Marc Brandenburg

Since the mid-’90s, Marc Brandenburg has worked toward an iconography that, originating in a repertoire of personal motifs, has grown to encompass politics and public space. His small-scale drawings start from snapshots or occasionally postcard or magazine images, sometimes distorted on the computer before being sketched freehand. But the original compositions disappear into the material of the drawing. In the place of clear contour comes a soft line that levels the difference between figure and space. The presentation here multiplied this strategy in which the fixed, momentary exposure is inseparable from individual experience: Fifty-two works were hung together in two rows as a continuous frieze.

Although the letter-size pages were not related to one another by content, a narrative structure emerged that erratically and associatively interlocked portraits, details of everyday objects, and impressions from protest marches. Brandenburg composes his arrangements like a visual score: Everything flows within the rhythm of the images—not up-tempo, but downbeat. Sometimes only short sequences (the bright facade of a fairground booth, a toy set of human teeth) stand out from the surface, but an ornamental round-dance animates the whole so that the viewer almost automatically concentrates on smaller units and begins to read the flood of images like a text, word for word.

Furthermore, the gallery space was painted black and lit with black light, while most of the drawings are done as negatives: Precisely what Brandenburg did not draw, what remains white, unmarked surface, was visible. Everything else disappeared in the surrounding darkness. And neither the actual, spatial distance from the wall nor the supposed depth of the pictures was measurable. Just as one physically felt one’s way through the gallery by touch, so the images had to be visually tested, felt, because the darkness did not create more space for the viewer’s fantasy but rather forced him to read the contingent progression of fragments as a continuum, as a very specific handwriting.

This slight irritation is not just a vertiginous game—it puts the regime of the gaze into question more generally. Of mixed African-American and German descent, Brandenburg does not wish to commit himself to a “true color” for the world of appearances, and the converse is not a simple negation of the existing code; instead, it unifies through a high degree of alienation. The exhibit aims to “brainstorm” our concept of perception: Is the world, as Brandenburg portrays it, not yet at the stage of its coalescence? Is it just a phantasmagoria that, like a photographic negative, still requires the developing tray for the contrasts to separate so that we can perceive reality?

The path of refinement along which Brandenburg proceeds in his drawing leads to the question of how one sees or, better, what one wants to see. The creative form he has chosen dovetails with the content: Protest marches alternate with sexually loaded scenes or dissolve in an abstract blur; sometimes a broad white strip slides, like a comically lengthened finger, across two, three pages. Right next to it, Ronald McDonald milks a cow. No single snippet has more significance than another—and none has less. In its hallucinogenic artificiality this world remains suspended between utopia and dystopia, a space where social conflicts exist unreconciled beside intimate situations from the private sphere. This belle indifférence is neither disinterest nor bohemian ennui but rather the expression of the dissolution of any and every totalization.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Diana Reese.