Ricarda Roggan

Ricarda Roggan is decidedly different from the current crop of young artists from Leipzig, who favor a decoratively painted amalgamation of Photoshop realism and sampled figures. Roggan’s photographs, which were included in last year’s Berlin Biennial, are characterized by a brittle reductionism close to the documentary style of the ’70s. She studied at Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst Leipzig with Timm Rautert, whose photographic reportage of factories beginning in the ’60s greatly influenced the way that daily life was presented artistically in West Germany.

Born in Dresden in 1972, Roggan witnessed the demise of the GDR as a teenager. Thus, she brings something of an insider’s perspective to her analysis of the functional aesthetic that was the Socialist response to the Bauhaus. The subjects of her photographs are the actual sites of this lost Socialism: East Germany’s Plattenbauten (high-rise housing made of prefabricated concrete slabs) and industrial buildings. Roggan’s earlier photographs, shot on the site of an old spinning mill in Leipzig, were sparse tableaux of office chairs, tables, first-aid kits, mattresses, and other found objects. These works depict spaces as constricted and oppressive as jail cells. Roggan portrays stasis in a no-man’s-land of objects: Positioned in brightly whitewashed rooms, the abandoned objects appear alien and out of place. These images, with their strict composition and repetitive arrangements, function as allegories of a life without utopian possibility.

In “Schacht” (Shaft), 2006, the series on view at Galerie Eigen + Art, Roggan pushes her formalist approach even further. The large-format photographs of ventilation shafts in an old industrial site emphasize the graphic nature of the architecture. The artist has painted occasional white and black rectangles on the brick walls, imposing a structure on the planes and angles. The result looks something like a Suprematist painting overlaid onto scenes of decrepitude—Malevich’s black square as a symbol of a dead industrial age? On-site construction is important to Roggan’s work: The rooms were prepared according to her exact specifications in order to expose the artificial nature of a setting that would otherwise seem completely unremarkable. A metal pipe might be removed, or soot on a wall washed off—anything to render the vision of a concrete architectonic space, which, though looking nothing like a “white cube” in the photograph, paradoxically functions as a kind of blank canvas. In Roggan’s staged sets, these real rooms are as flat as anti-illusionist painting.

In creating these works, the artist differentiates her oeuvre even more than before from the popular genre painting coming out of Leipzig; she rejects their meticulously and tastefully arranged interiors. Roggan’s art is dominated by references to the modernism that collapsed along with the political ideals of Communism. The fact that these scenes are set in the ruined factories of ex-collectives is one of the ironies of history.

Harald Fricke

Translated from German by Jane Brodie.