MAUERKRANKHEIT (WALL SICKNESS/MALADIE DU MUR)
Sensations of life on both sides of the Berlin Wall that once divided the world
INDA Gallery presents vintage and unique silver dye destruction prints (Ciba- chrome) of Berlin in the early 1980s produced by photographer and post-pho- tographer, the Berlin-based Canadian-born Philip Pocock.
The unique Cibachrome originals, each exposed and processed in a punk painterly way by the artist, present lyrical and sometimes surreal, psychological documents of Berlin’s Zeitgeist during the Cold War. His shattering of the medium through multiple exposures suggests hallucination as a valid perceptual form suggesting in a visceral way the Wall Sickness suffered by some Berliners, mainly those in East Berlin cooped up not by one limiting border, but two.
Kodachrome 25 slide film, and a few rolls of fast Ektachrome, were exposed (ap- proximately 2000 images in all) during Pocock’s time during the spring and early summer of 1982 Berlin on the invitation of Berlinische Galerie as one of four pho- tographers, each representing one of the four sectors of the post-WWII divided city (American, British, French and Soviet) to honour the 750th anniversary of the city’s foundation in 1987. Pocock was invited to represent the American sector on recommendation by Cornell Capa, Magnum photographer, founding director of New York’s International Center of Photography (ICP), where Pocock taught Ci- bachrome photography and printed for Capa throughout the 1980s.
No longer in production today, Cibachrome is a brand name for ‚Chemical indus- try Basel’s‚ silver-triggered dye-destruction print process’, used almost exclusive- ly by commercial colour photographers upon its inception. Common commercial penchants for normalised, naturalistically detailed mid-tones and -hues, and Ci- bachrome’s extreme need for active painterly handwork during the process, as well as its market value-added price lending Cibachrome the reputation as being the ‚Porsche’ of photography kept fine art photographers away until it was clear Cibachrome’s cyan, magenta and yellow organic azo dyes coming from the tex-
tile and clothing industries are the most permanent in color photography. At that point Cibachromes were more often seen in galleries and museum shows. During its manufacturing in Switzerland, Cibachrome is impregnated with the purest or- ganic dyes on earth. No painter can obtain such pure hues and intense saturation.
The Berlin series
Pocock is a keen and sensitive observer – the hand, eye and mind poetically di- recting the focus of his one lens (35mm) – and penetrates in his darkroom process the psychological depths of the appearance of reality represented in the surface of his photographs. The images of cultural underground milieux, punks, squatters,
‚urban indians’, wild style artists, and images of ordinary inhabitants shot from the hip, open scenes of the everyday life in the ‚schizoid’ city, as well as other walls in urban spaces, in architecture and those supporting graffiti build up to a montage or tableau of a time and place, Berlin 36 years ago, now history, gone, having col- lapsed into its current reunified and rapidly gentrifying state. Details in each pic- ture reveal specificities of the city divided, its psycho-geography and situations, the absurdity of Berlin (and the world) being divided by a wall.
As Pocock puts it: “Berlin as context to the Cibachrome prints coming from my darkroom could not have worked out better as conveyor of the dark, punky cer- tainly traumatised narratives stumbled upon or anticipated as a moment, less tastefully arrived at, and more as endless anticipation as our common present is. The painterliness of Cibachrome allowed for hallucinatory chromatics and deep shadows, to signify 1980s Berlin’s ‚Mauerkrankheit’ (Wall sickness, Maladie du Mur) vibe, the Cibachromes’ stark, expressive forms and shattering mulitple expo- sures that could have been brushed onto an otherwise recognisable reality.”
A special group within the Berlin photos is that of multiple exposures (MX). While Pocock is an ever-inquisitive explorer of the poetics of techniques, technologies
and media, some of the multiple exposures here also have a historical explana- tion: When taking photos in East Berlin, he was arrested and his films confiscated. Luckily, the rolls were eventually returned to the artist, but as they were unmarked, he put one back into the camera at random – resulting in it being exposed twice. Upon developing that roll, Pocock realised that made sense, and he carried on with this serendipitous, photographic error in a manner that may be termed ‚Fau- tographique’ (to borrow a funny homonym from Man Ray, Faute means error). His singular MX prints, all handmade by the artist without edition in his Manhattan stu- dio, shatter photographic norms and compulsory naturalistic taste not to shock but to release a psycho-geographic time-based aesthetic akin to Surrealism, and the Wilde Malerei (Wild Painting) being done at the time in Berlin, both move- ments sharing a psychiatric take that meanders through Philip Pocock’s series of Berlin Cibachromes titled Mauerkrankheit (Wall Sickness/Maladie du Mur).
As Eric Himmel observes in his foreword to the catalogue of a 1983 exhibition of Pocock’s already famous Berlin series at the London Regional Art Gallery (Ontar- io, Canada),
“The multiple exposures that Pocock made in Berlin are argumentative, photo- graphic and slapdash. Like the most ambitious new painting, they are indifferent to received notions about the centrality of formal values and craft to art, seeking new value. They are purely photographic, but they are clearly fashioned in the man- ner of Robert Rauschenberg’s paintings of the 1960s that included overlapping montages of silk-screened photographs [...] Rauschenberg made a point of sacri- ficing composition on the premise presumably that a strong, coherent composi- tion would distract from other elements of the work that he considered important. The “other elements” involved formal qualities like colours and textures, but main- ly, they brought subject matter into new play. [...] As Pocock’s multiply-exposed photographs of Berlin demonstrate, this play is hardly frivolous. Pocock takes very seriously the concerns of documentary photography. If he made assemblages of images to document Berlin, it was because he believed that by doing so, he could better do justice to the reality he found there.”
Pocock’s work has been shown widely in museums, galleries and events, including in the 1990s and 2000s the Venice Biennale (1993); documenta X (1997); Brussels’ Palais des Beaux-Arts; Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum (1998); Museum of Modern
Art Paris, Ludwig Museum, Cologne (2000); ZKM Karlsruhe (1999 and 2002); Nam June Paik Art Center, Seoul, (2009).
Paris Photo, 8–11 November, Grand Palais, Paris – in the fair’s Prismes Section