Astrid Klein

Galerie Magers, Galerie Schneider

Two things largely ignored today in the work of young artists—or what of it filters through the media—are the medium of photography and the attitude of socially critical engagement. Nonetheless, Astrid Klein has attained notable recognition in both regards. The title of an exhibition of her work in Berlin in 1983, “Suggestive Bilder” (Suggestive images), well describes her large-format black and white photographs, which combine analytical thought with emotional intensity both formally and in terms of their content. This latest exhibition, in Bonn (and later repeated in somewhat different form in Konstanz), used dramatic suggestion and “death-intoxicated” images to attack the enduring status quo of dehumanization.

Klein may take her material from the daily diet offered by the media, or she may make her own photographs, also in the usual style of media consumerism. In the darkroom pieces of negatives are montaged, side by side and on top of each other, and are subjected to a wide variety of photographic techniques and chemical manipulations. A traumatic vision of imminent destruction, dehumanization, and dissolution unfolds in the final enlargements, which are big—ca. 50 by 95 inches in some cases. Vaporous, ominous clouds weigh down on human forms standing defenseless in the shallows of the diffuse black and white picture space; in cool, rationally ordered constellations of shapes and signs, the cosmic system of Big Brother appears as a faceless silhouette of light. Small white figures, schematic but not pictographic, dance after a huge receding form along a slithering path of light which comes from nothing and leads to nothing. A skull is so enlarged that it becomes a cratered landscape for a reeling human silhouette.

The powerful excitation of these images makes one feel that in dreams Klein has wrestled with the experience of death—as final end, as escape, as freedom. The works well up from a subjective vulnerability, from the traumatic experience of reality; condensing in the small area of the photographic negative, they emerge, as from the nucleus of a cell, into these huge photographs. The images divulge no simple story. They seem to exist on the threshold of the unconscious, pointing to repressed memories, paradigmatic visions of the mounting threat to life, and the realm of myth. Subversive, hortatory, the entrance of these images into consciousness arouses the energies of resistance.

Annelie Pohlen

Translated from the German by Leslie Strickland Rome.