Published in December 2012 issue of Art in America.
In their current exhibition the young Swiss photography duo, Onorato/Krebs, address the process of creating an image by revealing the actual mechanisms behind the compositions, especially the construction of sculptural elements of which they are particularly fond, and which they build specifically for the large photographs, installation and film on view.
Wozu Zeit, or For What is Time, featuring ten new works made especially for this show, not only reflects on the timelessness of photography, but also alludes to the art history canon itself, and the impact of photography on perception and ultimately on the construction of our worldview. But although many might still feel that image makes reality, Onorato/Krebs seem to be rejecting this view by showing us in all their work the tools they use for constructing their images, and they are primitive, elementary, makeshift, and signal the early age of mechanics. Onorato/Krebs seem to allude to Barthes’s description of cameras as “related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision” and in that spirit, recreate those mechanisms as subjects in their image making.
It is not, therefore, a coincidence that they have included a sound-making installation that looks like an antiquated home-made machine from another century, with various household items as drums, on which hammers are programmed to bang every few seconds in a precisely calibrated fashion to supply the score of their 16mm film titled Blockbuster (2012, 5 minutes). Played on an old projector that protrudes through the wall into the adjacent room, the film depicts a man standing on a ladder and through a perfectly composed play with space, seems to be furiously hammering away at the top of various buildings, which actually exist in the back plane, as if adding the finishing touches or trying to single-handedly bring them down. The sound made by the machine creates the audio effects for the banging of the hammer. This wonderfully humorous and absurd little film, with a punning title, brings us back to the early years of film-making, where the appropriate music was played by a piano-player in the theatre hall, or later edited into the movie, to provide the atmosphere and the emotional cues for the audience. It also alludes to the labor issues connected to industrialization, and the need for more precise forms of documentation and classification, which gave way to the advent of the camera and film, initially intended as scientific instruments. The hammering sound and the man in action also suggests the act of building and making, of shaping and creating the space around us in a very physical and direct way, and by extension in a metaphorical sense, the way in which we construct our reality and understanding of the world.
This playful approach to revealing the process of construction is also found in Fog and Demolition Continues, both black-and-white photographs made with an analog camera, the former depicting a dilapidated or unfinished building in the back plane, and in the front plane a perfectly juxtaposed wooden frame outlining the contours of the building, while the latter depicts in chronophotography a moving contraption in the gaping hole of the debris of a structure. These photographs not only disclose the sculptural source material of photography, but also are a throwback to early photographers, starting with Etienne-Jules Marey, who experimented with capturing the mechanics of motion and the passing of time. The histories of urbanization and photography and their inherent correlation to modernity are always a subtext throughout.
Nude, Descending, Stairs reverses Duchamp’s effort to translate chronophotography to painting, as Onorato/Krebs create a painterly work through photographic means. What results is an assemblage of two images of a female nude descending a staircase, taken from different angles, which are superimposed manually but in different directions, on the backdrop of a metal-link fence and grass, staple features of the modern city. Reference and meaning multiply into a loop.
The work of Onorato/Krebs is an homage to the technologies of the past. However the work does not wallow in nostalgia or sentimentality, instead it is humorous and even ironic toward those who tend to glorify those bygone days. Onorato/Krebs allow us to reflect on our current modes of production, mostly characterized by outsourcing and industrial fabrication, as well as the impact of time on our perception of the world. With smart references and quotations, Onorato/Krebs develop their own language that is whimsical, thoughtful, and thoroughly constructed.