"Your health is our main concern" . I received this message in my e-mail just as I was leaving to see Lucie Stahl's exhibition - I did not open it and I am not sure how it should be qualified: as an Unsolicited Commercial Email (UCE) or Unsolicited Bulk Email (UBE)? Regardless - it is clear that the sender meant: 'money' - but used the word 'health' instead. Of course, a coincidence with the title of Lucie Stahl's exhibition (Health) is the main reason I am mentioning it here. But not only - this spam gives me a good opportunity to move onto more metaphorical level:
The message can be read as both a symptom and at the same time an illustration of the current state of affairs as recently described by Steven Schaviro: A deep tension exists within neoliberal capitalism, between its self-image as the singular vehicle of modernity, and the somewhat paltry reality it is in fact capable of providing. Accidentally, recent works of Lucie Stahl deal exactly with this inconsistency.
If this anecdote was a little more amusing it could potentially end up as an element of a visual-textual plot inscribed onto a surface by Lucie Stahl herself. Some of the heterogeneous elements which constitute Stahl's two dimensional assemblages consists of texts drawn from newspapers, emails, conversations - written by the artist herself or copied from other authors and placed within configurations conceived of appropriated photo images. Components of these compositions can be described as informational spam which is being re-used by the artist to serve as a base of new statements; individual elements are selected from unsolicited visual and verbal messages. These are combined with everyday objects, items without metaphorical meanings, liquids and powders. The technique of image production used by Stahl refers to structuralists experiments with the materiality of the celluloid film - Stahl, however, deals with the physicality of a scanner- a machine which makes optical copies but does it without using a lens. Images are produced manually without engaging with the power of the eye. In this sense the process of constructing the image does not involve focalisation - an action which according to narratological theories remains solely responsible for allowing the recognition of a narrator's position. Mieke Bal writes that narration consists of a process of placing words in a context which simultaneously narrows and expands their meanings . On the level of semiotic analysis the objects on surfaces created by Lucie Stahl could be identified with 'words' as understood by Bal, allowing us to establish that the narrator remains destabilized.
The artists places three-dimensional compositions on the surface of a scanner and re-produces them as two-dimensional reductions of the original. The prints are being enlarged and covered with polyurethane which serves as a form of a horizontal frame. In the recent cycle from which some works are being shown in Poznań - the artist uses objects which before she used to scan directly but at the present themselves act as carriers of images and senses. Stahl assembles her collages on small trash cans which she then presses onto a scanner. The aesthetics of these new works becomes more restrained - they don't lure a viewer with colours and a suggestion of a third dimension. Instead, they recall materiality of paper and print. For this very specific and individualized production process it is crucial to understand a critical potential of Stahl's works. In times when a critique becomes a spectacle and a transgression is a norm, scrutinizing the medium itself remains the only way to creating a subversive knowledge; Stahl does so by consciously playing with and within ways of production and presentation of an image. On one hand she reinforces automatism of this process - on the other hand she bolsters the physicality of manual labor. It is through manual activities of placing, rearranging and pushing on the surface of a scanner that the image appears. Stahl's images emerge in a process which can be compared to osmosis - particles of multiple surfaces transgress to create another surface.
In her heterotrophic compositions Lucie Stahl grants equal rights to images, texts and objects using a sense of humour as a binder. This humour has nothing to do with laughing at something: it is rather a disturbing, ambivalent joke that is difficult to place - a joke stopped just before a final conclusion. Stahl herself talks about using a non-conventional humour to investigate its communicative potential. In a very interesting essay on Stahl's work, Joanna Ficuccia deliberates on this component by referring to the rhetoric of stand-up comedy. She compares her strategy of appropriated elements to the stand-up technique of story telling; a strategy which dilutes the differences between telling the truth and a performance of it. Developing her argument Ficuccia defines Stahl's artistic persona as a figure of a stand-up artist. I find it however more appropriate to bring up a reference to the traditionally male concept of the artist as a trickster.
The works presented in Galeria Fotografii pf in Poznan create a narration about re-use and mis-use. Inkjet prints and collages on aluminium represent dirt in both literary and metaphorical ways: dirty dealings of big corporations and states, overproduction of objects which quickly transform into ecological spam.
Metal trash cans held in the artist's hands remain at the same time technical carriers of images, carriers of meaning (signifiers) and namely waste objects, products of civilization of accelerated burning (signified). Images about the resources are themselves made on resources (aluminium) and covered with a thick layer of plastic vernix.
These works recall indirectly the reality of Marxists real subsumption - a stadium of capitalism which is characterized by the disappearance of any form of Outside, a world where everything is being appropriated by the system. It doesn't necessary mean that one should read Stahl's works as a conscientiously articulated critique of neoliberalism, but rather as a symptom of recently debated aesthetics of acceleration, where a possibility of critique is being recuperated by strategies of reinforcing tensions and contradictions within the system.
People who look at us from Stahl's images („Health", „Congres Created Dusbowl") are representatives of a contemporary working class - which more accurately should be described as "extracting class" Miners - extractors of natural resources - are presented as surrealistic automates ('Health'). In a current discourse, automatisation is often being discussed as a threat to 'cognitive labour' rather than as a process which leads to physical exploitation; automatisation becomes a question of restraining a human potency by the system. Stahl manages to bring the two together - in a rhetoric appropriated from Agit-prop she discusses the possibility of regaining control over the resources - both individual and common ones.
The very context in which Stahl's works are being presented in Poznan imposes also another way of reading them, namely as a meditation about the medium of photography. The exhibition is a second stage of an investigation about contemporary uses of this medium in a yearly cycle of exhibitions curated by Dorota Walentynowicz. Structure of the series time -specific has been developed around the concepts of surface, space and narration - Lucie Stahl's show is a second take on a possibility of theorizing photography in a context of Flussers "meaningful surfaces".Vilem Flusser interpreted a technical image (photo) as a symbolic surface, compilation of signs de-coded through a program of an apparatus (camera). Flusser describes a camera as imposing its program over the user and reducing the photographer to a servant (functionary). Seen from this perceptive Stahl' photo-assemblages can be interpreted as an investigation into a program of the apparatus. Although Stahl herself does not produce photographs as such, her manual method paraphrases photographic predisposition to locate objects on a surface. On the presentational level, Stahl's works can be described as posters covered with polyurethane - on a discursive level they are narrations about genealogies and meanings of a surface.
Lucie Stahl, „Health" z cyklu time-specific, kuratorka: Dorota Walentynowicz; Galeria Fotografii pf, Centrum Kultury Zamek, Poznań, 11.03-13.04.2014