Images d'une exposition

Andreas Hoffer, curator |
du 20 novembre 2018 au 28 février 2019

What do pictures speak of and in what context, what do exhibitions tell us, what do we expect of them, who is becom- ing aware of what, who sees what, what knowledge do we need to understand what, what knowledge hinders us from seeing what, how decisive is the context of presentation and representation, and eventually, what is selected and for whom—these are issues that are central to perception, to any artistic process, and also to exhibition curating. And what French artist Perrine Lacroix sets out to explore in her exhibition at the Kunsthalle Krems is nothing less than that.
During her stay in Krems in April 2017, as a guest of the Lower Austrian AIR – ARTIST IN RESIDENCE program, Lacroix took a photographic approach to the town, its surroundings and speci c characteristics. What caught her attention, among other things, were medieval facades, frequent in Krems and Stein, that had con- tours of brickwork painted on them on a plaster ground—a rhyth- mizing surface design. Underneath, one may assume, there is brickwork of precisely the kind that appears as symbolic masonry on the painted surface, and which may also be read as blanks.
So let’s stay with the idea of emptiness for a moment. Lacroix took an interest in the construction site of the Kunsthalle Krems, which was undergoing refurbishment at the time. On several occa- sions, she explored the empty exhibition rooms, which had been gutted and were in a virgin state, so to speak. Walls that already have held a lot of art, and will hold art again, in complete emptiness, only with a rhythm of paint samples on them, like placeholders for pic- tures. Lacroix captured the empty spaces with the video and photo camera, turning them into images again, moving or still, which stand for blanks, freely llable, as it were, with narration or form.
In a way, this state is comparable to that brief moment of
total emptiness when one exhibition has just been dismantled and another one is not yet set up—when anything could happen in the exhibition space, when ideas and imaginations of us curators could unfold, as it were, in the freedom of unlimited possibilities.
Now, if Lacroix photographs the empty exhibition room walls and lms the repair work done on them, thus integrating them in her artistic working process again, the result of such photographic documentation of the refurbishment of a place of art presentation again is pictorial artifacts, artworks, which, however, only show, or rather represent, what is not there. For viewers who do not feel
at home in an art context this may look like a strange, futile, even presumptuous form of artistic work, all the more so since empti- ness and utmost reduction (to the essential) do not have as much value in our European tradition as they do, for example, in Asian culture. It was only in classical modernity, and particularly after the invention of photography, that working with extreme reduction and with emptiness as a stored-up form of spiritual richness became a possibility taken seriously in art, also due to the appropriation of extra-European cultures. So there is in fact a historically connoted fascination with emptiness that Lacroix addresses in the context of this exhibition.
For example, she prints photographs of the empty Kunsthalle Krems exhibition walls on plasterboard, used to set up exhibition walls, presenting those sheets on painting carts as are commonly used to move artworks around. You can look at all of them on the carts, although what they show is always the same, the empty walls of the Kunsthalle Krems that have returned there as works of art
in their own right. In a second work, the photograph of an empty wall structured by white paint samples becomes a wall again, this time as an allover wallpaper—showing, on an empty wall, an empty wall. This also brings up the question of the original: the wallpaper, the drywall sheets, or the video, all of which show the same empty walls—now, which one is the original? And does this question even play a role here? Are we being confronted with different variants of reality and representation only to make us think about what func- tion they have? The question of the representation of reality, which is as old as photography itself, inevitably arises here, as does the question of which reality is depicted at all and why Lacroix decided to choose precisely this pictorial reality, which in fact seems to leave everything open.
How intensively Lacroix explores, here in Krems, the notion
of reality and how to depict, or rather represent, it in an exhibition is demonstrated by her right at the beginning with an object, pre- sented in serialized form, that again relates back to her stay in town in 2017.
It was at the Krems Museum that Lacroix discovered an object whose size is inversely proportional to its archaeological signi - cance: the so-called Venus (also named Fanny) of Galgenberg, a tiny little statuette from the prehistoric period that was found near Krems, one of the oldest known Venus gurines. What is on view in Krems, though, is only a copy, with the original kept at the Natural History Museum in Vienna. Replicas of it are also available in museum shops. Three of those are put up by Lacroix in the open- ing room of her show. They demonstrate to us how cultural goods become multiply reproducible through merchandizing and make us think, like later the photographs of empty walls do, about what value an original has—in this case, compared to a copy. Like in a nightmare of curatorial omnipotence, Lacroix paints the Venus g- urine replicas in the color of the respective pedestals they are put up on, an interference in the work, which, again, is only a copy. It is a challenge posed to viewers: that this is probably more about asking questions than nding answers. However, it is of course doubtful whether any such fundamental questions will be raised at all with- out providing any textual cue; it is, after all, well known how little time viewers commonly take in front of works of art.
Let us follow now the artist’s train of thought that takes us from emptiness to color and to condensed content. We talked before about the painted wall bricks, representative of the real wall hidden underneath. One phenomenon of the age of digital images and the virtually inexhaustible abundance of pictorial realities on the World Wide Web marks another starting point of Lacroix’s artis- tic considerations: with a slow Internet connection, the results of the Google image search rst brie y appear as color boxes. These, in a way, are blanks, or placeholders, of the pictorial realities and contents supplied by the Google algorithm. To the same extent to which we take the knowledge we nd on the Web as representative of knowledge per se this is also true of the pictorial reality that we are offered. However, we have also long known that search engines tailor the returned contents to us and our previous search patterns. So if you enter some historical date and start an image search, you will, depending on your location and search history, be presented with entirely different results, which you might be tempted to take for true and exclusively valid. The color boxes popping up momen- tarily might therefore stand for more than what you get to see when the actual pictures come up—although their sizes and formats are already those of the eventually offered results.
Similarly to the depictions of the empty walls of the Kunsthalle Krems, the color boxes raise the question of the possibilities stored in the emptiness of the color boxes. Thus Lacroix uses the colors that pop up for an instant in the Google image search and applies them to the pedestals and Fanny of Galgenberg gurines, as a reference to the permanent availability on the net of our history apparently stored in the images. The painting, though, also drowns out the aura of the original, which we were once told was essential to the art experience.
So far everything still seems pretty harmless; as long as it’s about things in general, it’s easy to keep one’s distance. But what if that blank is used to represent evil, the horri c, real historical suf- fering and death? What if what emerges behind the neutral-looking color boxes is human fates, war, torture, and murder?

