Franziska Schmidt . Berlin - Kunst Foto Historikerin, Germanistin
Amin El Dib - Some changes made, English
Amin El Dib, Some changes made, ed. by Marc Barbey, Collection Regard, Berlin 2019
"The divisions, the tear, the passages, the core, where destruction is done to you."
Amin El Dib’s work navigates the fault lines of visual experience,2 bringing the visible and the nonvisible, the existent and nonexistent into the image. "Questions of being, life, non-being, death ... can indeed be inscribed on photographic material" (Amin El Dib). El Dib probes and explores both the mediality and materiality of photography—through an investigation of the themes and limitations that shape the production of the image; through a dissolution of formal principles and the possi- bilities of representation; through the fragmentation of body and space; through taking abstraction and distortion beyond the point of the recognizable; through the interrogation and testing of technique, material, and image; through hiding, break- ing down, and piecing back together; through experimenting, deconstructing, and encrypting. A tearing of the structure of the image—a fissuring of both content and the fabric of the paper—insinuates fragility, injury, and dissolution. His eye for the tension between surface structure, figure, space, and time achieves depth and intensity through his handling, manipulation, and disruption of the image and the paper. El Dib creates art through photography. Organized in themes, El Dib’s body of work has developed largely through individual longterm projects that have often unfolded over years and are photographed with analogue black-and-white film or in digital color. His experimental ways of working with the photographic material, both the negative and the print, are a reflection of a contemporary approach to media. With inquisitiveness and a critical sensibility he visually interrogates photography through the use of different processes, constantly reanalyzing and reformulating his works. Not only the touch of his hand but also his emotional relationship to the work are inscribed on the images.
The underlying structure of every photograph, every grain, emerges from a situation of immediate experience, in which the senses are engaged from all sides. El Dib’s protagonists move about the stage of the photograph much like those in Antonin Artaud’s "Theater of Cruelty." The realm of the photograph is both the existential basis and habitat of these figures; they move across the image: either losing themselves in blurriness or depth, or stepping outside its borders, they disappear. In Cain I (1991–1992) from the Artaud Portfolios, El Dib attempts to break through the usual concentration on a figure or a moment of action in an image. Shown in a context that is out of focus, the protagonists seem set apart from space and removed from the effects of their actions. In this montage of dark and light, in a process of revealing and hiding, and in the alteration of the negative various levels of time and being come together in a before and after. After the death of Abel the figure of Cain flees the image, a ghost of his former self.
In Views of My Beloved (1995–1996) El Dib turns his gaze to his companion, while exploring photography as a medium of reality. Wherein lies the truth mediated by an image; what enables us to identify the depicted? In this three-dimensional document—of a profile, frontal and back view—one senses that the image somehow wishes to reappropriate or regain its original. Gently the camera caresses the hair, ear, face, which begin to reject this kind of closeness. The viewer’s gaze becomes lost in the increasing abstraction of the composition, diverging into overexposed and dodged surfaces, through which the face is hidden. With the image ultimately dissolving completely, the edge of the negative serves as a frame, a performative shell, a cipher, a mental code.
In PartialViews (1997) the tactility of the recognizable face undergoes a tearing, a transformation. Here, El Dib counters the failed attempt at intimacy insinuated by the progression of Views of My Beloved through the use of separation and a simultaneous intensification. He rips into the surface and destroys how the image is perceived in order to reach deeper levels of meaning. He breaks through multiple layers, digs himself into the image and displaces its natural layers. In this collision of realities the face becomes a metaphor for painful longings and desire. Metal staples symbolically puncture the surface with wounds. The visual narrative thus points to the inflictions of spiritual transformation.
As a reminder of transience, the series CutFlowerImages (1998–2000) represents blossoming and decay, threat and incompleteness. Wherein lies the beauty of decay; where are its origins in our world of thoughts; where has purity gone? Bathed both in water and time, the flowers transform into an abstract meshwork of lines and unfold a materiality of their own. El Dib gently captures the delicacy of wilted blossoms and stems in the porous gleam of the baryte paper. In the graininess and abstraction of photography, in a play of surfaces and forms, their bodies are in danger of dissolving into the texture of the images.
