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Asta Gröting

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Asta Gröting
Berlin Facades
Sternberg Press, KINDL, 2017 
(Ed) Andreas Friedler 
ISBN: 978-3-956793-56-1 

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Asta Gröting
Die Geschichte der Werkzeuge ist das aufgeschlagene Buch der menschlichen Psychologie/ The History of Tools is the open Book of Human Psychology
VfmK, 2017
(Ed) Kunstraum Dornbirn, Thomas Häusle 
ISBN: 978-3-903153-88-2

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Asta Gröting
Asta Gröting
Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2010 
(Ed) Brigitta Kuster 
ISBN: 978-3-86560-786-7

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While memories may be accessible to us, they are merely a surrogate to what is unthinkable, to what fails to become a memory. Indeed, memory is always the same, Marguerite Duras noted, it is an attempt to escape the »horror of forgetting.« It is also, she argued, a failure: »You know you’ve forgotten, that’s what memory is.« It is the memory of the things we forget that we call the unconscious. (1) 

In Asta Gröting’s Cherry Blossom — Dawn and Dusk (2022), an image of a cherry tree in springtime blossom is captured at one frame per second in the twilight hours of dawn and dusk.When the video is played it appears in a time lapse: a seemingly seamless one-shot sequence that moves at an artificial pace. The tree’s fecund branches, heavy with flowers, tremble in the flash of a technologically rushed blooming. This visual time compression is counter-intensified by Robert Henke’s score: the sound of field recordings so profoundly slowed and taken apart by the musician that it becomes a composition of surging suspense. Emerging from the darkness of night, the black silhouette of the tree gradually distinguishes itself in the video from the thick backdrop of rapidly changing skies, a swift movement of clouds clarifies as day bursts. Passing through almost the entire spectrum of colours, dissolving into each other and shifting back and forth between figure and ground, the sequence finally darkens back to the black night, until the loop resumes. A quiver runs through the branches caused by the movement of birds and bees, kept out of sight within the speeded-up sequence. At times it seems that the tree is literally being animated in front of our eyes. 

In Gröting’s video sculpture Laika Running (2021), we watch a video loop through a small, round opening in the wall: A speckled dog is running in the snow, its rear feet extend elastically ahead of its front feet, and vice versa, against the bright, monochromatic background of a white snow field marrying the horizon. Filmed with an ultra-high-speed camera at 1,000 frames per second, (2) the dog’s galloping pace appears in slow motion that likens the decelerated curving and lengthening pet (the artist’s own dog) to a wild predator. The dog’s fast pace, accurately sliced with advanced equipment, becomes a generalization of the animal’s movement — a display of sheer motion. This slowed-down motion also inevitably recites, with pathos and wit, the gallop that for the first time metamorphosed a photographic still into moving image, in the late 1870s, when Eadweard Muybridge connected a series of horse sprinting pictures on glass plates into a cinematographic sequence.
Indeed, in the great modern endeavour to conceptualize time (of which, among other things, cinema was born), a special place is reserved for images that strive to dissect movement. With the increase in speed and stimulation, time emerged in modernity as an entity assaulting the senses, a shock that required management and regulation. Toward the beginning of the twentieth century, many tireless attempts were made to isolate and represent that progress which leaves no record: the instant of time. Thousands of photographic stills of the sequential gestures of animals, women, men, and children performing everyday movements, were taken not only by Muybridge but also by Étienne-Jules Marey, whose sequential photographic depictions of bodies in movement aspired to capture and measure an »objective temporality.« His superimpositions — so densely overfilled that they became blurred — failed his scientific ambitions but were paradoxically taken up by modern painting (from Futurism to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase ) as an adequate representation of time, or rather, speed. (3) Walter Benjamin related to these attempts in his seminal study of photography in 1931, writing that, »While it is possible to give an account of how people walk, if only in the most inexact way, all the same we know nothing definite of the positions involved in the fraction of a second when the step is taken.« Benjamin famously called what these photographic effects expose us to the »optical unconscious.« (4) 
The unconscious, however, at least as it was thought about by Sigmund Freud at almost the same time as Marey and Muybridge were anticipating film, lacks a concept of time. In psychoanalysis, time emerges as a discontinuity. The unconscious is described by Freud as a nearly physical storage of contents: impressions which are inscribed and kept vital as traces that are completely resistant to the erosive effects of temporality. (5) 
Film has had a privileged relation to time, capturing the moment at which an image is registered and inscribing it into a representation of the past.This function of storing time may be compared to the memory left in the unconscious by an incident lost to consciousness. Both memory and film share the attribute of an indexical sign that requires retroactive deciphering. (6) Yet Gröting’s videos are filmed in high-definition and 4K video: a digital technology, no longer a photographic index. In using high-end technology, Laika and Cherry Blossom pay tribute to film’s first tricks and the early fascination with sheer representation of movement through time, where the more the activity was familiar and recognizable, the more was its representation celebrated. Gröting’s two videos call attention back to the idea of film as a machine that conquers death, a flawless storage (and restorage) of time. Yet they do so with a detour into technology, the conversion of the recordings — the dog, the tree, spring and snow — into information-based images without the material connection between object and image makes them closer to a scanned photo, to animation, and even to painting.
The two simple means in Gröting’s videos of accelerating time by filming at a lower frequency of frames and decreasing movement by filming at a higher frequency of frames make visible otherwise unseen occurrences: the quick progressing body positions of the running dog; the slow, ever-changing movement and colours of the blossoming tree.7 These basic, inverted effects, powering each work almost as its only attribute, reveal to us just how much our looking and attention has become atomized, inseparable from the digital technologies of capture and display, where fact and effect are practically no longer distinguishable. But what may be the principle invisible figure of both works, and the cause for the artist’s return to film’s most basic traits, beyond technological advance, is the unattainable quest to show and preside over time. 

