Passengers: 1.6 Annette Kelm
Deceptively simple at first glance, Annette Kelm's images are typified by an immediately graspable form—a pair of gloves, for instance, or a burnt log in a fireplace, a house on a hill, or a cowboy on a horse. Indeed, they are so perfectly executed in their framing and clarity that they give the impression of found images, cropped from the pages of a magazine fashion spread or advertisement. Their central focus is abundantly clear, and the artist's insistence on our observation of the subject (there is no ambiguity as to what we are supposed to see) is so forceful that one quickly becomes aware of the details that attracted her to it. And these particulars are such that we soon realize that the image could never have been simply found. Each of the German artist's works, and in particular their cumulative effect when they are installed in carefully selected groups or diptychs, unfolds a precisely executed combination of formal, historical, and contextual references.
by Jens Hoffmann
Proposing an approach to photography that is in equal measures poetic, romantic, and conceptual, Annette Kelm conflates a variety of styles, artistic genres, and historical and cultural references. Her pictures are characterized by their intense visual clarity; she utilizes the plain style of representation associated with old-fashioned advertisements or documentary photography to examine the relationship between sculpture and photography. The specific objects and found forms in her images are often dislocated from their original contexts and presented in new, unusual, or even obscure arrangements so that their lucidity belies their mysterious or fictional undercurrents.
One of her more recent works, Frying Pan (2007), for instance, portrays an instrument—one of the first electronically amplified guitars, made in 1924 in the United States—in combination with an African-patterned piece of fabric that the artist bought in a store in Paris. The fabric backdrop transforms the guitar into a seemingly foreign, African-looking musical device. Adding a further level of obfuscation, the title of the work is a term that refers to the design and use of the guitar, which rests flat on the player's lap. Whether Kelm's image is a comment on the origins of jazz and rock music in the U.S. or a more free-associative connection remains open.
Friendly Tournament (2005), which Kelm showed in the Passengers group exhibition consists of four photographs, each depicting a target used for Zen archery at different stages of a competition. The progress of the event is reflected in the images; the first one shows a target clean and undamaged, the others show targets increasingly full of marks, recording the action that Kelm witnessed (though it was never visible to us). Kelm's subject, the practice of Zen archery, is a form of the sport in which the style and execution of the shot is of equal if not greater importance than its accuracy—suggesting a parallel, perhaps, with Kelm's own particular approach to the meeting of form and content. For her other contribution to the Passengers group exhibition, an untitled work made in 2006, Kelm again looks at archery targets. This time we see a series of five regular archery targets photographed from the back. These photographs are highly abstract, each showing a white field with slight interruptions in its surface where an arrow protruded. Only if we pay close attention do we recognize the colorful rings and black bull's-eye shimmering through the thin paper.
Kelm's latest piece, exhibited as part of this solo Passengers show, is an untitled series of 20 photographs made in 2008 that delicately create a wide range of complex cultural meanings. The pieces depict a number of hats that she bought in New York's Chinatown. Reflecting the neighborhood's cultural hybridity, their style is an odd mix, combining the common American baseball cap with the traditional Chinese straw hat. Kelm's photographs invite us to examine their formal and sculptural characteristics, presenting them in front of a neutral white paper background from a number of different angles, with the seams of the hats appearing in five different colors (yellow, purple, red, beige, and black).
Her second piece in this exhibition, Prefabricated House, Reinerzau (2008) investigates the history of the prefabricated house, as developed during the 1920s in Germany, via one of the earliest such structures. It was designed and produced by the famous Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau in Dresden in 1923 and made entirely of wood, in the tradition of the so-called Gartenstadt Bewegung ("garden-town movement"), whose forward-thinking design philosophy espoused environmentally friendly living and building. Mass production also made the houses more affordable to the lower classes and allowed for greater mobility, since the structures could be set up or dismantled within a few hours without too much labor. Located in Reinerzau in Germany's Black Forest, the specific house in Kelm's photographs still exists in its original condition and is now used as a holiday home for families. By bringing together the notion of ready-made sculpture with the utopian ideals of modernist architecture, perhaps Kelm is suggesting the changed, if not compromised, contemporary position of both.