We cannot speak of images without reflecting on how very natural it is for us to perceive live shapes and extended spaces depicted in images. Photography does not like to waste time over that which to us seems only natural. In this photography is like all languages.
Photography is a homey (heimelig) art. It imports things unfamiliar to us from around the world to the familiar frame of an image. It lets us guess at the full extent of reality without its many unpleasant aspects. Photography is an art that is not homey (unheimelig). It concerns itself with exposing what is familiar to us and in so doing sustains in us a sense for things familiar. Yet it equally concerns itself with a close scrutiny of things not familiar to us. What is new is seized by the photgraphic image.
Yet photography is also an art that is uncanny (unheimlich). It tells us about the elemental yet latent incertitude of the human gaze: the eye cannot look at its own gaze. Käthe Hager von Strobele, curator and artist, integrates these features of photography into her many images and installations, in which the complexity of photography as an artisitc medium merges with the somnambulistic certainty with which she depicts objects and reveals photographic spaces. Hager von Strobele, graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, is highly adept at relating the straightforwardness of contemporary photography to a subtle dialectics. In “leftover” she has arranged the contours of missing bodies in rooms the viewer comes across as part of the installation. In this composition of photography, video and space installations, Hager von Strobele emerges as an advocate of an artistic practice which examines human existence expressed in leftover remnants and vestiges of customs and habits.
Clothes are worn, mended and stored – like the bodies that wear them. Much as people in history come and go, clothes in “leftover” appear as ephemeral objects and become the fleeting game ball of duplication, separation and permutation.
In confronting the fleeting nature of bodies and thwarting their very disappearance, Hager von Strobele does not rely solely on the conservational power of photography. The human gaze penetrates spaces that are invariably void so as to be able to approach surfaces from which emerge those extensions of situations we tend to call reality.
In “leftover” these spaces become real in a material sense: set up behind glass, photographs are accoutered in glass cabinets like relics in history museums. Order prevails like in each and every daily life: colors and textures of the surroundings permit the viewer to perceive an affinity with the cuts and patterns of clothes. The clothing itself is voluminously stuffed with material creating an interrelation between the space around them both in the photographs themselves and in the space of the glass cabinets. And yet a kind of harmony gushes forth from these structural affinities. But that’s not all. Things uncanny step up on stage.
That which in “leftover” seems familiar to the viewer – whether in the sense of being homey (heimelig) or in its uncanninesss (unheimlich) – has tradition. Jabob and Wilhelm Grimm’s etymological dictionary notes that the notion of “what is elusive to foreign eyes and thus concealed, veiled or even secret” derives from what is homelike (heimatlich) and homey. Yet what is homelike and homey can take on the meaning of its very opposite, namely uncanniness. As E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fantasy tales – “Sandman” or Olimpia in “Hoffmann’s Tales” here come to mind – Käthe Hager von Strobele relies on the tendency of the human eye to perpetually seek out indicators in the contours of the human figure of the actual presence of a human being.
As if things could think and remember poses the artist has taught them, “leftover” conveys the vitality of what is not real, a vitality which permits us to perceive in a manner more profound than any fleetingly real moment ever could. Translation by Diana Rosdolsky