Patricia Kranz. Photography

Peter Lodermeyer

In the visual arts, material taboos have long since ceased to exist. After Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso began gluing newspaper clippings and pieces of wallpaper into their cubist papiers coll├ęs in 1912, the boundary between materials worthy and unworthy of art, between high and low, eroded at breathtaking speed. When Andy Warhol had his „Brillo Boxes“ assembled from cheap plywood in 1964 to imitate even cheaper packaging boxes of scouring pads, the philosopher Arthur C. Danto still spoke of a „transfiguration of the ordinary“. But the artistic use of intrinsically worthless materials has itself become ordinary. Innovation no longer consists in the artistic use of a hitherto unused material; what is decisive is the way in which this is done. Patricia Kranz has been working with plastic bags since 2008, a material that per se carries a great ambivalence. With their design and product aesthetics – smooth, shiny, hygienically clean – the smooth, shiny, mostly colourfully printed plastic bags with company logos and brand names signal an unbroken optimistic, affirmative attitude towards consumer culture. But the image of plastic has suffered enormously since it became clear that this material accumulates in gigantic quantities in the world’s oceans, which is why every plastic bag is now suspected of being part of an immense environmental problem. Patricia Kranz articulates the ambivalence towards her raw material not ecologically but aesthetically by transforming it through artistic processing to such an extent that its original form and function can only be guessed at. By cutting, heating, braiding, compressing, folding and so on, she transforms the carrier bags into seemingly alien sculptural wall and floor objects that only reveal their original material on closer inspection.

A close look is also the initial impulse for Patricia Kranz’s latest series of works: the photographic approach to individual objects in her „Splash“ and „Networks“ series of works. At first, she used photography only for documentary purposes, but it soon became apparent that focusing on individual parts of her sculptural objects was capable of bringing to light a very unique pictoriality with unexpected aesthetic qualities. Plastic bags are initially flat structures with two inner and two outer sides; through their artistic treatment they gain a complex plasticity that is differentiated in many ways. In photography, they are in turn pressed back into the surface, the two-dimensionality of the photos correlating with a rudimentary spatial illusion. This has to do in particular with the cropped nature and the extreme close-up view of the photographs. Basically, there are no peripheral areas of the objects, no transitions to the wall surfaces to be seen. As a viewer, one notices immediately that the photographed motifs continue in all four directions beyond the edges of the picture. In this way, a virtual, invisible wholeness, lying outside the image field, always presents itself in the imagination, of which the photo only conveys a part. The dialectic of visible fragmentarity and imagined wholeness characterises the pictures and places them in a perceptible tension. This is heightened by the contrast between the genuinely photographic realism of the reproduction of the motif and the colourful, moving surface form, which can be called „painterly“ with good reason. The specific feature of photography as a technical image production consists in what Roland Barthes described as the invisibility of photography in his famous photo essay.

Die helle Kammer“: „Whatever a photograph shows to the eye and however it may be designed, it is always invisible: it is not the photograph that one sees. The view of an image that one has identified as a photograph always goes past the materiality of the photograph – or through it – and directly to the motif. The motif, however, cannot really be grasped in Patricia Kranz’s work. Undoubtedly, one sees material surfaces, sometimes smooth and shiny, sometimes dull, raised, dented or chapped. But even if one knows that it is a detailed reproduction of objects made of processed plastic bags, their recognisability is still severely limited. On the one hand, the close-up view with the macro lens means that one can look at the plastic surfaces in detail, right down to the halftone dots of the print, but at the same time this closeness means that the familiarity of the material is lost. In most pictures, the plastic is simply not identifiable as such – and it is always disconcerting to the eye if, when looking at a photograph, one cannot comprehend what exactly is to be seen on it. In the terminology of the art historian Max Imdahl, one could say about Patricia Kranz’s photographs that in them „recognising seeing“ and „seeing seeing“ are brought into a maximum relationship of tension. That is why these photographs also have a strong pull towards the abstract – and thus they become free for associations on the part of the viewer. Despite the artificiality of the plastic material, there are always flashes of natural charm in the pictures. At times the coloured, twisted structures seem like shiny liquids frozen in motion, and depending on the colourfulness of the motifs, one occasionally feels reminded of close-ups of plant or animal structures. But these associations are always highly unstable and collapse immediately as soon as one discovers details in the picture – individual letters or word fragments, for example – that cannot be integrated into these ideas. The artist does well not to give her works titles in order not to limit the wide scope for association that her motifs open up. 

The photographic reproduction of barely identifiable objects and the quasi-painterly, autonomous form of the picture surface thus come into tension with each other and with them the flatness of the picture field in relation to the spatial relationships in the photographs, which can only be understood to a limited extent. Thus, when looking at these works, one repeatedly has the irritating experience of not being able to assess the spatial position of the individual parts, their front and back, figure and ground, beyond doubt. What visually jumps forward can nevertheless lie further in the background – and vice versa. The analytical view is lost in the attempt to grasp a consistent spatial logic.

In sum, Kranz’s photographic close reading of her sculptural objects leads to an extremely tension-saturated pictoriality that derives its special artistic stringency precisely from the fact that all these moments of tension are conveyed in an aesthetically satisfying balance – i.e. do not disintegrate into a chaotic hodgepodge – that detaches itself from the representational nature of her motifs and thus endures as an autonomous artistic expression. The striking thing is the strong painterly quality of the results. When looking at Patricia Kranz’s photos and their inner movement, memories of the dynamic painting of Abstract Expressionism, for example, keep coming to mind, as do certain reminiscences of baroque pictorial compositions. This is all the more remarkable because Patricia Kranz actually originally comes from painting. Convinced that she had reached certain limits in her development as a painter, she switched to sculpture in 2008 after discovering her sculptural material, plastic. Through the medium of photography, she has now created an opportunity to translate her experiences with this unusual material back into the exploration of a new „painterly“ pictoriality. This closes a circle and at the same time opens up completely new, hitherto unseen visual worlds.