Astrid Klein

In some religions, time is honored as a second force of creation. It is also granted this function in Astrid Klein’s work. Klein makes use of the potential of various mediums—the precision of photography, the shadows and stereoscopic effect of relief, and the chiaroscuro and sfumato contours of drawing. Often she begins with a scrap of newsprint or a shred of a photograph. Gridded blow-ups and dissolves create alien structures, remote, inhospitable landscapes like those on other planets, forms stratified like mammoth sediments of dust.

Klein transforms her paper pictures into depthless, traumatic spaces—the real outer world becomes a surreal, inner one. These dark interior worlds are lit up like hallucinations, revealing visions that always have a historical or political component: mountains of skulls pile up in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, or the word “hope” appears in Cyrillic letters, barely perceptible as a remote, vanishing incantation.

Klein’s works are political, in the dense, poetic meaning of the term, finding an expression that directly illuminates the cruxes and abysses of human existence. In “Verführung und Sklaverei”(Seduction and slavery, 1989), the words of the title are carved into two knife blades, which form an angle like an architect’s compass; the knives are eerily thrust into an unknown surface. Klein creates pictures that rest on the blade’s edge between reason and passion; only reason can maintain the narrow angle between seduction and slavery. Such pictures are timeless tokens, memories of signs, dissolved dream images floating up from the deeper layers of memory; they are the sediments of images mellowed by the passage of time and pointing beyond the imperfect present. Using aspects of the highly illusory medium of photography, Klein actually destroys illusion, creating visions that illuminate the caves, the shadowy spaces, of human existence with intense, knifelike lucidity. Klein occupies an unusual position within the photo-based art of the ’80s, because her methods go beyond photography, staking off a place in conceptual art and arte povera.

Doris von Dratlen

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.