Burnt books are art for photographers

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By Jonathan Colford

If a picture is worth a thousand words, why would visual art require a thousand words of explanation?

That was one audience member’s question at the close of Angela Grauerholz’s lecture last week, part of the Kodak Lecture Series on the visual arts. Now in its 27th year, the series is organized by the Ryerson Image Arts department and features artists from around the world.

“That’s the paradox,” Grauerholz says. “More and more we are going into a theoretically-based art rather than on imagery that takes us to a whole other level.”

Grauerholz is a German-born, Montreal-based photographer and graphic designer. Her photographs invite the viewer to make connections between them, even when none is apparent and where the photographer does not want to impose one.

Grauerholz led off her lecture with a confession. “I cannot stop collecting things,” she told the audience of about 250 in Jorgenson Hall on Friday.

Grauerholz presented several recent projects, including her most recent works “The Reading Room for the Working Artist” and “Privation.”

Earlier work shown included “Secrets: a Gothic Tale,” a collection of photographs taken at le Domaine de Kerguéhennec, a castle in Brittany, France.

For “Secrets: a Gothic Tale,” she invented a fictional photographer who lived and worked at the castle.

The photos in the collection illustrate this fictional character’s mental decline through imagery found in nature. The water in the ponds becomes cloudier and the forest becomes more menacing.

As for the story her photographs tell, Grauerholz said it’s up to viewers to decide for themselves.

“Angela speaks with a very unusual voice. I think she weaves magic,” said Olga Korper, owner of the Olga Korper Gallery, where Grauerholz has shown some of her recent work.

“Sometimes I think she creates spaces and installations. Sometimes I think she tells stories,” Korper said.

Grauerholz said her photographs are all individual moments, not necessarily related to one another.

She said moments can be put in a structure in her series “Eclogues, or filling the landscape.”

Grauerholz shows people from far away entering a landscape, leaving the viewer behind. They are mostly photographed from behind or far away.

Grauerholz said she is uncomfortable taking close-ups of people, and even of including people in her photography.

“I’m always afraid someone will recognize themselves.”

Grauerholz was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1952. She moved to Montreal in 1976 and did her Masters in Fine Arts in photography at Concordia University.

Galleries showing her work include the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pa., the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and he National Gallery of Canada.

Outside her photography, Grauerholz teaches design and typography at the Université du Québec à Montréal.

“Privation” came after a fire which took place in Grauerholz’s Montreal home two years ago.

The pictures are scans of the covers of the charred books from the library, which was destroyed in the fire.

“It became for me a kind of purging of the experience yet a commemoration of that experience,” she said.

The pictures of these books, which can be seen at olgakorpergallery.com, are organized by colour. Some of the books had the covers torn off, with one showing the ink bleeding into the page.

For Grauerholz, the images of these books illustrate the “preciousness of knowledge.”

“When I fished one out of the rubble I realized how absolutely beautiful they were.”

“The Reading Room for the Working Artist” is a reconstruction of Russian artist Aleksandr Rodchenko’s “Reading Room of the Workers’ Club,” which he designed for the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, held in Paris in 1925.

The photo of Grauerholz’s reading room shows books on a table lined with chairs. A staircase leads down in the middle of the background. A chess table lies far to the left in the background.

She said she was interested in the image of the chess table as a symbol of the relation between the viewer and the artist.

“Two chairs bound together in a position. Once you go in there you are bound to play the game.”

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