Annika von Hausswolff, Jane & Louise Wilson, Weegee
Prologue by David Neuman, director, and Richard Julin, curator Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
The Scene of the Crime: Annika von Hausswolff, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Weegee, essay by Sara Arrhenius, editor of NU: The Nordic Art Review and contributing writer for the daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter (2000)
Exhibition catalogue no 22. ISBN 91-972986-5-3
52 pages, color, illustrated, insert, soft cover. Texts in Swedish/English.
Published 2000 by Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall.
Price: 150 SEK (approx. 16 EUR)
The Scene of the Crime: Annika von Hausswolff, Jane and Louise Wilson, and Weegee
by Sara Arrhenius
Weege’s photographs almost always show violence, evil, and human misery. Brutal and dramatic, they open the door onto catastrophes that we know happen and fear will happen again. The prints he made are retrospect wear and tear visible on the darker parts, and their nearly unimaginable flash that gives the pictures the character of a revelation, an omen of what should not happen.
But the suffering of the people he portrays-nearly always the poor, the marginalized, or the criminal- is neither heroic nor tragic. It is only part of life’s unpredictable, chaotic flood of small and large miseries and mistakes. In this way, Weegee’s photographs do not have any clear sociopolitical agenda. They do not preach about crime or designate anyone as guilty, but nor do they urge us to seek change or ask for explanations or gather in opposition. Weegee photographs the world; he does not try to change it. In this way, his photographs follow the logic of sensationalist journalism. Black-and-white and strikingly present, they follow life close on its heels: excited, laconic, sometimes sentimental, always captivating. Among all these photographs there is one that I sit in front of for a long time. Not because it is somehow more brutal than his other photographs of the dark side of the big city. On the contrary, it is quite an everyday catastrophe caused more by human inability than by evil. The photograph shows an apparently futile attempt to resuscitate a drowned man. What attracts my attention is not what is shown but how it does it: the fact that it so palpably follows the rules that have governed and shaped press photography and by doing so also exposes them mercilessly. These visual codes not only characterize the innumerable photographs printed in magazines and shown on TV but have also become so deeply integrated into our way of looking and our visual culture that we hardly see them any longer and we take them for granted. The beach is full of curious people greedy for something sensational. Exactly like the photographer-and myself-they are stealing glances at the accident. This voyeurism in itself functions as a guarantee that we are not involved, that we have made it through safely this time also and have not been struck down by something awful. But voyeurism is also the perversion that feeds the fundamental lie of the news and of photography: that looking and recording are themselves a form of moral duty, an imperative we must follow. So far, Weegee’s photograph is really just a normal news photograph of one accident among many. But sitting behind the man on the ground is a young woman, and here the photograph begins to become unsettling. She is probably one of the people who found him, perhaps even a relative. She is looking straight at the camera and smiling. Her smile interrupts the entire logic of the photograph, which dictates that an accident has happened here and that those who are affected should be self-absorbed. By smiling at the camera, another mode of photography is triggered instead: the one in which a woman exists because a camera sees her and desires her youth and beauty. The clash between these two normally irreconcilable modes of photography makes the image into an odd form of meta-photograph, one that is mostly about photography itself and about how photography has come to be used in our time and shaped our images and our way of looking. Weegee’s photograph makes visible the rules that still govern photography to a large extent. On the one hand, there is the indiscreet curiosity about everything that has happened but should not have. The camera and our eyes are wherever the accident happens to be, and what drives us forward in all this is our will to know, represent, magnify, repeat, copy, announce, and disseminate further. We look and we try to understand what has happened by getting closer and closer. On the other hand, there is the woman smiling straight at the camera, intoxicated with the desire to be seen real. She smiles despite the proximity of death. She exists because she is photographed.
One of Annika von Hausswolffs photographs, “Hey Buster! What Do You Know about Desire?”, addresses exactly these two motifs of the practice of photography: the woman’s body, and crime as a spectacle. We have seen the motifs together so many times that we can even say it is emblematic. The body of a dead woman lying on her front is covered by a blanket. Beside her, a powerful German shepherd has perked up his ears and is looking at something outside the frame. Is he faithfully keeping guard beside his owner even after her death? Or does he belong to the perpetrator of the crime? The sand around them has been kicked. What really happened here before only silence and the sounds of the waves were left? Annika von Hausswolff’s photographs are nearly always carefully staged tableaus such as this one, heavy with narratives of violence and suffering. This is clearly the case in earlier works such as this, in which the role of women in visual culture is central. In later works such as “The Petrified Couple” where a couple is on the floor under a sheet, “Now You See It, Now You Don’t” where the contours of a brightly lit window are visible through a heavy curtain, or “Alone in the Brown Room” where a man is sitting alone and masturbating in a dark room, we find the same strong emotions but now even more evasive and fleeting. The narrative is divided into fragments and harder to pin down.
Much of the tension in Annika von Hausswolff’s photographs relies on their visual resemblance to documentary photography. They almost look like reality and we all know that they could have been real. That they are photographs-and not paintings-is in fact vital to their force. There are small traces in every photograph of the reality that, despite everything, was really there. In one photograph, it is the frayed waistline of a pair of jeans; in another, it is the rough skin of a boy’s neck turned away from us. In her latest series, “SPÖKE” [Ghost], which consists of color photographs of a nearly empty house, we find the same game between representation and what is present, between the staged and the documented. The photographs show a series of empty rooms with a few objects in them, such as a coil of electrical cords, a ceiling lamp, a flesh-colored bra in an empty closet-have these been forgotten behind or arranged?-and possess the same insistent, meaningful significant sharpness that characterizes dreams.
The fact that Annika von Hausswolff comes from a documentary background is not without relevance here. Not because we can then rush in and inscribe her work within the tradition to which Weegee belongs. ‘Belonging’ here must instead be understood as a framework of references, a visual world and a particular way of seeing that the uses and history of this technology have created. Hausswolff speaks through the documentary uses of photography, her images breathe through this tradition. This relationship is not just a question of the choice of medium, because in her images we also find photography as visual history. The police photograph, the woman in the advertisement, and the news photo are all here. Like many in her generation, Annika von Hausswolff confronts and dissects photography’s various uses at a time that is obsessed with taking photographs. One could say that in her art she uses photography as a history of the image as much as she uses it as an image technology.
We can also see a strong but ambivalent relationship to the documentary tradition in Jane and Louise Wilson’s videos, where the staged and the documented are often woven together. This is reinforced further by their intricate video installations where large projections create their own space, and where different images and image sequences meet, reinforce, or contradict each other and create a kaleidoscopic reality of reflections and fragments. An early work such as “Crawl Space” that plays with the surrealism of the horror film genre lighting, psychedelic effects-clearly presents a staged, shaped reality, as if scratching its surface would reveal a myriad references to other images and other visual traditions. But the viewer is nevertheless drawn into a narrow psychotic reality that is difficult to dismiss as fiction. In “Home/Office”, the horror atmosphere is created from completely documentary material filmed at a burned-down house, and in “Stasi City”, filmed in the former headquarters of the East German intelligence organization, part of the tension is generated precisely by the documentary aspect. The specific history of the location charges every object, wall, floor, and room. But pure documentation is disrupted by the video’s performativity-a woman in a uniform typical for the era moves from room to room, and in the closing seconds a woman and several objects float away from the floor in a dream-like sequence. With its hidden doors, sound-insulated rooms, long corridors, and terrifying surveillance system, the location is in itself an image of the impossibility of an objective image of reality. What ‘truths’ about the world have not been fabricated within the closed reality of this paranoid bureaucracy? (…)
(Excerpt from the catalogue text by Sara Arrhenius, 2000)