Sebastian STUMPF - ZENITH
by Lina Morawetz
The painter Eugene Delacroix is supposed to have said that there are lines that are monsters ... Which immediately leads one to ask: what lines? And: what monsters? It’s possible that Delacroix had horizontal lines in mind, as an uncurved stroke without the slightest upwards or downwards deviation definitely has something impressive, even overpowering about it. The horizon is nothing but a monstrous line.
The horizon divides the picture in two. The eight pairs of pictures that make up the photographic series Zenit [Zenith] presented at the Galerie Kleindienst in Leipzig feature an ambivalent relationship to this line. This is conveyed by monstrous settings. Another line is also to be seen. Thin, black, scrawling, almost invisible but far from negligible, this second line indicates that the protagonist of the pictures is the one releasing the shutter.
The ocean is blue and green, in reality a breathtaking setting. But it’s not about the view. It’s about an image into which the protagonist inserts himself by means of breakneck, extremely precise work: work required to construct an image. Delacroix is also supposed to have said that of itself a line has no meaning. A second line is needed to lend the first expression. It is accordingly the verticality of the body in the photograph that as a sign or symbol lends the line of the horizon a kind of significance – “expression”. These two axes are so precise that a foot is allowed to point askew, like a footnote to a story that isn’t a story at all.
This is not a narrative about connections or attempts. By capturing a leaping point Ozean [Ocean] and Zenit examine the construction of images in time and space in moments devoid of time and space. Like a media-ontological reflection or a derealization: retrospective, visual materializations of past performances, but also pictorial illusions on the edge of a ruinous, otherwise undefined world.
The ground of this world is made of concrete, sand, and disintegrating blocks that look slippery and are presumably regularly washed over by the tide. In ancient Greece Ōkeanós was the current that flowed around the flat surface of the earth. Whereas nowadays the seas sweep over the globe, or rather humans pillage the oceans. The world is upside down, out of joint.
“Zenit” means “in the direction of the head”. As if trying to do justice to an upside down, out of joint world, in every second picture of the series the protagonist’s head is pointed “downwards”.
But the head is standing on itself. It is clear that the head has been placed on the world and not the world on the head, upside down, out of joint.
By way of contrast the video Ozean presented alongside Zenit elicits in the viewer above all the ambivalent expectation that the protagonist has vanished in the ocean, as he dives into the water but never visibly re-emerges. This disappearance is suggested in an existential location – the point where land and water part ways. Bas Jan Ader is thus evoked, who once said: “The sea, the land – the artist has known with great sadness they too will be no more.”
Whether these leaps and headstands and dives are intended seriously or playfully can be answered with the observation that precisely the absence of sense has the monstrous capability of generating sense. In a footnote Jacques Derrida once noted: “The serious only has one sense: play, which no longer has one, is only serious to the degree that ‘the absence of sense is also a sense’, yet is always astray in the night of an indifferent non-sense.”
To create art is to struggle. Against “nights of indifferent non-being”, against underexposure, even against breathlessness or meaninglessness. In the process the head is turned upside down. On the edge of the ocean the absurdity of creating art in the form of leaps and headstands is added to the image as a heavy, self-imposed task with no foreseeable purpose.
Production delays, analogue enlargement, the viewing time of the video, holding one’s breath for a long period under water (required when diving) – these things appear in the works as ambivalence, but also as artistic ambition. The ambition to generate a suitable aesthetic by means of which both the “creation” of something as well as the idea of living, as VALIE EXPORT describes it, “in a way that traverses time and space” can be depicted.
The artist lacks a space. He visualizes the situation and then takes a picture so to have a space to move about in for a short time. Or the other way around: it is the camera that creates image and subject alike. The subject sometimes threatens to vanish or go under. Yet at the same time it places itself upside down with utter precision and elevates itself over monstrous things.
What remains are the images – as actors that ultimately create the spaces that they, in truth, lack. Or in reality? A construction made up of two axes of significance leaning against each other: images and signs. Surveying deficits. Opticality, semiotics. Ozean, Zenit
Translation from German: Chris Michalski
 Jacques Derrida, L’écriture et la différence, 1967
 Stefan Römer, Reports from the Conceptual Paradise, 2013