Publishing house Residenz Verlag, Austria, 2016
Photobook, 120 pages, hardcover,
Edition: 1.300 Copies
Texts in the book from Margit Zuckriegl, Felicitas Thun-Hohenstein & Sabine Arend
90 x 150 cm | Edition of 5 + 2 a.p. | C-Print
Marko Lipuš und seine Herangehensweise an die künstlerische Fotografie
A person vanishes. She is robbed of her visibility, has no image of herself any longer. The Viennese photo artist Marko Lipuš owns a single photograph of his grandmother, dating from the 1930s. In it, she is seated on a bench next to her husband, Franz Lipuš; the young couple looks at the unknown photographer with a proud, confident expression; Maria faintly smiling, mild and soft. A few years later, this woman vanishes in the Ravensbrück concentration camp; her life ends there, without image, without comment in the darkness of the brutal death machinery.
The photo from the early days of her marriage conserves the image of a woman whose life can be traced only in a very tentative manner. The starting point for her grandson’s research is a war letter from the camp that is owed to the martial rage of an exterminatory logic, curtly informing her widower of her death. Her journey to the concentration camp, her two years in the barracks, the reason for her deportation remain obscure. Much like the preserved image bears the small glimmer of a short life and may convey it to the descendants as a vague idea, the grandson entrusts his quest for what has remained in the dark to the medium of photography. For him, the picture is a storage of memory, a preservative for unseen things, and an instrument to carve into untouched layers of sediment. For the purposes of a documentary visual language, photographs can be seen as evidence and testimony of real events. Lipuš, however, expands the possibilities of the photographic image to include an additional, interpretive component; his iconic rhetoric is that of diction and contradiction, of image and meta-image, of aspect and insight. This is why he does not create photographs which convey visibility and reality in an image, but adaptations and interventions which transform and unsettle the original image. Marko Lipuš regards his photographic images as prima materia, based on which he appropriates the motifs through manipulation and direct intervention by his own hand.
The Scars of Images
The picture of the artist’s babica, the grandmother to whom the artist lovingly refers with the Slovenian word, displays a soft intimacy and composed serenity. A silent double portrait, sealed like many images in the safe of temporality and sacrosanct in the unshakable endurance of its testimony. The pictures Marko Lipuš brought from his various journeys on the trails of his lost grandmother tell a different story. The photographs themselves already bear witness to the passing of time, to the crumbling buildings, to the disastrous essence of a place which nature is slowly taking back in order to help liquidate an owed debt. Then the images change. The countless documents of the views of this place of terror are compressed into a mere handful of images. They bear witness to the roads walked by the doomed inmates, to the cobblestones they stepped on, to the surfaces of the walls they touched, to the cracks that promised them a glimpse outside. The artist consults these enlarged views; they serve not only to examine and reflect, but also to penetrate and process. The pretty, abstract color compositions of wall structures and tile patterns, of monochrome floors and graphic lineaments are torn open and scratched; particles are dissected from them and strokes cauterized into them. Marko Lipuš can only confront the ostensible innocence of the ruin aesthetics with his own fervid activity: He covers the authentic testimonies of these monstrous places with a net of cuts and lacerations. The images remain, covered with scars and lesions.
His Father’s Skin
Memory and the conservation of what has been remembered are underlying themes in the literary works of Florjan Lipuš. He uses the character of Young Tjaž to trace his own youth and powerlessness in the face of authority, be it in the family, in school, or in the Catholic Church. The young boarding student counters violence with a means of his own: scratching. At first it is an act of defense and protest against corporal punishment, but then it becomes a means of appropriation: The scratches are tags. Carving symbols, which his own actions leave behind, into an object or body is a mode of identity formation. Even if they signalize rebellion and defense—as is the case with young Tjaž—the scratch subjects these objects to its direct adaptation, and with their injury imposes on them the unmistakable mark of its intervention.
Marko Lipuš explores a similar appropriation strategy in the first chapter of his photo series Babica. Large color photo boards show skin patches of his father’s arms, hands and other body parts. Florjan Lipuš, one of Maria Lipuš’s two sons—he was six years old at the time of her deportation to the concentration camp—is the witness and keeper of his mother’s heritage, which he, in turn, has passed on to his son. And Marko continues this link by touching the surface of his father’s skin: He covers the skin close-ups with a crisscross of scratches and scores. He opens the enclosure of the epidermis with sandpaper, and roughens, injures, disturbs it. Pores, tiny hairs, liver spots, light rashes are amalgamated into a visual whole; a human being’s topmost, outermost, most sensitive layer is shown as vulnerable and sore.