In Weekenders (2000–2002) objects and installations result from interventions in and with photographic prints, in which the space of the image is turned inside out. El Dib interrogates the photographic material in multiple ways. Working from the two-dimensional, he attempts to think in categories such as plan and elevation, depth and form, plasticity and figure.
Crumpled, ripped, bent, arranged in space, photographed once again, these sculptural objects are reshaped—in contraction to their original purpose—into a distorted doll’s head, into a deformed face, into an image that is shaken at its very foundations. Through this autonegation images are overwritten by images.
GelatinSilverLightCardboard (2002–2006) explores how forms are rendered so
as to remain just barely recognizable, navigating the outer edges of visual vulnera bility. How far can the human figure move out of the image, before it loses its ability to be recognized or the traces of its presence disappear? El Dib "delivers a look at the qualities of the photographic era of baryte paper—an exhibition that almost defiantly runs counter to the times; he tears, bends, and layers the enlargements of photographed parts of the body to create a new form of abstract still life."3 Shifting the perception in a violent but also healing act, El Dib attempts to explore a visual dimension beyond what can be photographically depicted. Behind every intervention, the destruction of silver gelatin paper and the body parts in the image are representative of the artist’s wish to enter into realities of the image that seem unattainable, a realm behind the artificial texture of the images.
Truncated surfaces and the stumps of trees can also serve as a metaphor for internal and external landscapes. In After the Storm (2012–2014) we encounter the destructive forces of nature as well as the disruptions of life.
In BreakageWorks (2017) "figurations of antique gods and heroes ... alternative narratives about the perils of existence, touch, and desire ... . With his collages El Dib seems more interested in the tactile qua‚lity and corporeality of images than in the clash between different fragments of reality."4 The representatives of a fateful heterogeneity of epochs are visually layered over one another, cloaked or split apart. Here too, metal staples brutally puncture the bodies—in the neck, face, breast, leg. Photographed with different nuances, the surface textures of the porous materials gently touch each other, and the figures thereby undergo a transformation. Hard contrasts in grey transition into colorful soft surfaces; dead material comes to life. With the breakdown of the spatial and temporal continuum, the order of things is reconfigured. The artist thus responds to the sculpture— correcting, arranging, creating timely connotations.
A gestural element is felt throughout the works of Amin El Dib, which originates from the visual image and is imposed on the materiality of the work. The structures inherent to the images resonate in the formal experience of the works, which sometimes confounds the viewer. Physical intervention: the act of folding, crinkling, or tearing transports this onto the paper, and through the fragmentation of the figures the "existential threat to every breathing body"5 is vividly manifested. Then through fusing, gentle overlapping, and sequencing the images undergo a certain healing. These acts of interference occur in addition to mechanical processes, the traditional techniques of analogue photographic production: solarization, dodging, cropping, cutting, and reproducing. El Dib uses blurriness, cropping, and the turning away or masking of his subjects as part of his visual concept. His intuitive working process follows cues that are already inherent in the work. His inspiration springs not only from the things that can be experienced but, more essentially, from a concentrated and intrinsic knowledge.
Amin El Dib’s works are visual metaphors for ruptures in the surface of reality, for the "break with the self within the fabric of being."6 Unity and difference, discovering and concealing, questioning and revealing—the present and the transient form the understood parameters for shifts and distortions to the image and how it is reinscribed on itself. In this sense, the incoherencies of life form the basis for El Dib’s subtle and sophisticated approach.
Franziska Schmidt, 2019
Title adapted from Gottfried Benn, Verhülle Dich, 1950/51
2 Bernhard Waldenfels, Bruchlinien der Erfahrungen. Phänomenologie – Psychoanalyse – Phänomenotechnik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2002).
3 Boris von Braunchitsch, In 22 Büchern um die Welt. Rezension des Buches SilberLicht, European Photography 83 (2008). See also: www.amineldib.ch
4 Isabel Zürcher, Von der Brüchigkeit des Seins. Amin El Dib in der Skultpurhalle Basel, 2016. See: www.amineldib.ch
5 Isabel Zürcher, ibid.
6 Marcus Steinweg, Dialektik der Rastlosigkeit. Journal Performance Philosophy 3, no. 2 (2017). See: www.performancephilosophy.org