Jürgen Klauke's photographic work has just recently been the subject of an extensive retrospective exhibition at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, whence it is to travel to the Russian State Museum at
St Petersburg (Aug. 23 - Nov. 11; 2001) and, in April next year, to the Hamburg Kunsthalle. At the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, Le désastre du moi, 1996-2001, can be seen to September 2nd. To date, Galerie Bugdahn und Kaimer has mounted four one-man, thematic shows
of Klauke's work - Prosecuritas & Griffe ins Leere (1987), Sonntagsneurosen (1992), Stottern+Stammeln/länglich (1994) and most recently, Desaströses Ich (1997), from which ongoing cycle the present series, Gemütsverfassung, also stems.
With his avant-garde, conceptual approach, Klauke (*1943) as early as the 1970s fuelled photography's breakthrough and new recognition as an emancipated, autonomous medium. Yet, he likes to stress that he uses photographic technique as a means to an end, for Gegenbilder ('counter-pictures', be it as in 'anti-' or 'reciprocal'), a materialisation of inner pictures and concepts previously elaborated. His first works on this terrain were staged sequences about sexual identity, gender roles and the meaning of sexuality, in which the artist took centre-stage as the protagonist. An Eternity a Smile (Eine Ewigkeit ein Lächeln) and Transformer, both dating from 1973, are eminent examples. Through the years, the cast grew to several figures and a host of props. The works, too, grew, in size toward the monumental and in composition more cathartic. From 1980 on, the images are developed from the outset within extensive oeuvre complexes. The Sunday Neuroses group (Sonntagsneurosen, 1990-92) are a development out of Formalisation of Boredom (Formalisierung der Langeweile, 1980/81) and Prosecuritas (1987-93). Since 1996, Klauke has been working on the Desaströses Ich theme, Disastrous Me.
What has been crystallising out as thematic preoccupations is relations between the sexes, the human body presented as flesh, and reflections on making art. Existential parameters are central, explicit in titles such as Seinstrübung (say, Existence Clouding) or Daseinsrenovierung - literally, Renovation of Being - that also betray Klauke's delight in poetic language and are correspondingly elusive to more fitting translation. Compared to the preceding Sonntagsneurosen series, a development towards a tauter pictorial composition is tangible, the fancifulness ceding to concentration and calm. Time has become a realm of intense exploration; the viewer has a sense of being a witness of scenes within an arrested or frozen time continuum. Not that the subject is stills or episodes out of a potentially continuing action; we witness an infinitely extended now, functioning as the steel cables do that hold the persona of the artist and the objects 'in suspension'.
Gemütsverfassung (loosely, Frame of Mind; 1996/2000), a blue-grey-toned series of seven pictures measuring 180 by 240 cm each, records with precisely arranged tables and chairs hanging on steel cables, the increasing significance of constantly recurring 'accessories' in Klauke's otherwise void pictorial spaces. The objects are invested here with as much importance and expressive power as that of human actors. Within his oeuvre the work represents an uncompromising statement. The colouring gives the surface of the objects a hard, metallic, cool aesthetic. After the Sonntagsneurosen which paraded the 'props' in extravagant abandon, the artist's handling of them for the Desaströses Ich theme is more sparing; now the protagonists are bowls, buckets, bathtubs, balloons filled with water and especially tables that have the effect of a stage within a stage. Of the process of transformation of his picture-objects, Klauke says, "These banal objects or this clutter that I employ has a fixed use that I strip them of. Their shape stays the same and their material expands, as something else. The trivial is taken out of its habitat."