Simon Starling’s Analogue Analogies at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart – by Yvonne Bialek


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The museum is a treacherous archive. The visitor to its gallery halls perceives its vibrancy, its miraculous ability to defy the flow of time by placing ancient masterpieces in the contemporary viewer’s visual reality. Once accessed by the gaze, history and presentness exist simultaneously in displayed objects. Nevertheless, in the presence of these objects, the beholder senses her own timeliness as opposed to their timelessness. By virtue of its archival nature, the museum is constantly driven by its more obscured facets, where not vividness, but preservation, and not flux, but stillness, are at work. In its typically unseen storage and documentation areas, all capacities prevent time from running. The museum’s archival drive motivated Theodor Adorno’s analogy between the museum and the mausoleum, which for him “are connected by more than phonetic association.” (1) Indeed, once one crosses the border between the visible and invisible museum space, the temperature drops significantly. Reminiscent of a cold room, these spaces attempt to slow down all processes of decay. Custodians are the sentries to those chambers. Like the archons of the archive, they act as gatekeepers for what comes in and out of storage, what pieces form a collection, what will remain, what will be preserved and become history. (2) Museum administration carefully conceals ulterior spaces and acts from the eye of the beholder, whose field of vision stops at the “staff only” door plate. An invitation to enter the sacred halls behind the public area is therefore regarded as a privileged distinction.

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Simon Starling: Analogue Analogies (Under small yellow horses, Double Patti, Christ entombed [in an archival envelope], etc.), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 26.10.2013–23.3.2014. Installation view. Photo: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

In 2013, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (Germany) invited Turner Prize-winner Simon Starling to create a solo show within an exhibition series called “Open Stores,“ allowing the artist to create new work in relation to the museum’s storage space. The invitation permitted access to the institution’s obscured and highly regulated preservation areas. Despite the rarity of such an opportunity, Starling nevertheless chose another approach. Instead of devoting himself to the stored artworks he chose to work with the museum’s photographic department, its analog darkroom and archive.

From today’s perspective, the history of photographic documentation at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart starts in 1927. Ten glass plates form this year – installation views, showing the hanging of the collection – are preserved. The museum was equipped with its own photo studio in the 1920s and it must be assumed that more photographic images existed from this time. But this archival trace both starts and ends at this point. A huge gap in this inventory is correlated to the WWII, during which the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart was nearly entirely destroyed by bombing. The photographic documentation reconstituted in the years following the war, growing rapidly and today occupying two storage rooms filled with negatives, slides, and prints, covering a wide range of analog photo material.

The photographic medium itself faced severe shifts in the past decades: digitalization transformed photography profoundly, entirely morphing its methods and materials, retaining merely a name for a process which describes how light forms an image. This transformation was circulating in the air during Starling’s preparations for the show at the Staatsgalerie. The analog photo laboratory and all of its equipment was to be dismantled and replaced by digital reproduction technologies; the original equipment was therefore extraneous. The copy camera and the darkroom, once standard for the development of analog photographs, were about to be disassembled, vanishing from the museum’s invisible area, adding yet another end to the media history of photography.

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Simon Starling: Analogue Analogies (Under small yellow horses, Double Patti, Christ entombed [in an archival envelope], etc.), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 26.10.2013–23.3.2014. Installation view. Photo: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Simon Starling: Analogue Analogies (Under small yellow horses, Double Patti, Christ entombed [in an archival envelope], etc.), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 26.10.2013–23.3.2014. Installation view. Photo: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

Analogue Analogies (3) begins with this end. The two-part exhibition included the hanging of 43 unframed inkjet-prints displaying reproductions of archival photographs from the museum’s analog photo archive and the replica of the photo laboratory as a spatial installation. While the first room, well-lit and filled with photographic prints of the archival images of artworks and exhibitions reanimated the archive through re-mediation and exposure, the second gloomy gallery contrasted this effect by recreating the museum’s darkroom in the form of a one-to-one reproduction. The museum’s archival impulse was put on the display in this show, and Starling elaborated on this essential impulse by emphasizing the role of the archive’s favored method of documentation, the medium of photography, which plays the leading role in his argumentation.

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Simon Starling: Analogue Analogies (Under small yellow horses, Double Patti, Christ entombed [in an archival envelope], etc.), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 26.10.2013–23.3.2014. Installation view. Photo: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

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Simon Starling, Darkroom (transplant), 2013. Reconstruction of the darkroom of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart on a scale of 1:1 with parts from the original darkroom equipment, pipelines, electronic devices, vinyl plates, wallpaper, paint, wood, 212,2 x 423,2 x 292,2 cm. Courtesy Simon Starling and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin.

