Gloria Ruiz Melendez on the Exhibition »On Display«


The Unattainable Border
By Gloria Ruiz Melendez

»A wormhole«, I wrote in my note app as the first impression of the double feature in the Ahlen Kunstmuseum: »Neue Wahrheit? Kleine Wunder! Die frühen Jahre der Fotografie« and »On Display: Der Körper der Fotografie«. A feeling of symmetry, of a mirrored image, of a question as old as the technology of Photography: Where do the possibilities end? Is there more? Questions asked in the 19th century with a resonance in today’s contemporary Art and Photography theorization and practice world, not only in this specific set of expositions but also in others that aim to reflect on the very nature of the limits of the medium, in a time when photography has become absolutely immersive in our everyday life, integrated into our routine as something that it’s »there« and we seldom think about. Photography has become the way we see and not the other way around, a mass of data that flows with a life of its own, like a river.

In »On Display: Der Körper der Fotografie«, more than an exploration body, it’s the attempt of digging it to its bones, confronting the audience with the notion that we’re watching, confronting us with our expectations around photography in our private and public life, something mundane but also intimate. Joan Fontcuberta explains in »Photography, Crisis in History«: In Photography two facets have necessarily coexisted: (1) the image as visual information (2) the physical support of a medium, objectual dimension. In the daguerreotype, the plate embodies an image. In the archive, the information aspect prevails. In a museum, it’s the objectual aspect. On Display takes on the specific task to scratch, taking techniques and methods of the past into a contemporary while »Neue Wahrheit? Kleine Wunder! with their stereographs, which have been the basis of the very contemporary world of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, reminds us that this urge to grasp reality in new and more encompassing ways has been a part of the very nature of Photography since it’s conception.

The rules about photography keep changing and getting looser, as nowadays we’re able to create images that don’t really exist, and Artificial Intelligence can combine, merge and interpret images in a way that sounded like science fiction only mere decades ago. The urge to adopt and reject technology, the urge to keep photography in »its body«, like a reversed exorcism, when Photography seems to start losing its materiality and becoming pure data. Photography is about control, but also about leaving room for coincidence and exploration while finding a lot of the same urges in the neighbor Exposition: »to have been there«, memories, events, the word Truth.

Where does the border lie? For Photography, it feels like the Borgean »Book of Sand«: never-ending, shapeshifting, always bringing a new page into a seemingly never-ending book.

Gloria Ruiz Melendez has been a DAAD student at Folkwang University of the Arts since 2021.