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Naoya Hatakeyama - Blast 0608

Explosions are fascinating because of their sensuous brutality. But what will happen if the brutality is substracted from this phenomenon? If it suddenly becomes still, unmoved and two-dimensional? How will its power survive on photographs? How much subjective expressivity do a “sublime” incident (explosion) and a reality-reproducing medium (photography) allow?
The following examples of explosion photography/photography of bursting make clear how differently this theme can be interpreted – in spite of all the difficulties - and how different the evoked effects can be for the recipient.

With a piercing bang, massive matter disperses in a split-second into an infinity of tiny particles – none of our sensory organs can process such force; they are instead overwhelmed by unfathomable power, destruction, velocity and penetration.
What we are shown in the moment of such an explosion, cannot be organised, arranged or related by our senses. All we can perceive are informal images of entropic, volatile movements and dissolutions; images of shattered, swirling pieces, which do not afford any kind of control, identification or meaning. What is breaking with a shocking suddenness into well-arranged, everyday causal structures, is overstraining our perception and alarming our instincts, is something that does not allow mastery. It is exactly therein that man finds his anxiety, his menace, his trauma – but equally a particular aesthetic allure.

Cristian Andersen

This allure belongs to the Aesthetic of the Sublime. The Sublime – according to Edmund Burke – denominates a certain feeling that cannot be categorised as “beautiful”, but that conjoins very opposing experiences: pleasure, displeasure, danger, anxiety, terror and relief.
The feeling of the Sublime seizes us, for instance, if we observe a (life-) threatening incident from a safe distance.
Kant clarifies that the Sublime originates in the mind of the spectator through a conflict between two different parts of Reason (reason and imagination), and that it cannot be found in the object or event itself.
Imagination is incapable of representing the unutterable (displeasure), while – through this failure of imagination – reason proves the existence of its great ideas (pleasure). In the case of the Sublime (compared to all other appearances), it is not possible to identify the object as a beautiful form, because the fundamental synthesis of space and time does not succeed.
Lyotard who assigned the notion of the Sublime particularly to the Avantgarde art of the 20th century, detects the productive quality of the Sublime in the following process: Imagination is inspired to express the unutterable and the unrepresentable.

The explosion as an occurrence and an experience belongs to this aesthetic category, but it does not necessarily belong there as an object of representation. The brutal briefness of the summary should not give the impression that the artistic search for the unrepresentable can simply be completed by filling the emptiness with any concrete content – on the contrary: the search continually begins anew and does not function according to formula. But the phenomenal characteristics of the explosion - its sublimeness for us - explain the frequent and manifold artistic preoccupation with the explosion as an unrepresentable experience.

A special feature of a href="">Hatakeyama
’s pictures is the emphasis on the form-creating aspect of the explosion. The effect of splitting into pieces does not result in total chaos, but rather in the order of a uniform shockwave. It gives birth to a new form, a kind of sculpture that – even if it only exists for less than an instant – is pushed and simultaneously held by an unspeakable force, that is formed and at the same time destroyed. The fact that raw material and abstract, exploding rock landscapes without any context-creating details, were photographed, also accentuates the strong sculptural impression.

Martin Klima

In Cristian Andersen’s photographs, concrete, everyday objects are dispersed, which as human symbols of power, money and knowledge offer a certain security, but which are also connected to a significant amount of potential frustration. This relation is even intensified in its ambivalence by abandoning the viewer in a dark, threateningly “outlawed” environment where the place representing certitude and progress entices with destructive light. Uncertainty and liberation mix with one another, when human attributions of value disintegrate, and nothing is left but the naked materiality of a now worthless object.
The concrete, everyday objects in Andersen’s pictures automatically create a direct link with life; they create a social environment that translates negative references immediately into sociocritical commentaries.

Martin Klima’s pictures present Asian porcelain figurines which are photographically captured in the moment of their impact with hard ground, in the moment of their rupture and shattering.
Interestingly here however – in comparison to Hatakeyama’s pictures – is a much stronger focus on a narrative plot i.e. there is a subject, an object and an action in this shot. The focussing within this process of disintegration is not only due to the representation of human beings but most of all due to a seemingly systematic breakup that leaves bodyparts, which are relevant to action, undamaged and pretends a shift of power, a different agent.
The meditative porcelain monk causes his own destruction from the inside; he becomes his own explosive force, he is himself subject and object of this incident.
That the head of the figurine remains intact with a certain facial expression, that it hovers in a still sense-making distance above the bursting body, offers us straight away a lead for identification, interpretation and attribution of the destructive process.
Destruction is not undefined and to a certain extent abstract – as in the pictures of Hatakeyama, but it is not sociocritical and threatening – as in the pictures of Andersen, either; instead it is strongly restricted in terms of the subject, aesthetically more arranged and in general, more narrative – and consequently much less disturbing than the other aforementioned photographs.

The fascinating tension on these three different pictures originates from the photo-accurate reproduction of a sublime moment and from the nevertheless unreproducibility of this same moment. Our perception is stimulated and directed by the idea of the sublime, by its memory. However, the sublime itself is not reproduced; and in the end, a self-contained work is thus presented. It features the subjective touch of an author, it can finally detach itself from the pure incident of explosion and start to self-define...

Text: Armi Lee
Translation: Feorgia Fox/Armi Lee
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