»The pale green eyes of a young, androgynous-looking person with gently curving lips look directly into our face. No emotional agitation distorts this flawless countenance; no definable background provides information about the time and place of what is occurring or the identity of the depicted individual.
Is it a young woman with her hair pulled back tightly or a man with unusually gentle facial features? It is not so easy to figure out, particularly because we are given no clues whatsoever through attributes like jewellery or clothing and the photographer has evidently deliberately incorporated readily apparent out-of-focus passages into the image.
It is only at second glance and upon more detailed examination of this photographic work realised in a large format that we are slowly overcome by the feeling we are dealing not just with one person but with a multiple identity – a hybrid being generated through repeated digital superimposition, an “artistic creation” in the fullest sense of the term.
Based on the concept of the “ViennaPerspectives” exhibition at the zs art gallery (in cooperation with “Destination Wien 2015 EXTENDED”, organised by Vienna’s Kunsthalle Wien), where artists with personalities as diverse as Alex Klein, Robert Staudinger and Irene Wölfl were invited to pay reference to “their” city in a series of works, the photographer Staudinger launched his series Echte Wiener (Real Viennese). As Staudinger explained: “What would Vienna be without the people who live here – regardless of where they are originally from and how long they have already been here.”
This premise simultaneously provides the guiding principle for the photographic experiment exploring how the typical Viennese woman or man is to be generated and what sort of “meta-Viennese of today” emerges when the faces of numerous women, men and children who live in Vienna and are extremely diverse in terms of ethnicity and age are merged together. For this purpose, Staudinger invited 300 people of 25 nationalities into his studio and photographed them under identical conditions: the same lighting in front of a neutral background, a facial expression as emotionless as possible, unremarkable clothing and hairstyles and (as was essential for the subsequent editing process) always seen from straight ahead.
Staudinger then generated fourteen different Real Viennese types on his computer: in determining the final appearance of these new beings, who were created through multiple superimpositions, the primary role was played not by statistics but by aesthetic criteria as well as artistic curiosity about how the ethnicity, age and gender of the selected experimental subjects would affect the final results in each case.
The texts accompanying the photographs presented as framed pictorial objects in various sizes provide information about how many and (approximately) which models were behind the digital mix. In the example described at the outset, it was 100 men and women; another involved three families with a total of sixteen members. In addition there is a selection of women with largely light skin, an extract of bearded men and a superimposition of the faces of all twenty-five children from a Viennese school class. The numerical range stretches from 9 to 225 superimposed individual portraits, with the abundant graphic detail of the virtual images generated through just a few superimpositions giving way to a strongly homogenising softened focus and multifaceted 3D effect in those with 64 or more layers.
Formally Staudinger’s approach is naturally reminiscent of photo and film work from the sciences and advertising; in terms of content, the effort to create “Viennese types” calls to mind the masterful graphic works of Austrian caricaturists. However, the results could not be more different: while caricature primarily embraces the ugly, perverse and obtuse aspects of the Viennese, Staudinger generates almost angelic, supernaturally beautiful hybrid beings in his series of portraits.
“In Real Viennese I am not interested in generating a statistically valid image of Viennese society or holding up a mirror to it, but rather in drawing attention to the diversity of the people living in Vienna … and to the fact that a real Viennese man or woman – and especially a valuable individual – is to be found within every person we meet on the streets of Vienna. One of the things I love so much about Vienna is its historically developed function as a ‘melting pot’ of cultures, and that is precisely what I wanted to express with this series.”«
Maria Christine Holter Mag.a phil. art historian, curator
»Vienna is a crossroads and melting pot of nationalities, a metropolis of diversity. Here people, mindsets and milieus meet. Here classes and styles merge together into a fertile mass, a healthy coexistence. Robert Staudinger sheds light on this conglomerate of
cultural life in the geographical and also political heart of Europe in a very charismatic way.
With his Viennese series Staudinger attempts to filter out the ONE characteristic Viennese type. He condenses Viennese figures of various extractions into a single Viennese type. He does so by creating portraits of 9 to 225 Viennese women and men for each work and then crossing their ethnicities, cultures and situations in life into a collective multiplicity by
photographing and superimposing them within a framework of matching proportions and identical lighting conditions. The portrait created in this way presents a cross section of the diversity living in Vienna. That which can already be intuited in the case of nine superimposed faces manifests
itself as a certain fact when 225 people are involved:
the Vienna original of today.«
Guido Zehetbauer Salzer,
»Robert Staudinger takes up a distinctive and specifically Viennese characteristic in his series of real Viennese men and women, in which he condenses Viennese characters of both sexes into a typical Viennese. To do so, Robert Staudinger creates portraits of 9 to 225 Viennese men and women for each work and combines the original ethnicities of the sitters (of 22 different nationalities) into a common plurality by photographing and superimposing them within a framework of corresponding proportions under identical lighting conditions. The face created in this way presents a cross section of the living diversity of Vienna. Regardless of how many portraits are superimposed upon one another, the result is fascinatingly congruent and identifies THE Vienna original of today.«
ZS ART GALERIE,
» When I first saw the image in the gallery, I was simultaneously astonished, fascinated and irritated. This was supposed to be a portrait?
I admit that something almost like disappointment was rouse in me: Where was I among these 20 people I didn’t know?
The mirror of sorts that an individual photographic portrait would have offered me disappeared in a jumble of shadowy, superimposed images. I had to set out in search of myself. I had to first discover myself in the image. For this voyage of discovery, I had to sharpen my eye. And gradually I found lines that were obviously, though only suggestively, related to the depiction of my face.
The image (a present from my life-partner) now hangs in the hall of our flat: my slightly narcissistically coloured gaze has since also turned to the other people depicted in the image. Above all, however, I have discovered the aesthetic qualities of the delicate, chromatically subdued hatching, behind which the portraits preserve their mysterious beauty.
PS: It nonetheless still remains quite amusing when guests search for my face! «
Herbert Bauer, Collector