Annelies Štrba

The Swiss artist Annelies Štrba gained recognition in the early ’90s, when her family photographs were exhibited in Zurich for the first time. These are curious snapshots showing her children and grandchildren in often intimate domestic situations: in the chaos of untidy rooms, sitting at the dining room table, grooming their hair, or—again and again—sleeping. These images were clearly not produced for exhibition purposes but pursue a private obsession born of the joy that this (trained) photographer takes in her family.

It would be difficult to say precisely why Štrba has chosen the image of the sleeper to document the march of time and the development of her children. But several ideas suggest themselves as to why we observe these pictures with such interest. One first notes that Štrba’s photography is driven neither by self-representation nor by the mise-en-scene of interiors. She presents everyday subjects in a manner that makes them instantly overlap with the observer’s own life—there’s enough common ground to ensure our interest not only in pictures of a stranger’s family, but also in the landscapes that are the subject of Štrba’s more recent photographs. Under the title Ån, she exhibited several stills from the videos that since 1 998 she has been shooting with a digital camera on her travels. In these images, whose title comes from the name of a druid divinity, Štrba tries to capture in pictures the magic of places. With their pale colors and their low, nearly pointillist resolution, these extremely flat images never allow one to forget they were created by technical means but, on the other hand, they also appear like fleeting memories.

Both groups of works bring together two interesting discourses. The first is that of memory. The photographs embody the permanent presence of the maturation process—as personal experience, as art-historical motif, and as cultural archetype. As for the videos and video stills, they portray faded memories of travels past. In both cases, memories appear without self-reflexivity or affectivity, as a result of which Štrba’s works promise a high degree of authenticity—which in turn provides the basis for the second discourse, that of “interpassivity.” This concept was coined by the Austrian philosopher Robert Pfaller and describes the reverse side of interactivity. Instead of excitement through participation, one seeks relaxation through someone else’s experiences. Comparable to what was represented by the Greek chorus, who laughed and cried in the observers’ stead, the pleasure of interpassivity consists in not having to live through everything oneself; appearance substitutes for personal experience. The condition for the existence of interpassivity is, of course, sufficient authenticity: If Big Brother (the current television hit that puts a group of normal people in the abnormal situation of living together in an enclosed space whose every corner is monitored by a camera) were scripted and played by professional actors, it wouldn’t be compelling enough for anyone to watch. Likewise, Štrba’s photographs, precisely because they are snapshots or coarsely pixilated images with only vaguely recognizable subjects, warrant sufficient authenticity to characterize them not as intelligible constructs but as fleeting, emotional moments—as “inner images,” or so the artist calls them—that enter the world by offering themselves as objects of identification.

Sabine Vogel

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.