Franz Ackermann

Franz Ackermann, a thirty-seven-year-old resident of Berlin, has constructed a landscape made up of a series of large, brightly colored canvases and some equally vivid wall paintings that centrifugally fling out force lines or, theoretically, are traversed by them. This is fundamentally traditional painting, even when it covers entire spaces, however influenced it may be by the premium that is put on immediacy today. But this immediate impression is secondary to the process of representation that constitutes the true core of Ackermann’s work. What may on the surface appear as an abstraction inflected by certain constructive or architectural aspects is in reality a representation of “places”—in fact, of cities. The importance of the notion of place in German culture is well known: Heidegger, for example, in his reflection on the origins of being, made it a concept as fundamental as it is mysterious. The idea seduces Ackermann, too; in his work it takes the form of a strange mental mapping in which sensations, impressions, atmospheres, predictions, and prophecies are concretized into color, line, and volume. The paintings are often flanked by photographic fragments that, for a moment, lead the mind to a definite place, a fragment of reality that contrasts with the magmatic delirium of the painting, which, instead, deliberately brings to mind a “non-place.”

In this show, titled “B.I.T. (Back in Town),” a large two-part wall painting, Non Stop, Daily, 2000, is symptomatic. On the one hand it suggests a sense of voyage, of continuous movement through places and cities, and it is flanked by photos of the sort one might find in small, slightly shabby travel agencies. Such images suggest that one can buy the status, if not of a traveler, then at least of a tourist. The result is a feeling of something slipping and sliding by, as if someone were looking out a train window, trying to scrutinize not so much the passing urban landscape as the very feeling of both absence and uniformity, of the nonrecognizability of a place neither lived in nor visited but only passed through.

In this sense, it seems that an obligatory point of reference in any discussion of Ackermann’s work must be Paul Virilio, with his concepts of velocity, globalization, and the “dismantling of the world.” Indeed the German artist surely has in mind Virilio’s forecast of a world perceived only as velocity and crossing, as leveling and adjustment to a standardized “mediatization.” Ackermann is looking for a code to represent the future, and he translates sensation into a system of signs and colors, thus carrying out a reconstruction of the world to follow its dismantling, its deconstruction. In other words, he is seeking to come to terms with the condition of being a tourist that all of us are now fated to live out in our relationship with the world. It’s an uprooted relationship, rushed, made up of crossings, of trips that never become a “journey,” perceptions that never are transformed into relationships (either with places or with other people), of places that never constitute a “place.”

Marco Meneguzzo

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.