Roland Fischer: Artist Statement about „Nuns and Monks“ 2020 for Fondazione MAST

Artist Statement about „Nuns and Monks“ (1984-1986)

Written and recorded for Fondazione MAST, 2020

Hello to everyone, my name is Roland Fischer, I am a photographer based in Munich, Germany.
The two photographic works, which are included in the “Uniform”- exhibition are from a larger portrait-series entitled “Nuns and Monks”. All the works are about 120 by 170 centimeters.

But be aware, these photos are NOT a documentary. When I had conceived the portraits of nuns and monks in the mid 1980’s it was the final step in a series of experiments to reduce the photographic narrative, and this shift of meaning subsequently resulted in my very first conceptual art project.
In the course of three years I have travelled to almost 50 french monasteries of the congregations of Cistercians and Trappists, which were still alive in this country.

The “Uniform” of the Nuns and Monks has been developed in early centuries, in order to conceal their bodies, the “body” being seen as a symbol for our human sins. By obscuring almost the entire body with a non-individualized, black and white dress and thus turning it into a mere sign they wanted to express their devotion to live for immaterial values only. This operation, to transform something (here: the human body) into a metaphor or a symbol can easily be considered being very similar to an artistic act. Therefore, observing Nuns and Monks walking down the streets, I had the impression of watching “living sculptures”, something which had already been put into a piece of art and just needed to be photographed. I regarded them therefore almost as a “Ready Made” for conceptual photography.

Now when you look at the portraits you may at once distinguish two strong, opposing formal elements: the black and white shapes of the hood and the skin colored forms of the human faces which together form an intense pictorial contrast. Using contrasting elements in an artwork has by the way always been an important strategy for composition.

For me it has also been a way to express my observation, that in our contemporary world everything became gradually more ambiguous: values, beliefs, identity questions, orientation. We have to deal with a „cascade of antinomies“, as the cultural philosopher Peter Wollen has said. This is certainly one side effect of modernity and globalization, but antinomies or polarities are actually not a new phenomenon when talking about conditions for humans in general. Inconsistencies like our physical existence through the body and our immaterial existence through our consciousness are not really understandable through language. So perhaps that’s where art is playing an important role: Through images, and in images, we can comprehend opposites, grasp complex relationships, and ultimately fathom more of our emotional or social context.

for the VIDEO please click here