The Rabbit, the Hat and the Time Wizard


HA’ARETZ GUIDE, January 27, 2006

The rabbit, the hat and the time wizard
Smadar Sheffi

Christoph Keller’s “Time Machine” is a fine exhibition that stays with the viewer a long time after leaving the Chelouche Gallery. It can be understood at different levels, and evidently a wide knowledge of physics opens up yet another stratum, one that is shrouded in mystery for the uninitiated.
The pamphlet that accompanies the exhibition relates that “Keller endeavors to investigate Lorentz’s transformation (in physics), which shows that time can be transformed into space and space into time; the influence of the Law of Relativity on the object.” On the assumption that all of this is valid, the artworks take on an added value: the attempt to grasp the incomprehensible – time- and to examine what we feel about it and in it.
Christoph Keller was born in Germany in 1976. His exhibition includes a selection of photographic and video works and one object, all of them impressive. The photographs are all long and narrow, as if taken through a crack, and their recurring themes are blatantly urban: cars on roads, people in the street, an ice rink.
Keller uses a camera he built himself. His long exposures create a kind of fuzziness and blur movement, making the photographs look “treated” but the gallery owner insists that this is not the case. Beyond curiosity about the technical aspects of the work, the question of “treating” the photographs is very much secondary. What is important is that Keller gives substance to the idea that we feel more than we see.
His work connects with the futuristic art of the early 20th century which, in its fascination with new technologies, tried to capture movement. But it also connects with the photographic work of the German artist Andreas Gorsky, the Israeli Ori Gersht, and Katarina Sieverding also from Germany (Gersht’s former teacher, who represented Germany at the 2001 Venice Biennale, and has exhibited at the Artist’s House in Jerusalem).
The futurists, and the contemporary artists mentioned here (along with others, of course) tried to find some way of reconciling our intuitive spatial perception with the perception of space. They tried to deal with the way the question of human proportions, as it is referred to in architectural discussion, is expressed, in regard to how we feel and see places, and ourselves within them.
Some of Keller’s photographed figures and objects are completely blurred, while others are in sharp focus. The pictures consequently evoke images that remain, enigmatically, in our imaginations – just as we sometimes remember some trivial detail with great clarity, but forget the essentials.
Some three years ago, Keller participated in a group exhibition at the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, and there too he presented a work that dealt with time. On that occasion, he used a series of monitors to show the nature films of animals in motion: but the creatures seemed tragically trapped in a constantly recurring moment – an elephant walking, a duck swimming – and the result was a powerful and moving feeling of helplessness.
The most interesting work of the exhibition is the “Continuous Present,” in which Keller offers viewers the strange experience of seeing themselves on video, but with a time delay. The monitor reflects an action that was completed just a few seconds earlier. It is not at all like seeing an ordinary video ourselves, because here we are on the spot, the memory of the movement is still fresh, and the playback is slowed down slightly.
For a brief moment it seems that an opening has been created for altering the past – the impossible wish that everyone has from time to time – but no; we turn out to be merely participants in the process of ” defamiliarization,” in which we feel embarrassment or liking for the person we were a mere moment before. Keller, gives us a kind of second chance, a more conscious one, to take leave of the close past, as it dissolves into the distance with every second that elapses.
The narcissistic side of this work is felt even more strongly in the object. Made of mirrors, its diamond shape revolves slowly, and our image in it is fragmented over and over again. In his photography, Keller looks outwards, in a zealous search to integrate place and time, experience and memory. In the object and in the video work, on the other hand, the introspective gaze brings the viewer close to a feeling that lies somewhere between narcissism and the disintegration of the self. In the transition from the outward-looking to the inward-looking, Keller creates an exhibition that is a little like a magic show, with the viewer feeling like the rabbit that gets pulled from the hat.

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