Places Beyond Perception
Ever deeper, ever further into the depths of the interior—that is where the photographer’s path leads in search of what is hidden, in search of the ways, relics, and signs of the disappeared. A chapter of his multifaceted photo essay is dedicated to objects that were found in the camp. Tin cups, brushes and combs are isolated from their environment by the photographer and presented like New Objectivity still lifes. Since they, too, exhibit signs of the extinction, they are also intimate bearers of messages from the disappeared, like the cobblestones that still contain the echo of their footsteps. With his drawings Marko Lipuš stretches the sobering presence of these objects into meaningfulness: The objects vibrate and change in their being-as-such; they are banal objects and at once relics charged with references. They have left their location, their places of discovery, in order to speak of past conditions in a different context. And the territory of the camp complex becomes a long shot, in which the topography of death entirely eludes our perception. The means of image alteration and image alienation—like the manipulations and the scratching interventions—are synonyms for the identification marks of Marko Lipuš’s own presence; only by looking at the camp buildings and the surrounding landscape in person was he able to ascertain the vision disorder which occurs when something belonging to the sphere of the unviewable becomes viewable. His blinding white views are images the subjects of which appear submerged. The rare, vague silhouettes rising from the fog of the glaring white hue are barely recognizable, gently making connections, visual guesses, afterimages of a retinal overstimulation that approaches blindness. Vanishing is not just a process of blacking out, of no-longer-seeing, but also a phenomenon of being-left-with-merely-suspecting, of vague assumptions, of image residues which appear as silhouettes while everything around them seems to be immersed in blazing backlight.
With his group of works Babica, Marko Lipuš, in remembrance of his grandmother, has gone on a quest for the things that are hidden within an image. The tale of her fate is presented in a complex visual language that—by means of his oft-applied technique of scratching—has found an equivalence of content and form and, on the other hand, explores the farthest possible distance between the photographic representation of reality and its iconic reference character.
A PHOTO-GRAPHIC ESSAY
Memory’s back is history. Remembering alone is not yet the investigative reconstruction of the past; it is only through the juxtaposition of both memory and history that an image emerges, a contribution to the whole.
History usually belongs to the field of historiography. One might initially place memories of the Nazi regime in the context of archives and holocaust memorials. What, if anything, can the fine arts hope to achieve in this context? How can they assert themselves next to historical photographs which document the monstrous atrocities and depict the aura of the sites and relics in an authentic way?
In fact, many artistic attempts to approach particularly the genocide caused by German fascism have failed. The manifestation of historical reality has been too powerful. The challenge nests in the perception, as works of art have been known not to refer to the reality the artists intend to portray, but are rather anticipated as artifacts of their affiliation with the world of art. How can artists now introduce new perspectives on the way in which history is read despite this difficulty which art faces in addressing the Nazi era? When memory manifests itself and unfolds in the form of expanded photography and text as the result of an inquisitive eye, as in the case of Marko Lipuš, it requires protection through a space—and this in the sense of “letting go of what is unavailable by preserving it in what is available.”
Lipuš furnishes this protective space for his photo-graphic essay Babica between the covers of a book, in which memory unfolds in images and texts. The artistic texture of memory is consistently submitted to the heterotopy of the book and follows its own rules, organizing concepts, and ways of representation. Lipuš’s own personal memory is only a small building block in the whole structure. Thumbing through the book, one finds visual impressions overlapping each other and intensifying to become a milieu des mémoires. Not in any single image, but in the act of thumbing through—that is to say, between the pages—does that which Walter Benjamin calls the “tiger’s leap into the past,” capable of suspending the temporal distance of history, find expression. This jump opens up a liminal space which negotiates the political potential of aesthetics as well as the question of mediality and historiography.
Lipušʼs three-dimensional photo images bound together in the book Babica to become a series can therefore be termed imagines agentes, acting images, within a memory art conceptualized as an instrumental technique. In photo-graphs structured in two or three layers Lipuš spurs the transgression of imposed borders and conventional frames in the deconstruction of the photographic source material in order to foray into realms of direct reality construction. The act of getting hold of the image space and occupying it is homologous to a constant presence of the body, indeed a symbolic penetration of his own body; this process addressed at the outset is to give art a conduit to “reality”—a reality, incidentally, which Antonin Artaud reifies as an “excrement of the mind.” In this double-coded process, the work of art defines a space and receptional approach in which information flows and is not determined. It marks a situation which the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica has termed “critical ambivalence.”
It is precisely in the density and exposure of the work complex Babica in which the perforation of the surface, the wall, the membrane is a metaphor of resistance where it must have become almost impossible for Lipuš to distinguish between his own and others’ inner experience and outer impulse. This may have brought about his decision for the protective space at hand. Guided by intensities, Lipuš’s eye, it seems, attempts in this hardbound hybrid to come into contact with the geographic and imaginary traces of his babica in virtually all the places inscribed in the stories he has been told—but always tactful, touching without touching, which navigates towards a vigilant visualization.
In doing so, Lipušʼs cartographic eye moves beyond the simple acceptance and adoption of ostensibly predetermined notions, and refuses to simply continue adjacent to subjective and passed-down memories. His eye wanders along the surfaces, the walls, the floors, the geographic and organic skin in search of a place where seeing and touching coincide. The search of a soul “striving alternately towards the internal and external, and vibrating at the limits of each.”
If one cannot remember, then one can at least penetrate, intervene, burn something into the memory storage as a means of haptic self-insurance. In an intimate auto-poetic pact with the all-too smooth surface of prints, Lipuš engraves himself into the picture, tears it open, erodes it, and adds to the photograph by subtracting from it in order to at once replenish and mark it.
Without the suspicion of a deeper truth of touching, the privilege of seeing is unthinkable, after all. Therefore, Babica is the artistic space of action which practices to what it refers: It touches the viewer. And in an expanded way, it touches history beyond what Babica is. Babica embodies the triad of memory, remembrance, and oblivion—and the success and failure involved in it. But most of all the memory of oblivion.