paper spaces which have been created since 1996 and with which the artist has become known to a widespread public. In these works, Wagner first removes all the furnishings from the respective room, covers the entire space with light-sensitive blueprint paper, and then exposes it to light after the furniture has been brought back to its original position. This ghostly after-image of a real space which – by means of the act of illumination – shows the furnishings as silhouettes in blue and black is mounted in a paper room of the same size and then installed in the exhibition space. Evincing a structural affinity with Rachel Whiteread’s Ghost(1990), a hermetic and impenetrable cube whose outer surfaces presented plaster casts of the walls of a Victorian room, Jörg Wagner’s paper spaces them- selves oscillate exactly between physically palpable reality and phantom- like projection. Standing before them, we experience how the actual space is transformed into a graphic, disembodied space whose sculptural arrangement restores to it just enough corporeality so that we may see therein both a physically present space into whose presence the viewer may enter, and the three-dimensional reconstruction of an original context which remains completely removed from the viewer. This work thereby becomes an investigation into the structure and quality of spaces of memory. This is all the more true in that, for all his illuminations, Wagner chooses situations that are related to his personal biography.
At first these situations – for example Jugendzimmer(“Room of Youth” 1996) – were in fact the spaces in which he had grown up, then later – as in Bedroom (1998), the bedroom of his gallerist Luis Campana, or Ken (1998), the apartment of a Japanese friend – spaces from his personal and professional surroundings as well. What was and is always decisive here is the relationship which the artist has established with regard to the sites of his artistic investigation, so that the utilization of anonymous or neutral spaces is excluded right from the beginning. Thus when Wagner resurrects the bedroom of his gallerist as a paper room inserted into the gallery itself, this is not first and foremost a critical scrutinizing and laying bare of the structures of the art world such as Michael Asher, for example, has been engaged in since the late 1960s, but it represents instead an attempt to develop a sculptural-installational display with which the possible connections between the reality of one individual’s life and its artistic transformation become just as (literally) graspable as does the phantasmal nature of such a scenography.
The cube of white paper with the shadowy delineations of its content, which has been transferred from its original location into an exhibition space where it is neutralized and rendered anonymous, thereby provides on the one hand, through its materiality and the indexical markings which the objects have left upon it, proof of the fact that these contents actually exist. On the other hand, the papery fragility of the construction and its spatial isolation already point towards the difficulty of localizing these spaces. Moreover, this tendency towards disembodiment, which not only renders the scene ungraspable but also imbues it with the quality of a fading image of remembrance, is enhanced by the photographic process to which these spaces owe their visibility, which is always linked with an invisible aspect: it must above all be recalled here that the process of exposure to light as described above refers not only to an actually occurring contact with the real object but thereby also to the temporal passing of this contact. Wagner’s process utilizing light-sensitive blueprint paper, which portrays not the things themselves but only their shadows, is thus to this extent a double document of the past, a palimpsest presenting a commentary upon its own shadowy nature. This interconnection between presence and disappearance is radicalized by the opportunity of walking into Wagner’s shadowy spaces. By entering physically into the papery surroundings, the viewer becomes a component of the installation, in other words is himself subjected to some extent to the logic of disappearance which is a general characteristic of the spaces. Moreover, he leaves  behind upon the paper floor traces of his presence which give evidence of the same structure as do the photochemical imprints: these as well are signs of a physical presence which, after the visitor has departed from the exhibition, can only be reconstructed as memory.
The more people who visit these spaces, the more necessarily sharpened becomes the relationship between bringing to mind and withdrawing from view. Ultimately the act of searching for traces in which the viewer is here engaged becomes even, in a certain sense, an act of unintentional destruction: everyone who enters into the paper rooms, with the purpose of literally following in their tracks, attacks their actual substance by directing his footsteps into them. In a paradoxical turn of events, the attempt to reclaim the shadowy memories which have etched themselves into these constellations leads to their obliteration. Thus we step onto utterly unstable ground when we introduce ourselves into Wagner’s world of recall and remembrance. This is all the more the case in that the artist does not attribute any objectivity to the act of remembering or even to memory itself. Wagner’s investigations are no longer guided by the Proustian model, according to which volitional recall can only bring to light trivial fragments while the reconstruction of an authentic and comprehensive life-experience is considered, however, to be still possible by means of a fortuitously occurring mémoire involontaire. Instead the act of remembering is here conceived of as an activity in which, right from the very beginning, the actual and the fictional are so irremediably intertwined that a clear distinction between the make- believe and the real is no longer possible. Remembrance is thereby not only partially withdrawn from the sphere of volitional recall but is also considered to be a fundamentally contingent process. This viewpoint coincides to a certain extent with the theory of “communicative memory” as described by Harald Welzer, a social psychologist in Essen. From premises established by research into the collective repression of National Socialism, Welzer comes to the conclusion that remembrance basically has less to do with the past than with the present and that it is in each specific instance instrumentalized as needed: “We interpret the past through alteration, reestablish it in accordance with the manner in which we attain social support in communities of remembrance (...) We are relatively indifferent to the question of whether something actually occurred. The main thing is that it be compatible with our situation in the present.”1
It is exactly this blurring of reality and construction which also defines the works presented by Jörg Wagner in his exhibition at the Kunstverein Hannover. This is especially true for Philip Staufen. This work was engendered by a report in the Süddeutsche Zeitung about an individual of that name who had lost his memory through a blow to the back of the head. Out of this succinct newspaper notice, Jörg Wagner develops a complex story in which speculations, facts and associations condense into a possible form within which Philipp Stauffen mutates into a glittering alias alternating between a missing French pornographic actor named Georges Lecheit and the German king Philip von Hohenstaufen.
