Munchies art club shares the solo exhibition of the artist Lars Eidinger titled Good Gosh presented by the Alba Gallery in Salzburg.
Imbergstraße 51-55, A-5020 Salzburg
Opening hours: MO-SO, 13:00-19:00
From Starbuck Cups to Religious Contemplation (and back). Lars Eidinger's Pointed Images.
Klaus Speidel on GOOD GOSH by Lars Eidinger
Society, it seems, mistrusts pure meaning: It wants meaning, but at the same time it wants this meaning to be surrounded by a noise [...] which will make it less acute. Hence the photograph whose meaning (I am not saying its effect, but its meaning) is too impressive is quickly deflected; we consume it aesthetically, not politically. (Roland Barthes)
We can use Lichtenberg’s writings as the most amazing divining rod; wherever he makes a joke, a problem is hidden under it. (Goethe)
Lars Eidinger creates pointed images. Like an aphorism or a joke, almost every one of his photographs has a point.
To what extent this becomes a punctum, a point that affects or indeed “pierces” us, as Roland Barthes in his theoretical deliberations Camera Lucida put it, has, naturally enough, just as much to do with us, with how much we open to and let ourselves be touched by them.
Analogous to the aphorism, the danger with these succinct images is that we do not take them seriously enough and make do with just discovering the point.
But to shrug them off (or revel in them) as simply ironic, means however to deprive them of their explosiveness and fails to give them the appreciation they deserve.
Contrary to “system-conforming” irony, Eidinger demands a new earnestness.
But this does not mean that his images are not witty, for — as G.K. Chesterton noted as early as 1906 — we are deceiving ourselves when we think that “funny is the opposite of serious.”
Whether a man choses to tell the truth in long sentences or short jokes is a problem analogous to whether he choses to tell the truth in French or in German. Whether a man preaches his gospel grotesquely or gravely is merely like the question whether he preaches it in prose or verse.
Applied to Eidinger, this means that the grotesque surface of an image, two stacked Starbucks cups holding a holy picture, may mask a serious reality. Like Lichtenberg’s aphorisms, Eidinger’s images are a divining rod: where he’s having a bit of fun, there lies a problem hidden.
Superficially, the Starbucks cup picture speaks about poverty, with the holy picture, talisman and invocation, invoking Christian charity in the form of a coin.
Deeper, it’s about graphically strong icons which appropriate a sacral pictorial language. “Honestly coined and cast”, the green siren outshines the holy picture, as a poor image from the predigital era, a copy of a copy of a copy.
We’d be making a mistake however if we were to believe that Starbucks is just about coffee and profit. Like every other billion-dollar business
enterprise, Starbucks has a sense of mission: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit”, is Starbucks’ stated Corporate Mission (“mission” from missio [16th century]: to send out the Holy Spirit). All this in a small little picture — and much more.
Only first in the image are the facts readable, the undisguised, the pure meaning accessible, that meaning not hidden behind the aesthetic noise, the noise that makes political art often seem to be somewhat less political.
Like Eidinger’s Brecht quotes in Everyman, his pictures are political without being prosaic.
At the same time, not all of them are equally direct and understandable. Nietzsche’s warning needs to be heeded:
An aphorism honestly coined and cast has not been deciphered simply because it has been read through; rather its interpretation must now begin, and for this an art of interpretation is needed.
The punctum, of which Barthes claims a photographer could never create intentionally, for it always lies in the eye of the beholder, precedes the photography, for Eidinger photographs the coincidences which affect him while simultaneously claiming that they’re not coincidental, but that something is revealing itself in them.
He thus transforms a thing into a sign or an indicator; for example, the symptom of a society that is deceiving itself and places beggar statues at the place of the needy.
None of the photographed situations — and herein lies the allure — has the meaning as a set of facts and circumstances that they have as a photograph.
In many cases, the facts are meaningless, if not utterly inane: tourists are photographed in a church; a homeless man lies in front of a mattress store; a businessman stares through a lattice fence onto a building site; a confessional converted into a shop peddles religious items; beach ball rackets, scrubbers and crucifixes lie in a banana crate...
But what is the pictorial corpus all about in GOOD GOSH? The themes broached are where belief in capitalism has gone; religiosity and bigotry; the contrast between values and reality and the tension between the poverty of the one and the wealth of the other.
Whenever a situation gets to him, Eidinger does not always keep his distance and some photographs look as if he’s looted the scene from the protagonists.
And yet there is no lack of discretion and only his photos of disrespect are disrespectful.
Even when they are part of a thematic complex, it would be a mistake to measure them all by the same yardstick.
The motifs vary and are dealt with differently. Two work groups stand out regards form and content: the photographs of sacral art and shots of believers praying or in dialogue with religious art, which obviously can also take place in a museum — provided one doesn’t stare in the other direction and turn one’s back on Veronese.
Eidinger may see himself as an atheist, but he certainly doesn’t poke fun and antireligious militancy is far from his mind.
But the “wonder beyond belief” (Navid Kermani) of those of a different faith or no faith at all is also not expressed in his photographs.
Unlike his other works, the images of religious contemplation exude awe, perhaps even longing.
But like an aphorism in a collection, every photograph in an exhibition is surrounded by others, and they enter diverse relationships and open further interpretative possibilities.
A comparison that presses itself upon us when considering scenes of intimate encounter is that of promises of salvation, either irreparably damaged or gone unnoticed: images of Christ in plastic wrap, in a crate, or an angel figure, swamped in rubbish, that itself is reaching for the rubbish bin — these form a third work group.
And this group is an important antipole: while the irreparably damaged images question any effusive idealisation of a religious encounter, the scenes of the encounters make it seem conceivable that the banana crate is not the final stage on the way to definitive destruction, but a temporary deactivation of the religious symbol.
Could a cheap Jesus figure not simply rise up the very next moment and speak to someone? But presumably it is not by accident that it is the aesthetically strongest works which do something to us, whether a melancholic Mary Magdalena in Mexico or a shining Starbucks siren in Salzburg.
Like Andy Warhol forty years ago, but quasi in passing, Lars Eidinger is working through these questions.
Klaus Speidel, PhD, works as an art critic and curator. He also teaches at the University of Applied Arts Vienna and the Paris College of Art.