Seven portrait formats from a series hang on the first floor of the Haus am Waldsee. Seven quite different images, which is odd because Thomas Florschuetz didn’t change the angle on this cold morning. The series “Untitled (K52)” was created at sunrise, in the period when the winter sun was beginning to warm the artist’s studio window at Kollwitzstraße 52 in Berlin.
The facade opposite is sometimes better, sometimes hardly recognizable because the camera is looking through a window that is either icy or fogged up. One of the photographs shows a droplet structure and a light-dark gradient, reminiscent of abstract painting.
What did Florschuetz photograph here anyway? In the solo exhibition “Overlays”, the photographer, who was born in Zwickau in 1957, raises doubts about the nature and meaning of the objects in the picture – and at the same time challenges the viewer’s perception. “The content of my work is the look at the look,” the artist explained more than 20 years ago, and in Haus am Waldsee it is now evident that the description has lost none of its topicality.
One could also speak of urgency, because the willingness to get involved with images decreases in the age of the rapid flow of data and images. Florschuetz offers the opposite program: his pictures and groups of works resist consumability and further scrolling. There are only a few human images interspersed in the presentation, the focus is on the past ten creative years. Mainly architectures and interiors can be seen.
Only in the series “Individuals” do people appear. However, Florschuetz leaves out heads, arms and legs. He only shows rear views in the dense hustle and bustle of Indian cities, which only hint at individuality. The quasi-portraits without faces leave many questions unanswered, create tension, curiosity, and imaginative spaces. Florschuetz’s art is essentially one of omission.
Florschuetz also refuses to look at entire structures and enclosing rooms, whether he is photographing in Berlin, Rio de Janeiro or Ahmedabad. He does not do classic architectural photography that clarifies spatial relationships. The views detach themselves from the concrete places and contexts, establish an autarkic reality – an existence that only exists as an image. But what does “only” mean: Pictures are worlds with Thomas Florschuetz.
In the latest series of works, which he took in the Sítio Roberto Burle Marx near Rio de Janeiro, the photographer addresses the coexistence of flora and architecture – and thus combines two of his central genres. However, the title of the exhibition “Overlays” refers neither solely to overgrowth nor merely to the photographer’s compositional style, who prefers to have diagonals intersect and surfaces excitingly colliding. In photography, certain external conditions – the place, the light – come together with personal attitudes and moods: inside and outside play into each other.
A photo snatches a brief moment from reality. By increasing this medial limitation with his compositional means, Florschuetz opens up a wide resonance space at the same time. In autumn 2016, Florschuetz captured the last hours of an important museum location, the Ethnological Museum in Berlin-Dahlem.
Some of the pictures in the “Elephant’s Breath” series show the rooms, showcases and exhibits in a deceptively intact state, while elsewhere the clearing is already making itself felt: plastic sheeting and barriers move into the picture field. Behind the protective glass of a showroom, only yellow pedestals and wall elements can be seen, as well as a bunch of useless hooks. The museum, which is preparing to move to the Humboldt Forum, becomes a place of melancholy.
Florschuetz goes back a step in time by presenting an interior shot of the Palace of the Republic from 2006. The dismantling of the palace, which was finally demolished in 2008, has progressed so far in the photograph that the steel girders are exposed. Old markings from the construction period in the 1970s are visible again. A section of the present that points to the past as well as to the future – like the left and right arrows that workers sprayed onto the ceiling beams decades ago.
Florschuetz did not photograph the controversial new palace. A telling gap. As an artist he remains neutral towards his subjects. In any case, it is questionable whether photographs can comment at all. In any case, Florschuetz only shows developments and changes. It is precisely this attitude that is the political aspect of his photography. The “private” Thomas Florschuetz admits: “The fact that the Palace of the Republic was demolished is not a drama. The new palace is the drama.”
The opening is clouded only by the fact that Katja Blomberg initiated the exhibition curated by Anna Himmelsbach and Dagmar Schmengler but was unable to set it up. The art historian was director of Haus am Waldsee for 16 years. At the very beginning, in 2005, there was already a Florschuetz cooperation with the solo show “Blick ins Freie”. Florschuetz II would have been Blomberg’s farewell; why she had to leave the house in September 2021, eight months before the end of her contract, remains a mystery.
At least the successor has been decided: Anna Gritz, previously curator at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, will embark on a new course, as one would expect from a new director. Gritz promises a program with an increasingly international character. The house will also deal with newer art strategies, and the art historian will start with that right away. In mid-September, Gritz made her debut with the performance artist Leila Hekmat, who was born in Los Angeles and now lives in Berlin Addressing questions of social pressure to standardize on health and wellness. But before the installation, including the live performance, takes to the Waldsee stage, there is plenty of time and room for reflection in the summer for Thomas Florschuetz’s magnificent images of change.