A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
It’s loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness. (…)
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead…
– John Keats
A photograph seems to possess an afterlife, a temporal structure of experience and ghostly reception that will not let it rest in its separation from the before or the after. Jacques Derrida suggests that one ‘should speak of photographs as of a thinking, as a pensiveness without a voice, whose only voice remains suspended’. It is the quest for a voice without or beyond the voice as presence, the present trace of an absence that the photograph encodes. A dialogue between photographic image and its repetition in an artistic display may result in the creation of a metaphoric echo that fills the vacuum of absence. Nevertheless a photograph also encodes a future decay; fixing the corporeal subject at chronological moments, it is a ruin or trace that is already silently at work as a momento mori, an irreversible sign of future death.
Anja von Kalinowski’s new series of work is based on legal and medical photographic evidence of the war crimes committed during WWII in Russia. The images of dead soldiers that contain a haunting ethereal quality are juxtaposed with the orthodox heritage of Russian iconography. Von Kalinowski attempts to analyse the idea of producing a collection of work in relation to orthodox iconography and the displacement of cruelty and political power and how to think art through the concept of iconography, death and decay.
When we look at the icon from a non-religious point of view, this concept seems questionable. We have to keep in mind that the concept of the religious icon is a construction. This contradiction is crucial for von Kalinowski’s practice. Through her created objects reciprocity with the instances of power can be established and fragments of the unseen made visible for the spectator through the intensity and obsession contained in her work. The work can create a close proximity with the viewer, as ‘The unseen has only been prevented from suddenly appearing in the visible. It holds there all of its desire, as though tortured by the excess of what it knows it is able to offer to the glory of the gaze.’
These images contain an ambiguity in perception and make a strange dimension evident. At a first glance we see a scientific photograph taken for the purpose of research. At a second glance however, the photograph does something equivocal; it has a dramatic, even theatrical quality. A battlefield of contradictory forces, entangled in an everlasting tension.