I’ve known the photographer Torsten Solin for years now; I’ve seen a lot of his shows and I’ve run into him at openings in the past, rocked out with leggy showgirl models. When you see him or his work you just gotta smile. He comes from East Germany but he is quintessential Berlin and his style and his personality have become iconic imagery in the art landscape. I was really thrilled when I heard about him doing a show at galerie hiltawsky in the Tucholskystrasse in Berlin. I felt I finally had the right situation to ask him more directly about his work and more specifically his series called ‚The Album’ open to the public through July 2.
This part of your work, using old photographs, quite often including your face, makes me think of how I saw old photos growing up. When I looked at the people in them, I always felt like they were somehow aliens or something. In Germany, it’s quite normal to see old photos for sale on flea markets and to see people buying them—this isn’t something Americans really did or do at all. This idea about buying photos of people who you don’t know sort of fascinates me…
I don’t know whether these Photos bear meaning at all or for someone else. If so, which ones? But it’s like you’ve noticed, there is this Flea Market Phenomena. To answer the question, I cannot hide my work since it’s also a result of the importance I’m projecting into the photos. To me they are primarily symbols of remembrance– or rather a reminder cult– but also a manifestation of forgetting, of resolution. This makes them a kind of Vanitas object. Furthermore, I see them as reference objects in relation to our current handling of pictures, of photography– with respect to the influence of images on our perception.
How did your work with this old photography come about? How did it start? Also, when it is described, it’s described as photo-shopped- I think that simplifies it too much. What’s the focus in doing this? Please explain….
Specifically, it began when I discovered an old photo album in a Trödelfabrik (‚junk factory‘) in Dresden. It had several photos of twins, from toddler-age to adult. Since I have been fascinated for various reasons by the motif of Doppelgangers, I bought the album to use the images in some sort of artistic way, first as a template for my painting. I had no connection with the people photographed, and as photos are ultimately always projecting and reflecting surfaces for our purely subjective perception—so, I started building in my own face, using Photoshop on the images.
Initially, my intention was placed more on the aspects of the uncanny but the direct effect after I started doing it was that it became something much more grotesque, comical. This freaky, foolish, non-serious came across to me really well in the moment; it moved the focus on the doppelganger motif to the background and opened me up to an unexpectedly wide range of new possibilities of approaching it– particularly in the context of the importance of identity and perception, of identity and reality in the present. The role of photography in this, with its alleged or apparent truth or promise of objectivity made the use of the medium of painting in this series obsolete for me.
I have to admit, what’s strange for me about only the ‘old pictures’ being shown at hiltawsky, is that I am so used to seeing your other work, too. Have you ever shown just the photographs before? And how do you think it affects you as an artist, when this whole other side of your work is left out? I wonder what it will be like for the people who don’t know your work, just looking at these photos, and having no idea about the others…
Yes, I’ve previously shown certain pictures from this publicly.
Since this current show is focused on this series ‘Das Album’, the borders are specified. However, on May 20, a parallel solo exhibition with pictures from my series ‘Broken Mirrors’ opened in Jena.
The apparent gap between the two series (or in relation to my other series of the past), what you are probably alluding to with your question, in my opinion, is nothing more than a result of our market-compatible conditioning of the perception of art as something handwritten, which can be assigned through similarity and style in its generally superficial nature: craft, mediality, materialiality, formality, its motif. We are generally bound to categorize, assigning different things to different drawers and thus also organizing our surroundings into a functioning Chaos, orienting us in how to communicate and cooperate.
We love to leave the old, opting for ‘the New’; that these mechanisms are part of our subjective reality construction– that focus our perception but moreover foremost limit and restrict us.
I can’t answer your question any differently.
Also, it seems like the relationships you have with the models from your other type of photography (I’ve met you quite often at openings and events with them). This selection of work is focused (inadvertently) on more sort of self-portraiture of yourself.
Self-portraits and self-staging were from the beginning a part of my artistic engagements. Nevertheless, in my opinion, every work of an artist is, in a sense, always a self- portrait of the artist, since it reflects the subjective focus of that artist– his subjective truth. But it doesn’t have to do with my personality here; rather, it deals with the inter-subjective potency or substance of a work.
These photos seem at first glance to be quite humorous or slapstick (tongue-in-cheek). Are they meant to be taken that way? Is there seriousness in them? How would you expect the viewer to connect to them, identify with them?
Initially, the series, of course, can or is involuntarily perceived as ‘Slapstick’, or better, it’s taken as a farce. I ‚m a fool, a joker, a rogue, maybe a bit mad– and I’ve always been. Maybe that’s why I became an artist—because of the foolish freedom to do whatever I want. And of course the series is meant seriously, because that’s the point with having the freedom to do whatever you want.
SHOW CLOSES 02. JULY 2016.
Torsten Solin: The Album
Curated by Harald Theiss
galerie hiltawsky / Tucholskystrasse 41 / 10117 Berlin / Di – Sa 14 – 19h
Images: Copyright + Courtesy of the Artist.