“The square as a stage
An artistic documentation of Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz”
Britt Schlehan, Kreuzer, July 2021
Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz, about six hectares in size, has been the largest inner-city wasteland for decades. When Sophia Kesting and Dana Lorenz began their joint artistic documentation of the square in 2012, they were studying photography with Joachim Brohm at the Academy of Visual Arts. They have long since graduated and each devotes herself to her own projects. Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz, however, has remained as a common field of observation. Originally, Kesting and Lorenz wanted to accompany the redesign of the Peaceful Revolution Square, including the Freedom and Unity Monument. A lot has happened since then. The Citytunnel has been built, the plans for the Unity Monument buried, buildings sketched and discussed, but the square is still there as it was decades ago. Apart from temporary uses, nature has conquered the asphalted site. The bowling alley, which closed in 1997, is holding out bravely and now awaits its new life as a natural history museum.
The square is a stage for different interests and options for use. The photographers have been accompanying this undefined place for almost a decade now with analogue recording technology using medium format cameras. They are not interested in a microscopic reproduction of the square; for them, the square is also an artistic field of experimentation between yesterday, today and tomorrow. In their stagings, for example, they referred to Leipzig photographers such as Erasmus Schröter and used equally powerful flashes when taking pictures. Very high-contrast photographs show temporary conquests as well as staged arrangements of people or current demonstrations on the square.
On the occasion of the 9th F/Stop Festival, the exhibition "Asphalt, Stones, Shards" in the ODP Gallery forms a satellite. Here, a two-channel projection can be seen on opposite walls, combining shots of Wilhelm-Leuschner-Platz from 2012 to 2021. The shots tell of society and history and, through the choreography, lead to a new correspondence of images.
There is currently no end in sight for the documentation. Only when construction pits are actually dug and the wasteland disappears will its documentation end. That may still take some time.
“Asphalt, Stones, Shards”, until 18 July, ODP Gallery
Hi Dana, Hi Sophia, you are not IfZ residents, but artists and you are currently preparing the exhibition “Trakt IV” at the GfZK. What is the idea behind it and what does it have to do with the IfZ?
Dana & Sophia: Hello IfZ. Thank you for asking. We’ll try to keep it short.
Realizing a photographic project at the IfZ was quite a contradiction at first, but also a great challenge for us. Trakt I–III exist in the IfZ, so it was logical for us to call the exhibition in the Gallery of Contemporary Art “Trakt IV”. For us, the title symbolizes a new, artistic space and an imaginary extension of the rooms of the IfZ.
Adrian Dorschner, who planned and accompanied the renovation works at the IFZ more than 5 years ago in collaboration as an architect, asked us in spring 2017 if we could imagine realizing an artistic work at the IfZ, since the complexity of the place was difficult to depict in the form of conventional architectural photographs. We both appreciate the IfZ as a social space, feel at home musically and in the different communities that exist there, plus we can identify pretty well with the political positioning. But we were never part of the crew or anything.
We found it totally exciting that a historical place like the Kohlrabizirkus meets club culture. Unfortunately, in a city like Leipzig, which is currently changing so quickly, you can’t know how long socio-cultural spaces will last. Against this background, we found it all the more important to develop a photographic document of time, i.e. an archive over a longer period of time.
Since 2012, we have been working together on the long-term photographic project “Asphalt, Steine, Scherben” (Asphalt, Stones, Shards), with whose visual language we were able to partially sensitize the crew for a new, photographic project. Then it was still a long way for us through plenums, delis and individual conversations to the first picture. With each photo session, we all became more familiar and grew with the project, but were also challenged hard again and again.
“No-Photo Policy” and photo project, how does that fit together?
Dana & Sophia: First of all, not at all.
Nowadays, photos are generally treated far too lapidary, especially on the Internet. Photography can also have a strange form of power that can be very unpleasant. Taking photos in a protected space like the IfZ, despite a “no-photo policy”, is of course not something that can be done lightly and requires a particularly sensitive approach to each other. From the beginning, we could only imagine taking photographs in analog, on negative. In artistic photography, working in analog is indeed still and often again a legitimate choice. Shooting on film ensured that the photos could not be released uncontrolled onto the Internet for the time being. In addition to film development, we made contact prints (1:1 reproduction as positive) and deposited them in the office, so there was total transparency on our part about what we photographed and how. This was not always easy for us, since not every picture is at the same time a relevant and selected motif.
... and somehow we seem to have managed to reach a majority consensus, i.e. pro-photoproject within the crew...
What were the challenges, apart from the no photography rule, about photographing in the club?
Dana & Sophia: Definitely taking photos during the events. We don’t have that typical habitus that you might think of with party or fashion photographers. We rarely give people instructions and don’t like to shoot them with our power flash. We are simply there, invisible, and observe, i.e. document, what is happening. Therefore, despite our technical routine with the analog camera, the darkness in combination with the fast movements was a real challenge. Often we could not do without the flash, but then not to disturb in the club, but still to capture an authentic moment ...
Apart from that, working with so many different people, this big crew, the IfZ community in all its different facets was really impressive and honestly sometimes quite exhausting.
We dealt very closely with the right to the image of the individual and tried to protect it as much as possible. In addition, we obtained the signature for the publication of the images via a model release contract, or the possibility of censorship of the own image.
