Magazine article Artforum International

Thomas Struth: Talks about His "Paradise" Series. (A Thousand Words)

Magazine article Artforum International

Thomas Struth: Talks about His "Paradise" Series. (A Thousand Words)

Article excerpt

At this point, "Paradise" consists of twenty-five photographs I'm just beginning to understand. intuition is an old word, but many things sprout from inner processes and needs and then take on a form. My approach to the jungle pictures might be said to be new, in that my initial impulses were pictorial and emotional, rather than theoretical. They are "unconscious places" and thus seem to follow my early city pictures. The photographs taken in the jungles of Australia, Japan, and China, as well as in the California woods, contain a wealth of delicately branched information, which makes it almost impossible, especially in large formats, to isolate single forms. One can spend a lot of time in front of these pictures and remain helpless in terms of knowing how to deal with them. There is no sociocultural context to be read or discovered, unlike in the photographs of people in front of paintings in museums. Standing in front of the facade of the cathedral in Milan, one experiences oneself as a human being defined by specific social and historical conditions. The jungle pictures, on the other hand, emphasize the self. Because of their consistent "allover" nature, "Paradise" numbers 9 and 4 could be understood as membranes for meditation. They present a kind of empty space: emptied to elicit a moment of stillness and internal dialogue. You have to be able to enjoy this silence in order to communicate with yourself--and eventually with others.

In some of the photographs, the picture stands like a screen in front of another, invisible image, dissolving the vanishing point that photography usually puts into focus. I made several attempts to take pictures in the old German woods close to the Czech border, but pine forests always look like Christmas. I didn't want to portray a specific place, that specific forest. Rather I was trying to feel within its primeval branchings the moment of beginning that once was the world. I also avoided pictures that would evoke exotic fantasies or look like botanical gardens. Actually, I don't even see the images as depictions of nature. The theme may play a major part, but the undertone makes the music. It's about the experience of time as well as a certain humility in dealing with things. It's a metaphor for life and death.

My trips to China made me aware of Brice Marden's "Cold Mountain" paintings. You can feel the time invested in those canvases. Marden engages in Asian calligraphy but frees the characters of their semantic aspect. He respects these signs as a sort of homage to an alien cultural phenomenon. He's not Chinese, so he has to find his own language following the Chinese script. It's very important to me to relate my own cultural work to the achievements of other cultures. I try to constantly be in between spaces and to feel life's breath--the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, as in tai chi. Every day, I could think of thirty pictures that would have a spectacular effect, but it's not about big ideas. Instead I'm trying to effectively unite the conscious and the unconscious of life and the time I live in and thereby create authentic pictures. Even in the portraits, I've always sought the moment in which the portrayed's presence is especially strong.

I don't understand why so many people equate the notion of paradise with escapism. Paradise was never a place one could enter--though, in this global moment, escapism is no longer an issue either. …

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