Anne Wauters (english)

The visual conception in the work of Roland Fischer

The last two series by Roland Fischer, titled Knockouts (1995) and Cathédrales (1996), are in fact quite alike, despite having themes that appear at first glance to be very different. Their similarity stems from the tension resulting from the meeting of opposites, just as they are similar to the older Los Angeles Portraits (1989-93), in the way there is an interaction between backdrop and motif, as well as content and form.
Though the Knockouts deal with the crucial moment of collision between two boxers, they nevertheless focus on the one boxer tottering under the blow delivered by his opponent. These filmic images have been reworked by computer, so the crowd forming the backdrop to the fight has been replaced by a monochrome background. The presence of this abstract surface shows the relationship with those earlier works, the Los Angeles Portraits (as well as the Moines [Monks] and the Moniales [Nuns]), where the ground is no less important than the motif itself, which accordingly sheds its status as subject, and tends to become one of the foci of the image. The images in the Los Angeles Portraits series are in fact based on the submersion of a female bust in a swimming pool, the colour of which provides the monochrome background. The contrast between this organic life and the abstract ground introduces a tension between the two elements – on the one hand the human driven by a free and conscious will, on the other the abstract background referring to the concept of determinism. The water at the bottom of the image, which seems to be rematerialized and become visible in order to espouse the „biological“, illustrates the concept whereby „man is somewhere between freedom and determination“ (1).
Roland Fischer’s work is based on this tension between freedom and form, and between freedom and structure, opposites which operate rather as a complementarity, like man who is „neither uniquely matter nor uniquely idea“ (2).
The background of the image is never really a background, because it makes sense. So in the Knockouts, through its colour and the skin texture, the body contrasts with the background of live colour. Because the action is frozen just after the uppercut, the flesh is saturated by a coloured blur due to the impact, the features of the face are distorted under the blow, and the form tends to dissolve, which serves to further reinforce the contrast with the even colour of the background.
The powerful presence of the background contributes to the sensation of slow motion and a muffled (comatose?) silence, just as the boxer who has been struck falls into a state of unconsciousness and accordingly gives the impression of wanting to blend in with the coloured field, slipping to some extent into another plane of the image, as if into another state of consciousness. This loss of consciousness corresponds with a loss of life – one of the images showing a disfiguration in the shape of a skull points unambiguously to this subject. So the image maybe perceived, over and above a transition between action and inertia, as the moment of the shift from life – that very life which showed its potential in the Los Angeles Portraits – to death. This notion of shift or transition between two states lies at the heart of Roland Fischer’s work, for it is like a meeting point and a point of transmutation between two apparently contrasting concepts, and permits the „dovetailing of two principles“ which cannot be dissociated, just like the life-death pairing. Similarly, this life, which one of the two boxers is in the process of losing and which the other is keeping intact, conjures up another duality, which is echoed in that particular life which lies at the heart of the Los Angeles Portraits, just as it introduces the interior/exterior connection which likewise governs the Cathedrales series.
These latter works result from the precise super imposition of an interior view and an exterior view of the church, situated in the same perspective. Beyond the primary aspect of certain works, which may call to mind old plans and prints by virtue of the colour and the preponderance of the linearity (arcs, ribs, and so on), beyond the hesitations of the eye to situate certain architectonic and sculptural features, beyond the accentuation of the majesty of the building and its verticality which acts as a summons upward, we find, on the one hand, the conjunction – for which Roland Fischer has a soft spot – of interiority and exteriority, referring to the mental fact that can be experimented with by all and sundry when confronted with day-to-day matters, and, on the other hand, the notion of transparency which is present in the motif of the cathedral. The façade of the cathedral in fact reveals to the outside world what is visible within, namely, the horizontal divisions of the elevation of the walls. Thanks to digital techniques, the artist pushes this equivalence to its limits. Drawn along by the perspective, the eye plunges further into the depths of the nave, and emerges on to the exterior plane of the church, or, conversely, of the facade of the choir, in a movement of perpetual to-ing and fro-ing. In these conditions, the background of the image, the overall importance of which comes across in the work, no longer exists, strictly speaking, or, rather, is exacerbated and changing, depending on whether the eye favours the interior or the exterior view. This virtuality stresses the relativity of the visual perception which goes hand in hand with the relativity of the mental perception, vis-à-vis the complex relationship between exteriority and interiority. The Cathedrales do not, therefore, represent an exception to this rule concerning the dialogic nature of principles, for, by the fact that they bring together two complementary extremes, they show that the interior and the exterior form a whole, just like determinism and freedom, and spirituality and materiality.
