Berlin

Seiichi Furuya, Izu, 1978, C-print, 13 x 10 5/8".

Seiichi Furuya, Izu, 1978, C-print, 13 x 10 5/8".

Seiichi Furuya

Galerie Thomas Fischer

Seiichi Furuya, Izu, 1978, C-print, 13 x 10 5/8".

“I prefer to be on this side,” Seiichi Furuya’s second exhibition at Galerie Thomas Fischer, is as much about borders as it is about loss. Intentionally or not, Furuya has become the chronicler of two histories—one private, one public—that intersected for a while, then both disappeared. His biography and his work are inseparable. In 1973, at age twenty-three, the photographer left Japan for Austria. In Graz in 1978, he met Christine Gössler, a student of art history and later an aspiring actress. They married a few months later and in 1981 had a son. From the beginning, Furuya felt compelled to photograph his wife daily. “In her, I can see the woman that passes in front of my eyes, I can see the model, sometimes the woman I love, and at other times the shape of the woman inside me,” he said in 1980, discussing his work for the first time in the magazine he cofounded, Camera Austria. “I feel that it is my duty to keep on photographing the woman who has so many meanings for me. By facing her, by photographing her, and then by seeing her in the photographs, it is like seeing myself at the same time, discovering myself.”

In 1984, the family moved to Dresden, and then to East Berlin, where Furuya got a job as an interpreter. He continued his portraits of Christine, though more sporadically. On October 7, 1985, the thirty-sixth anniversary of the German Democratic Republic, Christine, who suffered from depression and had already once tried to kill herself, threw herself out of a ninth-floor window. With all the street rallies and ceremonies taking place around town, the ambulance arrived two hours late; Christine’s second attempt at suicide was successful. Furuya went back to Graz in 1987. In 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell, he started to order and present his photographic archive of thousands of images. He had lost his wife and model, but continued to reprint, reorder, and rearrange his images in exhibitions and in a series of books—five so far—titled Mémoires.

While previously Furuya’s images have often been presented in associative or chronological clusters, this show focused on two series hung in a straight line. One is “Portrait,” 1978–85, a newly assembled selection of color and black-and-white photographs of Christine. We see a graceful young woman whose unpretentious style still appears timeless. Her expression is earnest, perhaps sad, but sometimes she is smiling or making faces. Obviously comfortable with posing, even naked, for her husband, she directs her gaze mostly toward the camera—looking at him, at us. How different these portraits are from, for instance, Gerhard Richter’s series “I.G.,” 1993, in which he depicted his wife Isa Genzken, from whom he separated that year, in photographs taken from behind. Even though Genzken is obscured in these paintings, she is well known thanks to her own artistic oeuvre. We know almost nothing about Christine, but through this photographic legacy, she has a presence. The other series, “Staatsgrenze” (National Border), consists of twenty-four photographs taken between 1981 and 1983 on a trip around the border that separated Austria from the Eastern Bloc (Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Yugoslavia). For a Japanese, coming from a country whose border is defined by the separation of land and sea, this invisible border known as the Iron Curtain, frequently marked by watchtowers or destroyed bridges, must have appeared as something weirdly abstract. Like a diary, the images are accompanied by laconic notes such as, “This is where the free western world ends, and it only begins again in Japan. Schattendorf, 1981.” Working through a double trauma that is at once deeply personal and collective, Furuya confronts both a private loss and the end of a political system.

Eva Scharrer