Lois Renner

Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art Vienna

Lois Renner has become known for his large-format color photographs of interior spaces brimming with ordinary objects like fire extinguishers, ladders, workbenches, and tools. Only upon close observation can one see that these spaces are fictive constructs, photographed in a five-foot-high model made by the artist, who now lives in Vienna, of his former studio in Salzburg. Over the years, the artist’s displacements and duplications of spatial planes have become increasingly complex—in addition to these views of the model studio, Renner has also been using paint to create his fictions. He photographs and digitally manipulates the paintings, inserting them into the world of the studio, where they are finally represented as photographs. The use of digital manipulation means that the figures in Renner’s spaces—usually effigies of himself, though he also uses female models on occasion—can sometimes appear twice. A life-size female model shown lying on the beams over the studio in Venus, 2006, allows Renner, tongue in cheek, to bring the theme of “the painter and the model” into his work. His name has been carved into the wood, a succinct and humorous take on the fetish of the artist’s signature.

In his latest exhibition, Renner showed some of these oil paintings—naturally, as photographs—as well as other recent works. These pieces are now so detailed and contain so many diverse spatial planes that there is no reliable way of differentiating between spatial-physical and pictorial reality, or between the internal and the external. Here, the stairway, a constant in his studio pieces, takes on a new meaning. Our perception is sent up and down flights of stairs that move between analog and digital pictorial worlds; just when we are sure we are seeing the model of the studio, we catch sight of the real studio space, which we glimpse through or behind the model. A photograph of the model studio turns up within the model studio; the entire picture is thus doubled, forcing our gaze back into the abyss and removing any point of reference that could possibly provide a reliable plane.

This shift means that photography no longer has a representational function, and we lose any believable reality. The physical studio and the constructed model, analog painting and digital photography, all play an equal role in these pictorial constructs that can no longer be defined by media and yet exist solely through media. And if there is no reliable reality, then the question of the relationship between painting and photography loses all relevance. For Renner, “[painting] is an intensification of all visual potential.” The model in the model, the photograph in the photograph, the mixture of analog and digital manipulation: All this produces yet another disturbance, one that goes beyond Renner’s questioning of the notion of the medium. He takes us to the ancient question that is now the province of neuroscience and quantum physics: What is reality anyway? Is it a neuronal capacity, which enables an interlinked process of interpretation? Is it our own personal creation? Or is it one of many options, as suggested by physicist Hugh Everett’s “many worlds theory” in the ’50s, according to which “every sector of reality is perpendicular to all other sectors”? In Renner’s work, however, one thing is certain: Reality is a construction and the artist its architect.

Sabine B. Vogel

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.