This type of architecture which allows for a large number of openings (at times even to the point of dematerialization), through which the divine light floods in, in effect stimulates faith by its appeal to space, stimulates, too, the sublimating character of light, the colours of the stained-glass windows, and the vertical thrust of the elevation, just as the might, precision and linearity of the structures point us to the material world. These premises in fact accommodate the perfect harmony between the spiritual and the material, between freedom and structure, soul and body, and even between the divine and the human – whose presence, which is limited here, is nevertheless every bit as logical as it is symbolic.
What is more, there is a contrast between the interior and the exterior of the edifice. Inside the building, we cannot ( and will not ) understand the architectural laws at work in this structure which, however, is all about tension. As far as the exterior is concerned, this makes for an easier reading of the interplay of thrusts and pressures and of the various technical solutions (buttresses, flying and otherwise, and the like) which culminate in the sense of equilibrium and usher in the bedazzlement that comes across inside. Here again, confronted by what the architectural historian N. Pevsner (3) describes as a „contrast between an altogether spiritual interior and an altogether rational exterior“, we find ourselves faced with a dialogue of opposites.
In its refinement and grace, and even, in certain cathedrals, in its transparent quality, the Gothic wall is the osmotic transition between exterior and interior, between civic world and religious world, between temporal and spiritual – those extremes that are in a state of perpetual interpenetration…
Furthermore, the choice of the Cathedral motif is quite logical in an oeuvre where certain earlier works deal not only with religiosity and sacredness, but are also based, in the case of the Los Angeles Portraits, on the philosophy developed by Saint Augustine and his successors around the subject of human freedom. The fact is that a link does exist between the cathedral, in so far as it re presented – and represents – a new type of architecture based on tried and tested architectural techniques making for a lofty, aerial inner structure, and scholasticism which, in the same period, and using already existing elements (the teachings of Aristotle and the Bible, theology and philosophy…), built – and builds – a new intellectual system which was – and is – just as complex as the elevation of the cathedral.
If time is squeezed in the Los Angeles Portraits and suspended in the Knockouts, here it is stretched, because it is the time required for visual perception which reconstructs, turn by turn, interior and then exterior, whereas, conversely, the planes and the space are flattened. The extreme example of this flattening is visible in the image of Cologne Cathedral – this view offers the eye less spatial depth. The onlooker, who is now less „sucked upards“ by the space and who has fewer tendencies to conceptualize based on the view of the interior of the church, is above all confronted by the dark mass which is so characteristic, and by the sensation of eternity which emanates from it. This flattening splendidly conveys the artist’s idea whereby the two sides or surfaces of one and the same thing are inseparable.
What is quintessential in Roland Fischer’s imagery, and what corroborates the fact that the work helps us to grasp that the antagonistic relationships between opposite elements, such as the concepts of interior and exterior, are a whole, is this total equivalence between signifier and signified.
Without this sort of information which helps to decipher the reportage photograph, for example, the image is stripped bare and, „[because] content is invariably accessible when it is based on form“ (4), its very precise aesthetics leads us to sense the idea that underlies it. All of which makes this an oeuvre that is, indeed, conceptual, but not in the historical and austere sense of the term – for, here, the visual execution is every bit as important as the idea. Visuality and idea, form and content, all are on the same equal footing, and the onlooker perceives them in a very marked simultaneous way within this corpus which deals with the complementarity of opposite terms – and extremes.

Anne Wauters 1997
Translated from the French by Simon Pleasance & Fronza Woods.

(1) See in this respect the interview with Norbert Bauer, published in the catalogue for the exhibiton which was held in the Kunstbunker at Nuremberg in 1995.
(2) Ibid.
(3) In „An Outline of European Architecture“, London, Penguin Books, 1943.
(4) See fn 1.

Anne Wauters (b. 1958) is an art historian, art critic and exhibiton curator.
She teaches at the La Cambre Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels, and lives in Brussels.

published in: Roland Fischer, Overbook Gesellschaft Lübeck, Germany