magdalena frey: think::feel

by robert clark



viewers of this collection will notice that many of the images have been processed in adobe photoshop and other pc tools related to photography. why do I bring this up? simply, because some of the public will revert from viewing the piece as a PHOTOGRAPH, instead falling back upon the so-called DIGITAL IMAGE, as if the picture has a defect forced upon it by technology. my argument is that the image is a complete work of photograghic art. man ray regularly tweaked his work to find a visual poetry; photographers who now work with photoshop and aperture should not be re-constituated as journeymen simply because they use the technology of the time. zoom lenses and fast aperture lenses (let’s remember kubrick: barry lyndon, cinematographer john alcott) were revolutionary in their day but were still considered legitimate explorers of photographic tools. in the case of photoshop, the use of this tool is often considered cheating. i totally reject this bullshit. IT IS A TOOL, NO MORE. and frankly, it is a much more complicated tool to master than the zoom lens ever was.
magdalena frey uses photoshop and many other tools. it is simply a fact. but it is no different than gregg toland, when he used fast lenses in citizen kane and the best years of our lives. no different. it takes a skilled artist to apply any new technology. so let’s end the photoshop nonsense right now. it’s a photograph. it starts with a photograph.


part one: heidegger, the thinker as poet

when the wind, shifting quickly, grumbles
in the rafters of the cabin, and the
weather threatens to become nasty….

three dangers threaten thinking.

1. the good and thus wholesome
danger is the nighness of the singing

photography is poetry for the eyes. it exists as a gateway to thinking not requiring grammar or syntax. therefore, it is easier to condivide, easier to come to a conclusion respective of that which is written. and this is the problem with poetry; we forget the words and make a sum of what we thought we heard instead of digesting the whole. “the singing poet” is the problem. carl sandburg is an example. in photography, on the other hand, there is no beginning or end, only the verity of what you see. this is heidegger’s warning: the linearity of spoken poetry, the directorial command of walt whitman’s oh captain, my captain, requires thinking without a phenomenological connection.
it is the same with frey’s fotos. there is no beginning to latch onto, much yet an ending to find a respite. in frey, there is just a middle, and one must find a way into the full sense of the picture in order to complete it. but you can’t do it by thinking. you can’t do it by the “nighness of the singing poet.” frey requires an entranceway into the middle of the subject, which forces the viewer to form an opinion of the beginning and end, an almost impossible task for those unwilling to take the journey.
in maria m the poetry is almost shoved down our throat with little sense of subtlety, or a “nighness” so to speak. this is the new poetry of the 2000’s, a block presented in such apollonian clarity that not is much left to be said or debated. the poetry of heidegger is in effect left behind. yet in its place is a new verbiage left to scare the media of the new age almost in order to say “fuck you all totally.”
the “singing” allegory is now the digital signals that are destroying any chance of human unity and in a certain way take us back to 1914 just for the joy of it. frey eliminates the documents waved in the wind and warns us of just how dangerous ignoring the beginning and end of a subject truly are.


part two: heidegger, the thinker as poet

three dangers threaten thinking.

2. the evil and thus keenest danger is
thinking itself. it must think
against itself, which it can only
seldom do.

i must go to maria m and remember my reactions to that experience. it was a pro/con experience that left me in a tangle between the beauty of the composition and my reaction as a man. so I began thinking about what I had seen, and that was the end-block. I thought politically about the work, and so was able to classify what I had seen in terms of an american liberal. however, i could not get away from the feeling that I had seen something i had never seen before, and was profoundly disturbed, much as i was when i performed with nitsch in los angeles in 1978. my thinking couldn’t work. at all.
here is where i am myself thinking against myself, and why i am a proponent of no thinking too much about art. frey’s ability to project her subject past the paper (a rare achievement) ripped me to the core, and i found myself reaching for something to hold onto as I could not mobilize my character to stabilize myself. frey’s genius to frame a subject and force the viewer to NOT ESCAPE from the whole became painfully obvious to me. I COULD NOT THINK. and when i thought, i was staring into an abyss i could not avoid. this was pure thought against itself, much as I felt when i saw pollack’s blue poles in person in paris.
again, i can’t think, i cannot reason, i cannot find mental excuse for my physiological reaction to the work. the danger was to revert to a thinking that was clearly not mine, but typical of my american conditioning. this would have been wrong because it misses the point.
in phenomenology there is a noema and an access point via noesis. beyond thinking, it is the consciousness of the givenness first and foremost that matters. this is not perception, but the primordial apriori life experience of what jolts you. life is not a series of thoughts; thoughts are the result of the life experience. in art, the life experience is FEELING, not thought. heidegger is right in pointing out the danger in thinking; what he omits is the importance of FEELING. this he does later.