Lacroix again chose to make a direct reference to Krems
for this part of her artistic work. In the course of her historical research, she unavoidably came across the date of April 6, 1945, and the so-called “Krems Hare Hunt,” in which, to summarize very brie y, (mainly political) prisoners just released from the state pen- itentiary in Krems-Stein were hunted down by Nazis and murdered in mass executions. So Lacroix chose a highly charged subject, a mass murder in the nal days of World War II, pictures laden with guilt and repression. Here, she uses blanks again, a momentary intermediate layer of color boxes that may stand for anything, but then become photographs of prisoners, soldiers, murder victims and victimizers. A highly condensed narration of existential suffer- ing thus turns into a blank of possibility, which raises the question whether this blank may also become a representation of commem- oration. Lacroix uses the color boxes for a study for a memorial to that day in the form of a mural in the city park in Krems.
Historian Robert Streibel, who is doing research on the history of National Socialism in Krems, discusses this aspect of Lacroix’s artistic work in his catalogue contribution. He points out, quite critically, how dif cult it is to nd a right answer to the above ques- tion but also how much precisely such questions can encourage re ection on what the right way would be to deal with the artistic treatment and representation of history, particularly of burdened and oftentimes inadequately processed history. Streibel’s question remains legitimate and crucial, namely, how far an art project that rather relates to an intellectual discourse on representation and abstraction than maybe to well-founded historical research may at all be able, to stay with the example, to do justice to the suffering of the victims.
Over the course of the preparations and particularly Perrine Lacroix’s second one-month stay in Krems as an artist in residence, much has still changed about the exhibition during installation. In the process, priorities have shifted toward the previously discussed blanks as poetic emblems of what was, what potentially is, an imagi- nary link between the past and the future. Light as a virtual blank for art becomes a crucial formative factor of the individual installa- tions, which afford viewers multiple possibilities for imagination.
It is the exhibition itself as a space of possibility as well as artistic re ections on her stay in Krems as a guest of the AIR – ARTIST IN RESIDENCE program that provide the general theme of her work at the Kunsthalle Krems—expanded with a participative part in which visitors ll some of the blanks with contents again, notably so as a personal comment on the era.
The idea that informs this text, to follow a line of thought that starts from blanks and possibilities of interpreting them, is just one of many ways of approaching the work and the exhibition of Perrine Lacroix. That is why the artist herself was also invited to contrib- ute a text that describes her own take on things. So this catalogue shows the view of the artist, the curator, and the historian—and yet leaves many a question unanswered.
Any form of artistic confrontation of reality and any form of relating it, whether in an exhibition, in a text, or in person, implies the question of the legitimacy of blanks, of things that are not,
or cannot, nor should be, fully expounded in the service of the so-called understanding of art. Blanks may conceal the very core of a concern because information that is necessary for a “reading” is missing, but they can also prompt a free play of thoughts and ideas and thus perhaps unfold a different dimension of art reception. There is no unequivocal answer, but the more existential and com- pelling the narration behind the blank is, the more we as viewers nd ourselves called upon to think for ourselves, instead of expect- ing a ready explanation for everything.