Walberswick, Suffolk, August, 2010
When Harald Szeeman discovered funding for the 1997 Lyon Biennale had run dry, he immediately renounced his own fee as curator, declaring ‘You do not live to get rich, but to make things possible.’ This radical commitment to ‘making things possible’, artistically, socially, politically, is the heart of the oeuvre of Wolfgang Scheppe, like Szeeman a truly international figure whose manifold activities do not require any limitation of labels.
Thus if some revere Scheppe as philosopher and engagé intellectual, professor and theoretician, others admire him as a publisher and editor, the creator of books which must also be considered 3d sculpture. But Scheppe is also a curator of exhibitions, organiser of film festivals, a sophisticated private collector and, of course, conceptual photographer. Forced to provide a title for this rich energy, mental and physical stamina, the one word that seems easiest is ‘artist’.
Scheppe may have spent decades as a photographer, his works being published, exhibited and indeed purchased and displayed by highly prominent collectors, but that is precisely not how he wishes to see himself construed as an artist.
Instead he has always insisted on collaboration to the point of anonymity, refusing the unique ‘signature’ of the artist for the subversive potential of truly communal culture, enacting Barthes’ ‘death of the author’ in a sort of hara-kiri of the artistic ego.
Part of Scheppe’s work as an artist depends upon the re-presentation and re-ordering of existent imagery, a project that extends from Aby Warburg’s own filing-system to Hans-Peter Feldmann or such current practitioners as Walid Raad, Xaviera Simmons or the installation Sun, Moon and Stars by Fischli & Weiss, wherein context and category turn ‘found’ images into an entirely new type of work akin to fiction.
Scheppe’s ambitious work-in-progress, as evinced by this present publication, deals with a large collection of photographs taken by a local Venetian as an historical and documentary, rather than aesthetic, archive. Scheppe proposes that this archive can be presented and understood in a variety of contexts (in this case in comparison with the work of Ruskin upon the same city), its meaning and magic, its intention, left open.
If comparison is called for, perhaps the best analogy for this artistic undertaking would be the relationship between Berenice Abbott and Eugène Atget, a professional photographer and expert on the medium and its history who ‘creates’ another photographer by the collecting, archiving, printing, promoting and publishing of their otherwise overlooked images and who by this complex endeavour becomes another artist and author, a rare double of any so called original.
Seeing The Abstract.
Venice, June 2010
Visual Archives and the Reification of Rule.
Five Critical Quarries.
I. The Quarry of
“In the quarry of the cities, passersby are targeted and bombarded from all sides by vectors of image acts. The city is pictorialised […].
With each physical interface probed for its capacity to serve as a vehicle of imagery, these sights are inescapable. The individual’s field of vision is a commodity and property owned by external parties. The criterion for its use is total diffusion. The things that the city’s inhabitants should covet, fear, believe, think and know are signified to them in images. The images are not forcefully imposed, but are images people want to see. This can be understood in the widespread anguish arising from an image void: the absence of illustration that makes the visually elusive state of affairs appear inapprehensible and unappropriable for the practised worship of images, a societal iconodulism.”
IV. The Quarry of Intellectual Sight.
“Admittedly, it is this very quality that as well accounts for Ruskin’s shortcomings as a thinker. His visile mind surrendered to the power of imagination up to the point where the metaphoric imagery no longer serves the argumentation with an analogising conclusion, but itself takes the place of the argument: the emblematic thinking aims at perfect plausibility.”
II. The Quarry
“Photography was thus ideally suited to serve [Gavagnin] as the means by which to take possession of external and immovable things and absorb them into his unstoppable process of accumulation. The collection, built up by Gavagnin and his wife as a practice of acquainting themselves with their surroundings, fills every inch of their little house with with its innumerable taxonomies of the everyday […].
What mattered to him was only the represented, never the representation, as if with the image he was taking possession of the physical body it’s an image of.”
V. The Quarry
of the Unhappy Consciousness.
“Ruskin’s failure at resolving the contradiction of knowledge and morality is indicated in three examples […].
The first example is the impact of The Stones of Venice on the historicism of the Victorian Gothic Revival, to which Ruskin himself contributed in a number of respects. His subsequent disassociations are well-known. Such as this one: ‘For Venetian architecture developed out of British moral consciousness I decline to be answerable.’”