At this point we would like to get rid of something: We are totally excited about the exhibition and the response from the different sides. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported us, trusted us, worked with us, had their picture taken, or simply supported us without wanting to be photographed. This was a project where we saw, learned and experienced a lot. Many thanks from us for that!
Thank you Dana, thank you Sophia for the interview and especially for your work on Trakt IV!
The exhibition “Trakt IV” will be on display at GfZK Leipzig from 04-19-2019 to 04-27-2019. The opening is on 04-18-2019 at 6 pm.
“WHITE CITY — BLACK CITY”, Stephanie Milling, 2019
Between around 1930 and 1950, in the still young city of Tel Aviv around four thousand buildings were erected along the guidelines of the Bauhaus and the International Style. Immigrants from Europe, most of all Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany, brought the style with them. The urban planning of the Scottish planner Patrick Geddes left room for their implementation, so that Tel Aviv today still has the most buildings in this style. Around one thousand buildings of the White City have been part of UNESCO’s world cultural heritage since 2003.
In her project, Sophia Kesting goes in search of these buildings. She photographed them several times in Tel Aviv, but did not limit herself only to the buildings that have been declared landmarks, which only make up a small part of the city’s modernist architecture. Taking the one thousand landmarked buildings as an inspiration, she creates instead a different, subjective landmark catalogue of buildings, including contemporary ones as well, that take up elements of the International Style. The approximately one thousand photographs show buildings from various parts of the city, from the center and from neighborhoods on the city’s periphery that are today shaped by migrants from Africa, just as the White City was once shaped by migrants from Europe in the mid-twentieth century.
Each photograph focuses on a single building. Details from urban life like parking cars and passersby provide a subtle framing of the motif without dominating the foreground. The buildings appear as solitary, embedded more in social contexts than in an urban environment. Kesting thus shifts the gaze from the overall whole of urban planning to a large number of individual buildings that together make up the city. The gaze expands beyond UNESCO’s strictly regulated landmark bureaucracy to the constant change and development of the architectural legacy in Tel Aviv.
Each motif can be found in the exhibition as a poster on one of three piles. Visitors can take the top poster from each pile, thus over the course of the exhibition generating ever new motivic combinations, bringing the diversity of the buildings into the exhibition space. Over the course of time, Kesting’s White City disappears from the public space of the museum and becomes part of the private spaces of the exhibition visitors.
“Modernism. Iconography. Photography. The Bauhaus and its Effects 1919–2019.”
09-21-2019 until 02-09-2020
Kunstmuseum Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen Magdeburg
“Juxtaposition of the unequal”, Maren Lübbke-Tidow, 2018
Sophia Kesting consistently works with her photographs and the forms of their elaboration against a pictorial ideal – that is, against those typical shots of ideals that we encounter so often when it comes to architecture or urban structures, to record and show (in an exhibition, a book, a booklet) in as undisturbed and positive a state as possible. Kesting’s project is something different, because with her work it becomes immediately clear that in a single room more forces come together than (conventional) architectural photographers (and their clients) could ever dream of. Each space is overwritten multiple times with information from its neighbourhoods and uses that are not provided for in the architects’ plan drawings.
The area of study for Kesting’s photographic research is the freight and central station of the capital of Tyrol, an area strongly characterised by the juxtaposition of different uses: garden allotments, often found in the immediate vicinity of railway lines, are replaced by fallow land and/or adjacent residential buildings. In the same way, local and global enterprises and companies have harnessed the geostrategic benefit of the place and settled here to ensure the smoothest possible transfer of goods and commodities. The different needs in this expanding area are therefore manifest, and it is feared that this coexistence of unequal forces will ultimately have to give way to a large-scale land-use plan to be able to continue the economic success story of Innsbruck in a global sense. The area is thus in a state of transition.
Sophia Kesting seizes the different user interests and puts them together. But it is also clear that from the outset, it is not possible to create a representation that provides a comprehensive overview of this area. Too many perspectives in the space overlap. The view is obscured – something always commands attention in the picture, which prevents an undisturbed reproduction of one of the many different architectural ensembles. The artist seizes this fact and visual impression and highlights it: she opts to completely abandon image hierarchies, instead merging the foreground and the background in extreme perspectives. Visually speaking, space between the different architectural structures is as minimal as a piece of the sky; as we know, Innsbruck is surrounded by mountains whose reproduction as a visual conclusion serves to integrate these scenes even more comprehensively.
The artist makes moments of extreme structural condensation utterly clear through her images. By collating her images (without white space) into a flyer and through the production of a record with the musician Andreas Trenkwalder, who has addressed this area and its sounds in his compositions, the artist succeeds in achieving this impression of a condensed experience without developing alternatives. In the exhibition, Sophia Kesting will not only present her work as a small-format flyer with the vinyl record, but will display excerpts from her work on the wall in the form of photo wallpaper. The huge ensemble of fragmented views of urban planning, accompanied by corresponding music, stands in stark contrast to the homogeneous urban structure that Innsbruck reveals at first sight. With Sophia Kesting’s (and Trenkwalder’s) work, however, it becomes evident that it pays to go off the beaten track when visiting a city that appears so smooth on its surface: These less popular areas are subject to transformational processes due to political and economic interests.
The text by Maren Lübbke-Tidow is published on the occasion of the exhibition catalog: “Right there”, Kunstraum FO.KU.S, BTV Stadtforum Innsbruck, 10-02-2018 until 01-04-2019