Jürgen Klauke

Galerie Claudine Papillon

The first question that Jürgen Klauke’s “Pro Securitas” exhibit raises is, quite simply, what are we looking at? For the uninitiated, these shadow plays of semi-familiar forms are rather more compelling than comprehensible. Hybrid compositions that hover between description and design, they combine the oneiric style of the drawings Klauke entitled “Griffe ins Leere” (Grasping into emptiness, 1987) with a patently mechanical precision of detail. In fact, they are X-ray images photographed from the security equipment (as in “Pro Securitas”) at the Cologne airport, which Klauke has recombined and reworked from individual negatives into this uncommon array of diptychs, triptychs, and series.

Suffice it to say that there is nothing very secure about Klauke’s world of “security.” Under the scanner’s eye, inanimate masks, mannequins, and statues are irradiated into an eerie corporeality, while everyday objects like umbrellas, lampshades, or baby carriages are reduced to the skeletal geometry of their metal frames. Shapes and volumes float in an ersatz space of superposition, with contours and surfaces eaten away by the scanner’s telltale striations.

What then does “Pro Securitas” mean? In the earliest of the five works on display, Securitas, 1987–88, an assortment of disembodied heads, erect penises, targets, robots, umbrella skeletons, and plasmic masses emerge from the ambiguous black and gray depths of eight panels. As in Klauke’s earlier performances and photographic series, this twilight zone of sex and violence is a tease, invented from the likes of erotic sculpture, tin toys, and ingeniously polymorphic salad drainers. But what is not invented at all is the stranger-than-fiction photo that completes the series: a negative print of a high-tech border guard aiming his infrared binoculars in the direction of the other seven panels (and the viewer). Security, in other words, becomes the social control of insecurity: surveillance.

In the diptych and the triptych that are also titled Securitas (both 1988), there is more of a narrative mise-en-scène, with the all-too-intact silhouettes of what, in both instances, appear to be a hangman and his victim(s). In the absence of Big Brother, the viewer is the only one watching, but the images themselves are literally so opaque that there is no way to penetrate the surface, and the would-be voyeur is left hanging, as it were (another tease). between the apparent violence and the beauty of its elusive representation.

By contrast, two small-scale series both entitled “The Big Sleep,” 1990–91, have the intimate, anecdotal quality of a drawing, a diary, or a suitcase. These too reveal a disturbing world, where miniaturized forms, human and otherwise, float on watery, chemical-colored backgrounds. But because of the scale, and the high definition of the images that it permits, the effect is more magical than menacing: rather than what should not be seen, the viewer/voyeur is confronted with what ordinarily cannot be seen. This supernatural element assumes an unmistakably spiritual dimension in the monumental triptych that is also called The Big Sleep, 1990. Here too, the effect depends on the manipulation of scale, with greatly enlarged X-ray images becoming white traces on a seemingly infinite blue ground that simultaneously reflects the whole of the gallery space (and the viewer) on its Plexiglas-covered surface.

For those who are familiar with Klauke’s multifaceted, multimedia creations over the past two decades, this latest, high-tech phase is all the more impressive for the way it incorporates virtually everything that went before, from issues to iconography to the “inner life of things” (“Das Innenleben der Dinge,” as he titled a 1979–80 series of drawings). But the chance discovery of airport security equipment has provided Klauke with more than just a medium for his art. As he commented a few years ago, explaining his switch from performance, “With photos, I am more in tune with the times.” So, too, with this scanner image and its indelible associations that make it impossible to look at Klauke’s work without thinking about the airport, the city hall, the police station, the embassy. But thanks to Klauke, it should also be impossible to go through the airport without wondering just who is watching, and perhaps also looking harder for the inner life of things.

Miriam Rosen