Body Art Pioneer Jürgen Klauke’s Photographs Devour Their Viewer

Artsy Editorial
Oct 7, 2015 5:28PM

The deep black backgrounds of Jürgen Klauke’s large-format, black-and-white photographs seem to devour the viewer, but not before transferring—like electricity—some current of wonder, of a desire to understand what might be behind or beyond them.

The German photographer and performance artist, known for pioneering “Body Art” and casting himself in provocative performances, which were carefully documented in photographs, is the subject of “Jurgen Klauke, Aesthetic Paranoia” (2004–2006), an enigmatic series of photographs on view now at Annely Juda Fine Art. Each image in the body of work features a single white double bed, topped with a figure (the artist) shrouded in black, and set within a black, empty void of a room. 

But with each image comes a subtle change in perspective—a minute shift in scale, in distance, or in angle—leaving the viewer unstable, disquieted, and feeling the paranoia that courses through the subject. The artist’s face is always obscured, hidden behind a long black mane of hair, or scrubbed from the image, leaving ghostly remains. The body is transformed into a shape, a kind of action painting, where the maker and the made are one. Several oppositions converge: the black background of emptiness and the white, alienating bed seem to be stand-ins for the artist’s inner life and outward persona. 

Klauke’s extremely long hair, first neatly combed onto his face and placed like a blanket on the bed, grows more entangled and hysterical, assuming a life of its own as the series evolves through the gallery. The hair becomes a metaphor for all that blinds us, for that which bars us from the world outside, leaving us uncertain. 

“Loose Contact” (2004–2006), a sub series of long exposure photographs, picks up here: beginning as sockets, they morph into sockets with plugs, then growing wires that finally lose connection and spring out of control. It homes in on the disconnect between the current and its source, behavior and society. The wires form tresses that mimic hair. There is a joke at play here about the inescapable hardwiring of human behavior. 

Both series revolve around alienation, masks, isolation, and everyman’s struggle. But there is a sense that in playing out these traumas, some relief is to be had, relief shared through this performative art. Darkness abounds, but we’re only able to see it through the photographer’s flash, his light.

Himali Singh Soin

Jürgen Klauke, Aesthetic Paranoia” is on view at Annely Juda Fine Art, London, Sept. 10–Oct. 24, 2015.

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Artsy Editorial