III. The Quarry of Money and Labour.
“Ruskin ascribes this ‘form of error’ – work as the one-sided execution of a foreign will based on the division of labour – to a period he identified in the history of Venice, marked by a shift in the political life of a religiously steeped society under the paternal care of a monarch elected by all – the doge – toward the independent political interests of the oligarchy of a hereditary nobility defended by forcible means. But what he is really addressing, and what he makes explicit in an evocation of ‘the modern English mind’, is the very same mode of production he had witnessed in the early industrial development of his native England.”
Albums & Notebooks.
Editor & Concept
Julia Taylor Thorson
Stefanie Langner, Hatje Cantz
Alvio & Gabriela Gavagnin
The Ruskin Foundation
Ruskin Library, Lancaster University
La Biennale di Venezia, Archivio Storico
Circe, IUAV, Centro di Rilievo
Blom, Compagnia Generale Riprese Aere
Hatje Cantz Verlag
73760 Ostfildern Germany
This book is published in conjunction with the exhibition DONE.BOOK The Ruskin Wing / The Gavagnin Wing for the British Pavilion at the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale
Vicky Richardson, British Council
Liza Fior, muf architecture/art Llp
British Council Department
Ellie Smith, Amy Pettifer, Sophie Parry
Arsenale Institute for Politics of Representation, Venice
The Ruskin Library & Research Centre
Online Digitisation Project
Ruskin’s Venetian Notebooks
The author is deeply indebted to the following individuals for their cooperation, support and advice.
Alvio & Gabriella Gavagnin
L.B. & A.D.
Kees & Rita Fortin
Julia Taylor Thorson
Jane da Mosto
© 2010 Wolfgang Scheppe
and Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern
© 2010 for the reproduced works by:
the artists, photographers,
and their legal successors.
Get In Touch.
A foreign location, the British Pavilion, in an Italian city overcrowded by tourist and composed for one third by no-venetian students and another third by immigrants – invisible workers in one of the most visual-mediated cities in the world. A place located in the most important Biennale of the world, The Venice Architecture Biennal: a Biennal dedicated to the places in themselves, and to the life in the places, to architecture, and, as the curator of the12.ma edition said, to people that meet in architectures. A place in a city ill by the architectonic and industrial speculation plagues as well as low-quality mass tourism exploitation.
The 21st of November, a day dedicated to the Holy Mary of the Health, in memoriam of the end of the XVII century plague. A day officially dedicated to Venetians. And the last day of the Biennale exhibition, the only one that usually is free for local citizens. (However if you hadn’t had an updated IC that shows your Venetian pedigree you were not admitted to free entrance).
The life of the city and the possible lives of the city. A discussion about the survivorship of Venice and its Lagoon, about its anthropological, architectonical and natural resources.
A discussion between Venetian citizens and between the different Committees engaged against the powerful speculation of the city. An exhibition of the extinguishing population of a western city. A discussion between researchers and scientists, independent politicians, teachers, social workers, students, cultural workers, people engaged in environmental defence and in arts and heritage conservation.
Let people meet each others, in a public spaces usually interdicted to local population.
Everyone spoke about its life and engagement in Venice, highlighting what strategies to adopt to maintain the city as a place where to live, and which rights and resources have to be defended.
If in the morning one of the most important point was the choice between the conservation of Venice and the conservation of the Lagoon natural life, during the afternoon meeting the main core was the definition of Venetian citizenship itself.
New considerations had been opened: what we want to do with our life, are we able to guide naturally our development in the territory in equilibrium with environmental needs and limits? At which costs? Are we able to let us be guided by natural limits or our idea of progress implements the result of a total destruction?
During the afternoon everyone was able to define a way to protect the life of the city and of its citizenship, to conserve the traditions of the place, opposing the hotelization process. Everyone used this moment to start to define what is the Venetian community.
This was a first step to know who we are, what we want to choose, which kind of relational architectures we want to build together, without a competitive model, but involving each others in a collaborative resistance and production of the welfare and of the political.
It has been a performative moment, in which the public desire took collective expression.
Amerigo Nutolo & Roberta Lombardi
Coordinators of 21st event and of the afternoon debate Which City for Which Inhabitants?