part three: heidegger, the thinker as poet

three dangers threaten thinking.

3. the bad and thus muddled danger
is philosophizing.

i discovered magdalena frey by accident. i was on an art buying tour of vienna, and her husband, heinz cibulka, was on my list. little did i know what i was to discover when cibulka and i were to hook up. i had known cibulka casually since 1978; i didn’t know magdalena was his wife.
when cibulka and i finally met in vienna, and he was kind enough to drive me to his home, my focus was his earlier work, the quad images he used to shoot with his leica. he was courteous enough to show me his museum near mistlebach. when i saw it, it was clear he was using photoshop to expand his ability to tell a story. i was deeply moved by what i saw at his museum; it crafted images i had already expected from my “classical” cibulka with a new way via digital of LINKING the thought line across yards of space, covered in meaning. it reminded me of nitsch’s 6 day play, the midnight processions to the wine cellars. and it should be mentioned right here that no artist on earth has done a better job of documenting the weinviertel region of nitsch’s prinzendorf, how the region touches the heartbeat of those open to a pan-poetic experience.
when I finally arrived at the cibulka home, I immediately noticed photos that were not his. I was confused, but also excited that I was in for something i was looking for. i finally met magdalena, who I wasn’t to know, prepared one of the best lunches I have ever had.
it was made clear to me that the photos i had noticed were magdalena’s. i was in an unstable state.i was now on a new mission discovering new art.
after lunch i was given a tour of the cibulka home, including their exhibition space, in which for the first time i was able to see both the cibulka and frey work properly. it is a lovely space, blending the two philosophies of approach in a very clear way.

frey’s work, as displayed in the space, was a gunshot to the abdomen for me. one of the great angers of my life is female circumcision, and even though frey did not represent this horror visually, taking an actual photo, maria m brought up the subject and i was floored. the episiotomy images said everything I could ever possibly say in a chataqua tent.

it is this new kind of a relationship that fascinates me so about the magadalena work. my instinct to try to absorb the photo pieces poetically just doesn’t work in this case. another approach is needed to work with this essential material, much as bono expressed when he noted that with the beat poets you could literally “eat the language”

with frey, i want to actually touch the picture. touch the finger of a young girl from rome, or caress the sculpture in certain pieces of maria m. it’s this need to connect, to get away from the coversheet of words doing at best double-duty to offer an initial entranceway, that drives my passion for this work. so what must go here in this instance is a certain philosophizing, which chokes the meaning rather illuminate it.

my touching fetish is an outgrowth of wanting to FEEL. to finally become one with a piece of art without necessarily being able to build poetic verbiage around it. part of this i believe is that frey’s subjects strike a deep chord with my psyche, and this is not always a great thing. feeling is private, intimate, i don’t think it always lends itself to a public scrawling of “explanation” which may or may not be there at all. in frey, all that is needed to have a cathartic experience is present. I CAN FEEL AROUND HER WORK, and can eat the feeling and that is a tremendous achievement.

certain frey pieces i simply don’t react this way to, but they are few and far between. and i may also say that it has been few and far between the kind of art to which i am able to react this way in general. most art doesn’t hit me in the gut. magdalena’s does.

i truly feel magdalena frey has freed photography from thinking crutches and philosophy as an envelope. as she continues to explore the world around her, those of us ready for a punch in the gut now and then will certainly be ready.

march 11, 2007