Heaven and Hope
»In the series heaven and hope, Robert Staudinger directs his gaze to the indistinct horizon between the sea and the sky. In this way he simultaneously reveals our limited nature and that yearning for what lies beyond which derives from it. That which is outside our control always places us in a charged dichotomy between curiosity and impotence, between the inspiration of activity and the revels of surrender.«
ZS ART GALERIE,
»Water and sky – the essence of Robert Staudinger’s current heaven and hope series of photos can be encapsulated through these words. However, both the rolling of the sea and the horizon’s merging into the atmospheric ambiences of clouds are simultaneously objects of yearning and projection, at least for most of us. But why did the fine-art photographer set out on a journey from Europe to North Africa specifically for this purpose? Why does he channel our gaze through the round format he has selected? And what do Staudinger’s images have to do with us and the current conditions of our society?
It is worth asking these and other questions when faced with these images positioned between the elements of air and water or, as suggested by their title, between sky and hope. They were publicly presented for the first time in October 2016, in the context of the exhibition “Das Verborgene im Augenscheinlichen” (Hidden in Plain Sight) at Vienna’s zs art gallery.
In April 2016 Staudinger boarded a car ferry crossing the Mediterranean – round trip. He had his photo equipment with him in his luggage, along with a few personal items for the journey by ship, which would last several days. He travelled alone and his goal was to capture his journey in images in the most striking manner possible. However, in contrast to some of his earlier series, the artist’s focus here was neither on people – in this case, the loud discussions of the numerous Arabic merchants with their overloaded little trucks – nor the dilapidated industrial charm of the aged ferry. Photos of this kind are familiar from Staudinger’s work in the form of remarkable portraits of abandoned factory halls and other ruins of the urban periphery. This time he has directed his lens towards the hazy horizon floating between the sea and the sky.
This fascinating dividing line between heaven and earth, sea and clouds had already captured the attention of fine-art photographers before Staudinger, for example, the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, who achieved his international breakthrough with his minimalist, purely black-and-white Seascapes in the 1980s.
By contrast Staudinger deliberately works with colour in order to do justice to the shifting conditions of the weather and light and the resulting play of colours. The weather conditions – which actually varied greatly during his crossing, from a calm sea to extremely violent storms – and the times at which the given photos were shot are reflected in all their rich nuances in the twenty presented images: from a radiant blue to a pallid blackish grey that makes the sea look like the crater-covered surface of another planet. The photographer has additionally positioned the horizon at different heights within the round formats of the pictures, thus alternately drawing our gaze towards the dynamic surface of the water or the rarely cloudless April sky – and sometimes also towards a far-off bit of land, just like the artist’s own experience during his crossing. And not just him …
Staudinger holds up his photographic tondi like a magnifying glass concentrating the burning heat of the sun on a theme that has become burdensome to our society: “During my risk-free and relatively comfortable journey, I inevitably asked myself about what all those people see and feel who dare to seek a future in Europe by way of the sea. What hopes and yearnings are connected with this – and what the corresponding reality then looks like during the crossing, which often actually ends in death, and particularly upon arrival in countries that have long since bid farewell to the legendary ‘welcoming culture’.”
Nonetheless, Staudinger’s current series is no “concerned art”. They are works that pose questions about our personal projections on and visions for society’s development, but simultaneously also images that deal with the medium of photography itself as a theme: how do I stage “reality” and how do I utilise my medium in the best possible way in order to make the desired statement?
In heaven and hope Staudinger works with extremely high-resolution digital photography, and a colour-transfer technique is used to fix the images on – and apply high pressure to fuse them, so to speak, with – circular sheets of aluminium. The painterly effect sought and achieved in this way and the soft progressions of colour underscore the poetry inherent to the individual works: sea and horizon as a metaphor for the limited nature of the here and now, but simultaneously also for the possibility of transcending it.«
Maria Christine Holter Mag.a phil. art historian, curator
» From the beginning we’ve been very delighted with the two round images which hang opposite one another in the corner that serves as our dining area.
The circular form of the medallion is quite clearly divided into two different halves by the stringent line
at the horizon, where water and air meet: below is the plane of the water’s surface and above the shifting of the clouds in the sky.
Although there are ripples on the water’s surface, it nevertheless – at least at first glance – forms a tranquil plane that also radiates a sense of calm. By contrast
there is something threatening about the conglomerations of clouds. These darknesses are, however, brightened up in the numerous places where light is able to pass through. The images could be entitled: danger and hope.
Overall, however, they are dominated by blue in every shade, a very pleasant blue. In addition there is the fact that the dark and light colours on the mirror-like surface also change with every alteration of the lighting, even the slightest: on this level, as well, simultaneous calm and motion! In me, the viewer, these tondi generate a feeling of great well-being! «