This labyrinth of suppositions, in which each trail ultimately dwindles into obscurity, is rendered present by a text and a paper room measuring approximately  twelve square meters, which seems to open the room of this multiple personality to view and which displays the silhouettes of a bookcase, a refrigerator, a bed, a table and a washing basin. The room is dominated, however, by a large curtain through which one perceives the faint and feeble outlines of another space. This is quite capable of being read metaphorically: in a structural ambivalence which oscillates between covering and uncovering, the curtain provides an indication here of the fact that nothing in this room gives us any more clear information concerning the mysterious figure of Philip Staufen. With its scanty furnishings, this shadowy room instead emerges into visibility precisely as the model of an interchangeable, anonymous location which tends more to veil and conceal than to reveal the identity of its inhabitant. Even the many miniature photographs which are to be found in several rows, one over the other, upon the wall next to the curtain refuse to reveal any specific information, inasmuch as the light-sensitive blueprint-paper technique has of course transformed them into black rectangles emptied of all meaning.
Thus in Philip Staufen we are in a certain sense following after the footprints of a story which achieves specificity precisely to the extent that one becomes inclined to pursue it, only to come simultaneously to the realization that the narrative places itself at a remove from any concrete access and ultimately withdraws fully into its opaque, oblivious depths, sealed off within its black-and-white phantasm.
Doppler and 69 are likewise marked by this mirage-like atmosphere. 69 combines George Miller’s epochal road movie Mad Max 2 (1981) with a soundtrack during which a man recounts how in 1965, as one of the first German hippies, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s cult book On the Road, he embarks on a long trip through Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Malaysia all the way to Australia, where he comes to live in a cave which he himself hollows into a cliff and where, at the beginning of the 1980s, he appears as an extra in that specific Mad Maxfilm. The link which is thereby established between the film and the adventure becomes biographically interesting for Jörg Wagner when he discovers that the German-Australian cave dweller is his distant uncle Günther Wagner.
Thus 69 becomes a personally colored À la recherche du temps perduwhich reflects the individual trip of the Swabian dropout in the muscular genre-gesture of the post-catastrophic road movie Mad Max. The original projection situation of the film – an egg-shaped, cave-like, one-person cocoon – on the one hand repeats the situation based upon solitude and isolation which is experienced by the two protagonists of the film, and yet on the other hand simultaneously creates a space by means of which the viewer becomes an accomplice in this masculine and mythic search for freedom and adventure. Lying more than sitting in this Platonic cave of projection, the viewer can dream his way into this space which arises between the individual narration of Günther Wagner and its transformation into the collectively attributable, mainstream myth of the film. And for Jörg Wagner, the biographical connection leading to his uncle represents the Ariadne’s thread which leads him out of the labyrinth of what in his eyes is the oblivious disattachment of l’art pour l’art, and which provides him with the means of achieving a productive connection between the reality of personal life and the practice of art. Doppler is concerned with precisely this precarious point of an interlocking of experiential surroundings and aesthetic practice, so to speak, concerned even with a legitimation of artistic work through its lived- through background, which of course may always be read also as a legitimization of life through art. Like almost all the works of Wagner, this one argues upon both a visual and a textual level, each of which exists in relation to the other while retaining its identity as an independent element. Doppler is a large work upon light-sensitive blueprint paperwhose almost eighteen-by-five-meter expanse fills an entire wall, emanates a stark visual suggestiveness and presents the black-and-white silhouette of a paper surface that casts the outlines of folds. The acoustic component of the work is an interview edited to a length of twenty minutes during which the narrator “Carl” recounts his memories from the year 1988. The subject matter is Doppler, the most popular drug of that time; in other words the narration is about intoxication through drugs and alcohol, as well as about the motorcycle rides and communal living which he experienced during that era in the area around Stuttgart, together with Jörg Wagner and a couple of other guys. Above all, however, the text is a musing upon the interconnection between creativity and everyday life that comes to fruition in a performance which is deemed by Carl to be “the high point of the year” and which represents a fortunate coincidence between “doing something different for once” and art.
In its fugue-like stretto between image and text, this work, executed in paper and covering an entire wall, appears on the one hand as an empty projection surface which is first in-formed through the text, and on the other hand as a metaphor for the significant mixture of absence and presence which dominates more than just this installation. In this sense, the papery surface casting the outlines of foldsbecomes a curtain which will never open and which, in its frozen and only potentially motile plasticity, labels all that which lies behind it as a zone about which it is only possible to speculate. It thus resembles the stories of Carl, which – just like those about the Australian uncle or Philip Staufen – may be either true or invented. What is of decisive importance in these constellations, as in the entire artistic oeuvre of Jörg Wagner, is never the factual content but rather that aspect of possibility which is transformed for the viewer into a process during which he has the opportunity of recognizing that reality is only interesting in its identity as construction.

1 “Im Gedächtniswohnzimmer” (“In the Living Room of Memory”): Harald Welzer in conversation with Elisabeth von Thadden, in DIE ZEIT Literatur (“THE TIMES Literature”), Special Supplement No. 14, March 2004
Stefan Berg in: Ingrid Calame, Mathide ter Hejne, Jörg Wagner Katalog Kunstverein Hannover 2004