After several collaborations, the CPG presents the first retrospective exhibition of Berlin artist Armin Linke (b.1966 Milan) in collaboration with the ZKM (Karlsruhe), the PAC (Milan) and the Ludwig Forum (Aachen). Since the beginning of his career, Armin Linke has envisaged his work as an archive, bearing witness to the radical changes brought about by the last wave of globalization, from the 1990s onward.
This exhibition, initiated by the ZKM, boasts an original mise en scène, featuring text and audio, and offers a reading of Linke’s collection of work by a selection of scientists, philosophers and theorists, including Ariella Azoulay (see her exhibition Act of State at the CPG in 2009), Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour amongst others. Linke and Latour have worked together on several occasions over the past number of years in the context of Latour’s research into the Anthropocene epoch.
Being able to stage the first solo exhibition by Armin Linke to be held anywhere in the French-speaking world or Switzerland is both a great pleasure and a great honour for the CPG. Linke is one of the foremost photographers of his generation, and has participated in the following biennials: Venice in 2003, São Paulo in 2006 and 2008, Gwangju in 2006, Thessaloniki in 2007, Moscow in 2007 and 2011, Taipei in 2012, Shanghai in 2014, and Manifesta in 2016. He has also taken part in architecture biennials: Rotterdam in 2010, Chicago in 2017, and Venice in 2000, 2004, 2014 and 2016.
He embarked on his work as a photographer in New York in the late 1980s taking portrait pictures of artists, after breaking off his architectural studies. Once back in his native city of Milan, he turned increasingly to questions in fact associated with architecture, while at the same time continuing specific collaborations with artists such as Maurizio Cattalan or Vanessa Beecroft. Moreover he had the good fortune to accompany the Caribbean Biennial initiated by Cattalan enabling twelve artists to take a rest from the constant round of biennials! From architecture, which still remains one of his major preoccupations today, with works relating to concepts as different as those of Alvar Alto, Carlo Mollino, Herzog and de Meuron, Kurt W. Forster or Carlo Scarpa to name only those few, he has turned his attention to the interactions between human beings and their environment in a wider sense. In these last years he has worked with Bruno Latour and his team on questions concerning the Anthropocene epoch, at the same time questioning the medium of photography, moving towards techniques of automated recording, and tackling different methods of producing images, such as video and now 3D.
Armin Linke is one of the very few contemporary photographers to have thought of his work very early on as an archive of his own time, so becoming the chronicler of modern globalisation, without following the mass-media agenda. Thus the CPG had already invited him to participate in the collective exhibition La revanche de l’archive photographique in 2010, after including him in the exhibition Panoramic Scenes which brought together photographers using the panorama format not for landscapes, but for large group portraits. Hans Ulrich Obrist was the first person to present his archive to a wider public in the exhibition Utopia Station at the Venice Biennale in 2003.
Convinced that the digital era does not greatly change the taking of shots (a camera obscura that records light rays reflected by things and objects of tangible reality on a photo-sensitive surface), but does have a major impact on how they are handled, circulated, even dematerialised, he took advantage of the most advanced digital techniques. So in Venice Armin Linke invited the public to choose a restricted number of photographs from a database in his archive, then once they had paid a modest amount and gone back home they would receive a book containing the photographs they had selected. The first artistic project for a made-to-order book had come into being.
First at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Kassel in 2007, then at the São Paulo Biennial in 2008, along with Peter Hanappe (Sony Computer Science Laboratory, Paris), Alex Rich (London), and Peter Weibel (Chairman and CEO of ZKM), Armin Linke developed his installation Phenotypes/Limited Forms, an extension of the made-to-order book into the here and now. The public were invited to make a personal selection of eight photographs from the thousand placed on the ledges in the exhibition space. A scanner recognized the prints selected, and a printer instantly brought out a small book with six photographs in flipbook format. The public became its own curator and held a one-off book, as in Venice, thanks to the new techniques governing accessibility and printing as well as distribution. Installing a similar device at Admont Abbey in Styria in Austria in 2010, the artist invited the public to completely take over the work of the curator, i.e. to arrange the photographs as they wished, and so each time offer a new narrative with the same visual material.
Armin Linke’s work is sustained by a profound belief: A single photographic image, especially as celebrated by the market, cannot reflect the complexity of our world. He goes further and prompts multitudinous narratives. And he harbours a wish that is again unusual for a photographer: He likes working in a team, renouncing the idea of the omnipotent artist working alone in heights that are beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. This conception of collective work extends to The Appearance of That Which Cannot Be Seen where more than two dozen people have been deployed, ranging from the audio specialist, the architect, the graphic designer, theoreticians from a variety of disciplines, curators and camera operators, to mention only those.
The Appearance of That Which Cannot Be Seen is the culmination of research Armin Linke has been conducting for 20 years. For this event the artist has invited in theoreticians from the widest variety of fields to comment on the images, ranging from sociology to the arts, architecture to palaeobiology, geography to the history of science, asking them to select photographs from his treasure trove, now amounting to a collection of more than half a million. Thus through their voices that resonate in the exhibition space and their texts produced in readable form in a take-away pamphlet, the archive remains alive, and no single narrative is imposed. Armin Linke achieves the remarkable feat of not only depicting spaces, but also creating space with an arrangement leaving the walls empty and offering a new experience of the exhibition space.
