Apollo from Olympia - Kostas
LawickMüller, ‘Apollo from Olympia - Kostas’
From the series: PERFECTLYsuperNATURAL 1998-2001
Courtesy of the artists and Galerie Patricia Dorfmann, Paris
Dec 12, 2020 at 15:18
Hello dear Hans,
During my first look at this specific image, I felt unheimlich. My feeling intrigued me and I paused to think for a moment: it was as if I was looking at an image that will only be made in the future. As if the image captured something that was yet to take place; whilst I knew, as I looked, that it showed something of the past. At the same time, what I saw refers to former composition and image-making traditions - traces of which have already influenced my learned approach to looking, and thus my subjectivity. Here a game is played with time.
The portrait photo contains an interesting paradox to me. To what extent does a portrait tell something about the present and how does it relate to the past? Can a portrait tell something about the future? I read a kind of universalism in the image; the figure reminded me of Apollo - the source body of Western culture. At the same time, when looking at the image, I seem to recognize someone alive today. A feeling creeps up on me as if I know this modern Apollo personally, and that he is looking back at what once was. The picture is a bit of a mind fuck to me; a boundary is sought to play between what people know, think they know, and to challenge whether this knowledge is a truth. And yet I believe it, because I look at it - it exists. (So far my attempt to put my unheimlichkeit into words).
The entrance to my research is physicality - the embodiment in an image. From this point of view, I find it very interesting that you use the body, or perhaps rather the human figure, not so much to tell something about the body of the person portrayed, but rather to question the function or meaning that this body can generate within a portrait. In your case, the interesting thing is that you bring this figure to life digitally, to create the human we see. For me, the portrait artist is the one who must be able to grasp the balance between subject and object in the person portrayed. This dynamic tells something about the relationship between the maker and the body in the image, and how the portrait artist looks at this body. A portrait artist has a kind of power in that respect. The digital creation process here exposes this for me. In this particular image, as far as I am concerned, you walk perfectly on the line between past-present-future, object-subject, and representation-interpretation-presentation. Can you share some insights into the balancing act you executed in creating this particular portrait, and how this process (and the existence of this image) has potentially affected your symbiotic artistry as a duo? I am very curious about this.
Dec 22, 2020 at 14:26
Thank you very much for your thoughts. We are impressed and delighted by how intensely you contemplated our work. Many aspects you mention meet our intentions - some go far beyond. If someone is moved and inspired by your work it’s the reward the artist works for.
It is interesting that you point to the body, to its physicality. One of our early considerations was the popular notion of the body as an object that can be shaped, manipulated, optimized, or brought to perfection. The perfect body is seen as a guarantee to a happy and fulfilled life. The Greek ideal of the classical period - whose sculptures didn’t imitate nature (but nature was supposed to match the perfect measurement and beauty of the art) - seemed to us the appropriate form to illustrate the eternal strife to perfection. It works as a quote - the model that has endured the influence of western figuration - on one hand, as well as a critical questioning - challenging normative constraints of ideals extinguishing individuality - on the other hand.
And of course, there was the discovery of digital possibilities. Processes that enabled us to exceed the existing representational systems by producing totally new object-images. As Kelly Fuery puts it: the thing that is neither object nor image, but can be both.
It was that tension between representation and identity that made us seek exactly the point in the middle between the normative form of the Greek conception of beauty and the individual we portrayed.
So we took the close-ups of museum pieces and asked strangers and friends to pose like the sculptures. That was the funny part, to interact in the studio, but the hard work was just to begin: to superimpose and digitally process two images. So that one of the sculptures should come to life and the real person should look like a Greek deity. But then the moment we succeeded was magic.
Surprisingly over time we more and more identified the result as the real person rather than the original portrait of the individuals. Now looking at the composites takes us back to encountering the models.
We tended to present the “portraits“ in a series that means one Greek deity mixed with several individuals. If all are of the same perfection and beauty we start to search for the tiny differences, for the remains of individuality. That is what actually happened in exhibitions.
We can’t really say if the project was the reason for a change in our life or how the project changed our life as we started a family around the end of the project. Our focus shifted from art to life and it was a wonderful time seeing children grow. We are very thankful for it.
PERFECTLYsuperNATURAL was the last major project dealing with portraits.
We wish you peaceful holidays and all the best for the coming year.
Friederike and Hans