The first part of the show presented reproduced photographs of artworks and exhibitions. From the analog photographic archive, Starling chose a variety of paper prints of iconic works from the collection, such as Giorgio de Chirico's painting Metaphysical Interior with Large Factory (1916) or Franz Gertsch’s Patti Smith V (1979). There were the reproductions of works by Wolfgang Tillmans, Franz Marc and Louise Lawler, among others. Starling also selected installation views of the presentation of the collection from different time periods, in which artworks appear in different constellations, such as Duane Hanson’s Cleaning Lady (1972) shown sitting on the floor in between Sigmar Polke’s Zirkus (1966) and Gerhard Richter's Kuh II in one image and in between Jackson Pollock’s Abstrakte Komposition (1965) and Mark Tobey’s Entering New York (1964) in another. All paper prints from the archive were reproduced in the same manner: they were taken with the museum’s professional analog copy camera (4) against a black background framed on the top with a grayscale. The newly produced black-and-white pictures hanging in the exhibition were inkjet-prints measuring 150 x 120 cm. Their internal configuration cited the process of image making through photography and it questioned these pictures’ status as copies. Seen from the museum’s logic, which distinguishes between artworks and copies and therefore separates originals from reproductions, in this case Starling’s images were copies of copies. Furthermore, these pictures pointed toward the archival impulse of the museum and the role of photography in cataloging its inventory and documenting the history of its exhibitions. In the analog era, the results of this archival gesture were material items, pictures with a physical presence, forming a second archive consisting of the original’s doppelgängers. Starling demonstrated how carefully these are preserved in the photographic archive with the example of Wilhelm Tübner’s Christus im Grabe (1874), whose reproduction was photographed inside its parchment sleeve and provided with the title Christ Entombed (in an Archival Envelope). (5) The double metaphor of preservation – of the body, object and photograph – underlying this picture clearly refers to the museum’s and the camera’s analogous abilities to stop the march of time. But, Starling also identifies this as an illusion in the second part of the exhibition, where the dying media of analog photography is carried to its grave.

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Simon Starling, Christ entombed [in an archival envelope], 2013. Inkjet print, 150 x 120 cm. Courtesy of Simon Starling and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin.

Here, in a dimmed gallery, a second gloomy space materialized. Inside a room-sized wooden box, the Staatsgalerie’s dismantled darkroom was rebuilt as an exact replica, partly with original equipment. (6) The visitors were able to look inside this replica, to see it from a certain viewpoint, but they were not allowed to enter it. Typical red light bulbs illuminated the interior so that it took some time for the eye to adjust and perceive the details of the installation. Starling transformed the equipment of a functioning darkroom for analog photography into an artwork, displayed in an exhibition. Again, Adorno comes to mind: "The German word ‘museal’ (‘museumlike’), has unpleasant overtones. It describes objects to which the observer no longer has a vital relationship and which are in the process of dying." (7) The stillness and setup of the installation, foregrounding its gloomy atmosphere, obviously called for an interpretation connecting the darkroom to a tomb; in doing so, it showcased the death of analog photography inside its final resting place. But it built another bridge to Adorno’s quote, too: Starling’s analogy here signifies that the museum, in its archival drive, is capable of swallowing its own parts and converting them into artworks. As a way out of this circle, Starling seemed to present a hint driven by an anarchival impulse: at the far end of the darkroom installation, a light box hung on the wall, switched on to display an image which, from its prescribed viewing distance, was hardly recognizable. However, a close look revealed it to be an installation view of the very exhibition the beholder just visited, connecting the now to then, the present and former experience as well as the two parts of the exhibition, thanks to the photographic image. This vital sign, a picture within the metaphor of decay, both concluded and continued the multiple analogies formulated in the exhibition, opening up yet another alternative for its many readings.

Yvonne Bialek

Yvonne Bialek is an art historian and curator. Since 2013 she partakes as Ph.D. Fellow and scholarship holder in the DFG Program “The Photographic Dispositif” at Braunschweig University of Art, Department of Aesthetics & Art History were she prepares her dissertation on “The Installation View. A Photographic Genre between Documentation and Artistic Production”. Also since 2013, she is teaching Theory as a lecturer at the Departement of Integrated Design, University of Arts Bremen. In 2009 she received her Magister Artium with a thesis on “The Use of Photography in Francesca Woodman’s Work” from the University and Fine Art Academy of Kassel. She worked for numerous renowned international exhibitions and institutions such as documenta 12 (Kassel), Dia Art Foundation (New York) and GAK Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst (Bremen).

( 1 )

Adorno, Theodor W. "Valéry Proust Museum." In Prisms. London: Neville Spearman, 1967, p. 175.

( 2 )

Cf. Azoulay, Ariella. "Archive." Http://www.politicalconcepts.org/issue1/archive/. Accessed July 17, 2014.

( 3 )

Simon Starling, Analogue Analogies (Under small yellow horses, Double Patti, Christ entombed [in an archival envelope], etc.), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 26.10.2013–23.3.2014.

( 4 )

Copy camera by Sixt Walldorf, Type RK 65 CNC/A0 (1994), cf.: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, and Alice Koegel, eds. Offenes Depot #3. Simon Starling. Analogue Analogies (Under Small Yellow Horses, Double Patti, Christ Entombed [in an Archival Envelope], etc. Stuttgart: Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 2013, p. 58.

( 5 )

Image 1.

( 6 )

Image 2.

( 7 )

Cf. footnote 1.