Robert F. Hammerstiel
L.A. Galerie Lothar Albrecht presents
Robert F. Hammerstiel
Alles in bester Ordnung
July 14 to August 27, 2005
Robert F. Hammerstiel's photographic works go into background phenomena of our western everyday culture. They start from well-familiar objects for everyday use which carry with them the eternal human desire for a life that is better, nicer, easier, healthier, more relaxed, more fulfilled, more ideal. . . .
Advertisement promises us products which are easy to handle, effective and long-lasting, relentlessly making us only more aware of our own shortcomings (and of course the deficiencies of the products previously used, which then do not satisfy us any longer). One notorious example is the current commercial slogan of the German branch of IKEA ("Wohnst du noch, oder lebst du schon?"), meant to conjure up discontentment with one's living conditions, furniture, and life in general. As if in reply, Robert F. Hammerstiel titles his new group of works Alles in bester Ordnung—"everything's just fine."
In film, the first shot of a new scene introducing the setting of the following events is called an "establishing shot." The computer-simulated view of a row house development already under construction may constitute such an establishing shot for Alles in bester Ordnung, as it presents the artist's major subjects of interest in visibly concrete terms: What is behind domestic idylls, and how is it that facades can substitute for happiness? How are values like beauty and happiness evoked? How does that sense of deficiency in one's life get created? What solutions, as it were, are offered through the products advertised—turnkey houses, domesticated and standardized nature? And, most of all, at what point and in what way does the ideal begin to reverse itself, when does the dream of ideal living turn into a nightmare of devastating uniformity and orderliness?
For further inspiration, the contractor of the row house development had images of happy families added to the picture; but this domestic idyll constitutes only "instant happiness," scenes from image catalogues acted out by models. Hammerstiel time and again uses deceptive settings like this, stereotypical fabrications behind which he exposes abysses of commercial strategies.
"Questioning the mechanisms underlying our consumer society has always been an important driving force in my work. The industry keeps stirring up new desires in us. Ready-made and calculated mass products, however, the aim of those wishful projections, often leave us feeling empty and lost. This discrepancy, these unfulfilled desires, this in-between, form the subject of my work."
For the video Die blaue Lagune IV and the new photo series, Hammerstiel went to see the Blaue Lagune (blue lagoon), an entire park of prefabricated houses near Vienna, or "Europe's capital of prefabs" in the words of the operating company. There he tried to imagine the Private Stories, the longings and visions such model houses are supposed to fulfill. The 102 units—ranging from the cozy country cottage to the designer villa—are like picture-perfect prototypes for Better Homes and Gardens. An abundance of elements from out of the entire history of architecture and building development can be found here, as well as a great variety of furnishing styles, so as to suit all possible tastes. The video, however, is stripped of all longings and visions. Unemotionally, almost lethargically, the camera moves from one stereotype of ideal living to the next, thereby adapting to their uniformity. One very neat single-family house after the other, each coming with an equally neat patch of manicured nature; no cars around,no human soul, no dog, no dove. What was thought to be an innocuous ride through unpopulated settlements takes on an eerie nature and seems endless. Caught in this loop, Laurie Anderson in her song "Blue Lagoon" dreams of the perfect place, of a real home.
Hammerstiel is interested in surrogates. Today you can buy an increasing number of products which are extolled for being imitations, for providing solutions to the troubles that accompany the real thing: The rubber version of a dog's bone does away with those smells; fruit holds considerably longer if you buy it in plastic shape; artificial plants are incredibly undemanding; and laminate needs less care than parquet flooring. These products are supposed to defy our fear of life's transitoriness, with advertising actually promoting this fear. They are models of an existing reality which, however, they can imitate in only one dimension, i. e. outer appearance. All other kinds of sensory perception, like tactility, accoustics, or taste, fall by the wayside.
The opulent still lifes Made by Nature. Made in China consist of such surrogate products. Each of the food items was cast out of plastic, in an optically convincing way. The photographs in this series are models, therefore, in several aspects: What used to be European foodstuff, a classic European art genre (the still life), and a popular European style (the trompe l'œil), has been reduced on all levels—imitated, rearranged, and photographed. And again, superficial temptations are played off against the recognition of the deception. Again, superficial temptations nurture desires which in turn are linked with the disappointment to follow later.
The similiarities to commercial photography are obvious here, and intentionally so. Hammerstiel, nevertheless, is careful to avoid the calculated effects of advertising. He lets the picture speak for itself, without euphemistic comments, how-to-use directions or references to the manufacturer. He isolates these objects from their original context and reveals a condition that is normally kept secret from the consumer. This process marks the irony in Hammerstiel's work, a kind of indirect negation with which he confronts the all too smooth world of consumerism. This irony exposes the mechanisms of suggestion without ridiculing it. It comments on and helps to clarify the facts by enabling and encouraging us to consider several interpretations of what we are being told (or shown), if not the opposite of it.
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