The images chosen by those invited and offered to the public range from a restoration department to a huge sparsely wooded meadow where we think we can detect a pipeline in the ground, from a euro printworks in Rome (shown at the CPG exhibition Caméra(Auto)Contrôle) to a warehouse for mineral water, a CERN laboratory, or a temporary covered structure to accommodate a conference on global warming in a football stadium.
In the past two decades Armin Linke has photographed the city of Genoa cut off by anti-riot apparatus when the G8 conference was held there, the Maha Kumbh Mela procession which takes place in India every 12 years, attracting 40 million pilgrims in 2001, a market under a motorway in Lagos (shown at the CPG Panoramic Scenes exhibition), the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, or the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. Only his photographs do not aim at the iconic shot, the effect that makes an immediate impact, where possible through its monumentality, which came into fashion with Andreas Gursky from the mid-1990s, and was followed by many photographers who had swopped the Leica for the view camera, but remaining in the same superficial relationship to the world, like Henri Cartier Bresson.
To display the panorama of our globalised world fully, Armin Linke has also taken account of everything we fail to see, what is not in our field of vision, whether it be laboratories of astrophysics, secret seats of power, or big-data storage facilities. It is the computerisation of all aspects of life and work that is one of the things central to the artist’s concerns. He is passionate about seeking out the interdependence of all conceivable aspects of our complex societies, whether they be financial, scientific, industrial, educational, or related to town planning, for example.
At the same time as thinking about the digitalisation of the globalised world, in The Appearance of That Which Cannot Be Seen he insists on the physical presence of a tiny fragment of his archive, around 170 photographs, only a third of them in large format, all printed on paper standard to the industry, sometimes letting white margins appear, so indicating the different formats of the cameras used. The insistence on that experience of physicality in the space runs counter to the images we come across in their hundreds daily on our computer, tablet or smart-phone screens. For one of the differences between Armin Linke’s archive and the Internet lies precisely in the fact – as Sébastien Leseigneur, the curator of the Néoglobalidad exhibition, likewise organized by the CPG in parallel with The Appearance of That Which Cannot Be Seen and likewise presented to the BAC, points out – that the Internet is not an archive. Today nothing guarantees its durability, quite the opposite. It is all the more interesting that an important aspect of Armin Linke’s aesthetic lies in the very confusions he seeks where the real and the false can no longer be separated.
Those invited by Armin Linke are Ariella Azoulay (Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, a freelance curator and film-maker), Lorraine Daston (Director the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin), Franco Farinelli (a geographer, Head of the Department of Philosophy and Communications at the University of Bologna), Bruno Latour (an anthropologist and Professor at Sciences Po in Paris), Peter Weibel (an artist and Chairman and CEO of ZKM in Karlsruhe, Professor of Media Theory at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna), Mark Wigley (an architectural theorist, author and curator), and Jan Zalasiewicz (Professor of Palaeobiology at Leicester University, and Chair of the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy). We would like to thank them all for their collaboration, as well as Philipp Ziegler, a curator at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, who set the exhibition up together with the artist. Our thanks are also due to the whole team from Armin Linke’s studio.
It also gives us great pleasure to reveal a different aspect of Armin Linke’s work at the Cinéma Dynamo, made available to us free of charge by the Geneva Centre d’Art Contemporain. The film Alpi was made over a long period of seven years, with presentations of intermediate extracts by the artist, the architect Piero Zanini and the musician Renato Rinaldi. The constellation of this filming team alone already makes it an undertaking like no other.
For example, the editing was guided much more by sound than by image, therefore the whole film is the wrong way round. Anyone expecting to revel in snow-covered mountaintops radiating sunlight, deep rocks and majestic glaciers will be more than disappointed. We almost never see a panoramic view of the Alps. The shots almost never have depth, let alone a view. The artist literally blocks it off from us. The shots are almost always taken in enclosed place, as in the case of the only ski run to exist on the roof of an enormous shopping mall, in Abu Dhabi. The film explores the different ways in which the Alps are worn down [used?], ranging from an underground shooting gallery for the French police in a Swiss bunker to an Indian film crew looking for a landscape resembling those of Kashmir, from a demonstration against a tunnel to the Giovanni Segantini’s diptych [triptych?] Life –Nature – Death.
The idea came to Armin Linke one time when he was crossing the Alps with a friend who was a geographer – at the time he was living between Milan and Berlin. His friend questioned him about his need to keep going to the four corners of the earth to look for his images. It was then that he made the decision to take the Alps as his subject and further develop his early attempts at using video. “This is the most uncritical film ever made about the utter artificiality of the modern world. But ‘uncritical’ has to be taken just as positively as ‘artificial’”, Bruno Latour commented when it came out.
Joerg Bader, Director of the Centre de la photographie Genève