If Laika alludes to early attempts to spatialize time, such as in Muybridge’s fragmented movements or Marey’s detailed superimpositions, in Cherry Blossom movement is indivisible, submitting its advance to a conception of time as flux, where the past is prolonged into the present like a memory. If in Laika the dog is the generator of movement — while the camera merely follows the movement with a fixed frame — the movement in Cherry Blossom originates in the filming itself, both camera and its object are affixed. Laika’s image is charged with movement, the image of the tree is charged with duration. 

(this text was translated from German)

Footnotes

(1) Suzanne Lamy and André Roy, MARGUERITE DURAS À MONTRÉAL, Paris 1981. Or, as Jacques Lacan — who said of Duras that she »turns out to know what I teach without me « — wrote: »A subject originally represents nothing more than the following fact: he can forget.« See Jacques Lacan, THE ETHICS OF PSYCHOANALYSIS 1959 – 1960, THE SEMINAR OF JACQUES LACAN, BOOK VII, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, New York 1997, 224. 

(2) The human eye can perceive between thirty and sixty frames per second. 

(3) While Muybridge’s sequences were made of separated, framed still images, Marey’s enterprise, which he termed chronophotography (»time photography«) and derived from graphic drawings, was to try and place all successive fragments of a movement within one frame. The almost abstract outcome seemed adequate for art not only because of its blurring but also because it overrode the convention of a unity of time and space in a singular frame to instead make way for images containing multitude of perspectives and positions at once. 

(4) Walter Benjamin, A SHORT HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY, trans. Phil Patton, ARTFORUM 15, no. 6 (February 1977), https://www.artforum.com/print/197702/ walter-benjamin-s-short-history-of- photography-36010. 

(5) See also Mary Ann Doane, TEMPORALITY, STORAGE, LEGIBILITY: FREUD, MAREY, AND THE CINEMA, in ENDLESS NIGHT: CINEMA AND PSYCHOANALYSIS, PARALLEL HISTORIES, ed. Janet Bergstrom, Oakland, CA 1999, 57–87. 

(6) See also Laura Mulvey, DEATH 24 × A SECOND: STILLNESS AND THE MOVING IMAGE, London 2006. 

(7) The video can be seen almost as an accelerated hanami, the Japanese feast of flower viewing, timed for the start of the cherry tree’s blooming. The annual cycle of the cherry tree is interwoven in determining the circle of life in Japanese culture.