Eine Schwalbe kommt herein.—
Laßt sie…laßt sie herein, die Schwalbe
What lies deepest in man, is the skin. […] We could delve, doctor, but we are ectodermal.
Paul Valéry (1)
In 1896 the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin wrote an essay with the title Wie man Skulpturen aufnehmen soll (2) (How one should photograph sculpture), dealing with the question of the translatability of sculpture into photography. In this text Wölfflin makes an astonishing and bold proposition: each artwork has a single valid face—the one “which corresponds to the conception of the artist”. This monofocal ideal is on the one hand problematic as only “the educated eye” can grasp the valid artistic point of view, on the other hand it allows to resolve sculpture into line, surface, and contour, i.e. into two-dimensionality. Although Wölfflin’s text relates to classic sculptures it bears a curious relevance: the notion of sculpture—established in the mid-1960s e.g. in minimalism—refers not only to the plastic form of the sculpture but also to the spatial configuration of spectator and sculpture. If we inverse Wölfflin’s thesis—like Tobia Bezzola suggests in his essay From Sculpture in Photography to Photography as Plastic Art (3)—it enables us to conceive the creation of sculpture by the technical means of photography.
To approach Tina Lechner’s “photographic” work in terms of the above-mentioned notions seems appropriate. The objects or requisites, which interact with the bodies of the models, are created for and only for the camera. They gain their distinct sculptural value in the moment of being photographed. It is only in this relation that they unfold their context of meaning. Tina Lechner’s works are shaped by a monofocality—the spectator can only perceive one view. Thus far this concerned the view from the rear, mostly recognizable by the motif averted head. Photographs depicting the whole body—pre-announcing already the most recent series of works—extend the relation figure–ground by including spatiality. Nevertheless, these works have mostly composed in the form visible body/head–averted. The new series of works though unveils a new configuration: invisible body–faced.
Kathy Battista characterized the body in Tina Lechner’s works in the following way: […] body as an experimental surface, rather than as a distinctly female, idealized presence. (4) This experiment is even pushed foreward: While apparently facing the spectator, the bodies don’t have any faces and nearly any obvious human structure. The ghostly presence of the human, animated bodies behind or under the inanimate extensions disintegrates completely into surface and materiality—neither any kind of essence nor identity lies beneath. Only foldings and protuberances, fringes and overlapping of skin, plastics and textiles. In this experimental framework influences of fashion pop up as well and so André Breton’s “modern mannequin”—mentioned in his Surrealist Manifesto from 1924—which evokes the sensation of marvelousness by oscillating between living object and inanimate female form, encounters Lady Gaga: Dress me, I’m your mannequin […] Fashion put it all on me, don’t you want to see those clothes on me, fashion put it all on me, I am anyone you want me to be. (5)
The series Susan told me II pursues the examination of the surface. The subtle black and white photographs occur for the first time in color—hand-colored, reviving a technique most common in the mid 19th century before the invention of color photography. The large-format works vaguely imply the impression as if the bodies had struck a pose in front of the camera and thereby evoke reminiscences of historical photographic portraits. The photographic act is reflected in the sculptures. Hence Tina Lechner’s works find themselves in a frame of reference in which the photographic and the plastic constantly refer formally as well as medially to each other and actually unfold themselves in exactly this mutual relation.
(1) Paul VALÈRY, 1960, [Translation by the author]; German quote after Didier ANZIEU, Das Haut-Ich, translation: Meinhart Korte und Marie-Helene Lebourdais-Weiss, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 1992, p. 85. (Was am tiefsten im Menschen liegt, ist die Haut. […] Wir könnten graben, Doktor, aber wir sind ektoderm.)
(2) Heinrich WÖLFFLIN, Wie man Skulpturen aufnehmen soll, in: Neue Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, NF 7, 1896, pp. 224–228; NF 8, 1897, pp. 294–297; NF 26, 1914, pp. 237–244.
(3) Tobia BEZZOLA, Von der Skulptur in der Fotografie zur Fotografie als Plastik, pp.28–35, in: Roxana MARCOCI et al. (Hg.), FotoSkulptur: Die Fotografie der Skulptur 1839 bis Heute; published on the occasion of „The Original Copy ...“, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, August 1–November 1, 2010; „FotoSkulptur ...“, Kunsthaus Zurich, February 25–May 15, 2011; New York/Zurich: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Kunsthaus Zurich 2010.
(4) Kathy BATTISTA, Beyond the Body, in: Tina LECHNER, Susan told me, Vienna: VfmK Verlag für moderne Kunst 2019, p. 7.
(5) LADY GAGA, Fashion, 2009.