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Candida Höfer at IMMA
The first solo exhibition in Ireland by the internationally-renowned German artist Candida Höfer opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 12 July 2006. Candida Höfer: Dublin presents 11 works made while visiting Dublin in 2004, including photographs taken at the National Library of Ireland, Marsh’s Library, the Long Room in the Old Library of Trinity College, the Merrion Hotel, and the Great Hall, Chapel and Johnston Room of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. Although distinguished by titles indicating location, city, sequential number and date, these works are not so much records of architecture or geography as they are endeavours at capturing qualities inherent in the space – tranquillity, colour, light, atmosphere and the ambiguous relationship between space and absence.
The types of architectural space to which Höfer is repeatedly drawn are, without exception, public or semi-public places that have been constructed for specific purposes; spaces in which we may expect to linger a while but not reside. Höfer has photographed libraries, museums, theatres, churches, streets and zoos; places that tend to favour anonymity over familiarity, strictly functional interaction over intimate rapport. Traces of human activity are evident, in vacated chairs or arrangements of tea services and cutlery, but people are rarely physically present. Careful scrutiny of these images of ordered, but never immaculate spaces, inevitably reveals the tell-tale marks of wear and tear left by people who occupied them recently.
Irish Museum of Modern Art II, 2004, depicting the 17th-century chapel at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, epitomises Höfer’s masterful interplay of form, content and pattern. In this image, Höfer presents us with what initially appears as a scene of archaic magnificence, of a chapel both pure and enduring in its splendour. Yet on closer inspection, one notices the more prosaic elements of the space. Devoid of an altar or other religious paraphernalia, one becomes aware that this is not a functioning space of worship, but a deconsecrated chapel. Rather than detracting from the image, the modern speaker system, light fittings and emergency exit sign serve only to heighten Höfer’s representation of this striking space. Höfer, perhaps unwittingly, includes us in the image, in the surveillance camera which points directly at us, thereby lending the otherwise stilled atmosphere its only suggestion of life.
Although resembling a gracious salon in a private residence, with its ornate wallpaper, glittering chandelier and hexagonal-motif carpet, the projection screen and formally dressed tables in Merrion Dublin II, 2004, signify that this is a business setting in which a presentation of some kind has been temporarily suspended. Whether in between moments of preparation or takedown, we are not certain. The un-staged furniture forms the centre of this composition in which they, along with the architectural details, are the only subjects. One’s attention is drawn to the screen which almost entirely covers an elaborate gilt mirror, thus blocking the reflection of the artist who would otherwise be visible in it. Höfer subtly and conceptually implies humanity without physically including people. As Höfer has herself commented, ‘in the image absence is more present than presence’.
Höfer’s frequently poetic impulse to keep searching for new sources of stimulus saves her lucidly composed photographs from falling into banality. By offering us a compelling examination of the nature of our own perception, she prompts us to consider what looking really means. Through her singular style of photography, she reinvests the act of seeing with a sense of wonder and surprise and gently invites us to lose ourselves in the inner order of her spaces. At every turn, through her remarkable intuition, Höfer taps into the pulsating essence of these un-peopled spaces and brings them to life.
Candida Höfer was born in 1944 in Eberswalde, Germany, and is one of the leading figures in contemporary German art photography. Having studied film at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, she went on to study photography under Bernd and Hilla Becher. Höfer was included in Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany, in 2002. In 2003 she represented Germany, along with the late Martin Kippenberger, at the Venice Biennale.
The exhibition is curated by Karen Sweeney, Assistant Curator: Exhibitions, IMMA. The exhibition is supported by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e. V. The exhibition opening is supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dublin, and the Goethe Institut, Dublin.
A full-colour catalogue, with essay’s by Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith, curator and critic, and Karen Sweeney, accompanies the exhibition.
Candida Hofer: Dublin continues until 1 October 2006. Admission is free
Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am - 5.30pm
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