\Martin DammannCollecting Militaria gives you something to talk about11.11.2006 - 13.01.2007
Martin Dammann, *1965 in Friedrichshafen/Bodensee,
lives and works in Berlin
Martin Dammann is not what you would call a conceptual artist. Nevertheless, his artistic strategies are strongly influenced by conceptual considerations, which is often overlooked in his works.
For Dammann is primarily concerned with exploring a field of meanings and contents, working out in different genres and media and investigating how content and meaning can attach themselves to objects and images.Read more
For years, the lynchpin of his artistic preoccupation has been the „Archive of Modern Conflict“, for which he buys private war photographs from estates, private individuals and photo and military exchanges worldwide. What started out as a job with which he earned his living and to pursue his interest in historical and war photography on the side, has become became increasingly important for his artistic production.
Among his best-known works are the large-format, colour-intensive watercolours that transfer selected motifs from the archive’s holdings from photo to image. Dammann makes his selection intuitively, always in search of the Benjaminian spark of reality. In this endeavour, the process of transformation is the central moment. A moment that cannot be expressed or described in language, but only felt, seen, comes to light through the concentration of the depicted scene and through the re-accentuation of the representation itself in terms of colour and material.
What is new in this exhibition is the technique with which the artist carries out this transformation. No longer on paper as before, but on white hardboard, the motifs are drawn and then set into the picture with different types of paint – from the watercolours used so far to chalk, wax crayons and coloured pencils, everything is used. The pencil drawing, which previously only provided the background for the watercolours and increasingly disappeared behind the finished picture, now comes more and more to the fore and is interwoven with the colours.
Whether the pictures now belong to the field of drawing, watercolour or even painting is no longer so easy to decide.
The resulting four large-format group pictures, which reorganise the first room of the gallery, all come from the same series of a photo album
Dammann came across during his archival research. They appear to have been taken from a position facing all four points of the compass; the photographer was apparently in the midst of a group of soldiers working in the snow. By maintaining this structure for his watercolours and hanging one picture on each wall, Dammann thus constitutes a space in the centre of which the viewer finds himself. The hardboard panels that form the basis of the paintings change the perception of the overall space. Without frames and white at the edges due to the snow depicted, the boundaries between picture and wall disappear, the motifs seem to change the gallery space, so to speak.
The smaller drawings, which are composed in the same way,
bring individual persons into focus. Framed by an urban or rural backdrop, all the protagonists look directly into the camera with a strangely heightened attention at the moment of the shot, which is not immediately interpretable. Indecision and at the same time intensity are inherent in the situations depicted, reminiscent of the film „Self Fashion Show“ by the Hungarian experimental filmmaker Tibor Hajas, who asked passers-by in a public square in Budapest in the 1970s to look into the camera for one minute. The only difference here is that the photographs were not consciously taken as an experiment and the emphasis only becomes apparent through Dammann’s intervention.
These works are juxtaposed in the second room of the exhibition with pictures that are the first to show no people. Seemingly photographs of arbitrarily selected objects, their proportions, however, never quite match those of the original. They are distorted, only partially illuminated, seem to disappear in the depth of the picture. The solution to the riddle is unexpected but simple: Dammann has scanned the objects in high resolution. Again, it is a matter of searching for what is hidden in the image and in the object itself. What is the relationship between the real thing and its image?
This question is the leitmotif that the exhibition follows. A video adds a final layer to this: at the aforementioned militaria exchanges, of course, it is not only photo albums that are available. The actual core of the objects bought and exchanged there are war memorabilia, preferably from the Second World War, preferably German. From uniforms to weapons, badges and medals to every piece of equipment imaginable, everything is available at these exchanges. The people who buy and sell here are mostly passionate collectors and obsessed with the stories that their acquisitions hold. Perhaps they hope to use them to get a little closer to the intangible from the past.
For the first time, Dammann is now using one of the conversations he had with some of these collectors. For this, he has designed an additional room in the exhibition in which the viewer faces the object of the conversation, a German war helmet, and is alone with it.
„Collecting Militaria gives you something to talk about“ is the title of the exhibition and a quote from the video in which a man describes this helmet for 17 minutes, in which at first nothing remarkable seems to be recognisable.
The report becomes an occasion to talk about the causes of his passion, his relationship to collecting and his fellow collectors. A part of his world thus becomes visible, which has no points of contact with the art context and precisely because of this challenges the viewer’s habits of seeing, perceiving and thinking.
(Text: Ellen Blumenstein)