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Robert Zahornicky´s Second Sight(ings)
Astrophysicists tell us that the grumblings of the big bang can still be heard and point to the background radiation that fills outer space as proof. We may buy the theory, but we hear ... nothing.
According to Robert Zahornicky, primal earth, desolate and deserted, can still be seen. Moreover, it´s right at our own feet. In this case, we dont´t have to accept the thesis in good faith. For Zahornicky has captured the beginning of time on film. Time and time again. We peer through his lense and rub our eyes, and then grasp the technical genius of an artist who has turned an ordinary camera into a veritable time-machine without the twist of one screw or the addition of a single accessory.
Zahornicky uses this wondrus apparatus to get to the bottom of things - in the literal sense, eye to eye with ground zero ... where we are suddenly hurled into flight. We soar over grandiose landscapes, to exotic planets, or back to the ancient history of our own celestial body wich the witness in its fickle moodiness between seething wrath and elemental calm.
André Tarkovsky demonstrated at the end of Nostalghia how an entire landscape can be laid out in the nave of a gutted church. But Zahornicky shows us something equally unforgettable: the sudden shift when the downtrotten, negilible, inconspicuosly earth-bound things that bormally don´t arouse our attention become as commanding, masterly and intransigent as a monstrous massif or a Martian panorama.
Might there be an Ur-nature untouched and untouchable waiting to be found at every step of our so sophisticated civilisation? No doubt. But seeing it requires a spirited will not to heed the normal boundaries. And in just such an act of willful trespassing Robert Zahornicky has crossed over to a visionary beyond, to the supernatural below.
His pictures prove the unbroken presence of immemorial world - and a future that has finally hushed the sound and the fury of our destructive range.
Translated by Hays Steilberg
Until I Lost The Ground Under My Feet
On Robert Zahornicky's Art
In the beginning God created heaven and earth. - In its February 5, 1994 edition, the journal "New Scientist" included a report on the NASA-project terraforming in which the planet of Mars was be furnished with an earth-like atmosphere and made habitable for man. On the boundary between earth and sea, where water and land coverage, at the end of the second day of creation, as it were, algae and similar plant-like creatures have been drifting about for millenia. Depending on the moods of the water and the winds they interlock and consolidate, forming impenetrable carpets. Or they are tousled so as to reconstruct themselves in new formations at different locations. An eternal formation and redestructiuon takes its never-ending course.
The photo-artist Robert Zahornicky wanted to capture this basic element of permanent change. on high resolution film, he made shots of the strange algae landscapes along a coast of the East Sea, in Iceland and at Chincoteague Bay, Virginia, in their diverse manifestations. He alienated these shots by laser print exposure. The plants, captured in a spur-of-the-moment state, were now petrified, forming fictive geographic regions after their metamorphosis triggered by photography. These included furrowed coastal and dersert landscapes, volcanic, steaming stone massives, bubbling geysers, fogshrouded mountains and barren scree slopes, a dried out river bed, deserted sea regions and rugged panoramas.
The resulting landscape images appear to have been taken from a bird's-eye perspective, resembling tattered aerial shots, TV or satellite images which have already travelled half way around the world. "In my work I also deal flying in the sense of the Shamans. My images are not aerial shots taken from high altitudes. They were made only a few meters above the ground. Yet they still evoke the impression of flying and drifting", Robert Zahornicky says. What he really means is: fleeing. Flying as a possibility of fleeing. Fleeing as a form of gaining distance from the real conditions of this world. "I tried to fly, but felt too heavy, until I lost the ground under my feet", as one text on terraforming series reads.
By sticking to the smallest existential units - in this particular case, the most rudimentary unicellar creatures - the artist creates new dimensions, new worlds, new landscapes, something autonomus. He performs an act of creation, which in its very essence is a deeply artistic one, revealing a strong sensivity in his approach to material and respect for the earth lying there and waiting to be performed. And this is what terraforming is all about.
However, the artist does not intervene in the primary process of change. Rather, he leaves it to the contingency of nature, thereby conveying as a chronicler the state of the now time of absolute transitoriness. Accompaining quotes or commentaries, some of which have been copied onto the photos, such as to be continued, still on trial, accident, change, stress both the contingency of creation as well as the untiring continuing movement never coming to an end. This is also expressed by the way the works are presented: the large-format photos are applied to metal sheets, hung without frames so that they convey the impression that there is a continuation behind, besides and above and in front of it. "The future has yet to be decided and the exüperiment creation is still open", Robert Zahornicky says.
The fictive landscapes created through photography, in turn, recall already seen, already imagined landscapes. "It is as if it I were soaring up lieke an eagle. I see things, I create, the fiction, then again in reality, that is, when I lift myself phisically", the artist declares. And this is indeed true. When one looks at these photos one thinks one is reminded of impressions from one's last vacation flight or the shots of faraway planets flickering on screen.
At this point the artist intervenes, definitely shaping what is happening by projecting subjective experiences and desires onto the landscapes, all of which is expressed by the will to present natural phenomena as messages still to be deciphered. "With my work, I want to point to the vulnerability of our planet."
But it is not the artist who creates. The work is only completed by the viewer. With the pronounced degree of abstraction, on the one hand ("only a few image points are given"), which the photographs convey and the large surface for subjective flight experiences and landscape images, on the other hand, the artist wants to also remove the elitarian charakter still associated to art. He invites the viewer to take a part in telepathic flight, to help shape the images by means of associations. It thus comes as no surprise that it is a concern of the artist to enter public space with his works. He wants to take art out of the narrow confines of the gallery space and bring it into a wide, indefinable realm and to thus counteract one's reluctance to come into direct contact with art. The viewer recives messges to which he or she can add explanations and make additions so as to become active in completing the artwork. The rift between artist and viewer, but also between creator and created product can thus bridged.
by Margarethe Lasinger
Translated by Camilla Nielsen