Ulrich Görlich

Ulrich Görlich’s work often comments on the sociopolitical context surrounding the exhibition site, so it was not surprising that his recent photographic installation in Zurich took Switzerland as its theme. Clichés about Switzerland are ubiquitous enough: reflecting the image of hard currency and political stability, they tend to include a narrow range of scenes involving mountains, peasants, and local customs. After a long period of shuttling between Berlin and Zurich, Görlich certainly can see through these stereotypes. Entitled Heimatschutz (Defense of the homeland, 1995), his installation suggested a society trying hard to reconstruct the narratives it spun about itself in the early ’50s.

The narrow, subterranean gallery space was encircled by newly constructed walls; onto their unfinished wooden surfaces, using liquid photoemulsion, Görlich copied a panorama of found black and white photographic images. These scenes included a clock in a church belfry, mounds of cheese, a lone wooden cross on a mountain peak, an apartment building, a chalet, and a view of the Swiss parliament. Along the upper edge of this panorama, a quotation from a postwar Swiss publication on “the defense of the homeland” ran, headline-like: “The series of illustrations, arranged along historico-evolutionary and typological lines, represent a cross-section of the material we have received. We would like to assist the user through the choice and arrangement of illustrations.” This quotation seemed also to describe Görlich’s procedure, which was at once canny and self-consciously naïve, as the installation’s friendly didacticism quickly yielded to a deconstructive strategy. While this historical panorama seemed at first to place the bourgeois subject at the center, as a surveyor and “controller” of these images, the spectator was unable to achieve an overview because of their sheer omnipresence within the confining space. Görlich’s exhibition also put the space itself on display, because of a massively constructed, almost sculptural pillar that split the gallery into two sections and obscured parts of the panorama. Then, too, the photographic detail in the work was blurred as a result of the wooden support that showed through and the almost painterly traces of splattered developing fluid. The images seemed at once to seep into the wooden ground and be repelled by it.

In his deceptively straightforward presentation of a world of collective images, Görlich explored a host of latent ideologies. The cozy wooden enclosure suggested a secret hideaway, a bunker offering protection from alien influences. Just as the work that he contributed to the “New Evidence” show at MoMA last fall emphasized a deliberate falsifying of evidence, Heimatschutz suggested a tenuous relationship between the photographic reproductions it incorporated and the “real” world that viewers encountered when they stepped out of the installation into a suburban street.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from the German by David Jacobson.