To Question the Familiar                                                         

From Christian Rabanus

Text of the catalogue, exhibition at 'Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden', 2004.

Like the mobile phone, the photocopy machine has become part of the every day life of the brainworker. But what have photocopies to do in an art exhibition? Wouldn't we expect to find only originals there? Ilka Meyer presents a collage of photocopies in her exhibition and calls it "1001". But indeed, much more can be seen there than merely photocopies. The copy-work displayed here at the same time shows something both common and strangely unfamiliar.

The artist photocopied the back of her notice book. One usually makes photocopies for the sake of transporting information. Now, in a photocopy, a coloured surface is not simply reproduced in deep black, but the machine produces useless information as well: tiny patches of white sprinkled all over the black surface. These small patches normally remain invisible for the inattentive eye as long as the copied text remains readable, in other words: as long as the black and white patches do not dominate the outcome and thus produce misinformation and make the copy useless.

Ilka Meyer did not want to produce anything useful. She photocopied the back of her notice book - which of course did not carry any information at all - in order to produce misinformation. With the copy machine she increased the white patches again and again and finally collected her photocopies together in a sizeable collage. Out of something both common and irrelevant she made something which is new and worth our attention. She revealed to us something which was formerly invisible.

Thus Ilka Meyer draws the observers' attention on visibility as such. The white patches she produced by enlarging the photocopies are not interesting in themselves, but they gain interest by exemplifying visibility. There is nothing to be seen on the photocopies, neither recognizable objects nor information. Only visibility itself can be seen. Phenomenology, a specific philosophical method, tells about an analogous way of establishing visibility. By a simple change of view objects formerly unrecognized are shifted into the centre of our attention. They reveal themselves by emerging out of our familiar, object-oriented perspective into a different perspective in which the condition for the possibility of perception itself becomes perceptible. This attitude of creating a distance to the evident and familiar in order to reveal what lies behind it is called "Epoché" (from Greek epéchein - to keep back, to stand apart).

The founder of phenomenology, the German philosopher Edmund Husserl, made use of Epoché especially for the analysis of sensual perception. Husserl's aim was to understand the production or constitution of meaning in the act of perception, i.e. to comprehend the processes that make us conceive an object in a certain way. In order to reach the level of the examination where this "Konstitution" - this is the term he coined for the process of producing meaning while perceiving an object - takes place, he had to gain an unusual and unnatural attitude towards this object. This attitude enables him for instance to take a photocopy not as an existing object, but as a phenomenon of perception unfolding the manifold possibilities that lie behind the process of perception.

"1001" works in a similar way as the phenomenological Epoché. It causes astonishment, makes you hesitate and stop short. It forces a visual Epoché. In this attitude that distances itself from the familiar, the structure of visibility becomes visible. Nothing new is created, but you perceive the familiar in an unfamiliar way. Reality becomes unreal as you realize the unfamiliar.

In his analyses Husserl noticed that the understanding with which we perceive a certain object is determined by the way we perceive it. In this context he speaks of "perspektivische Gegeben-heit in einem Horizont" With this term Husserl describes the fact that we perceive objects from of a certain, individual perspective in an individual situation: Our body is the origin of our perspective - the position from where perception takes place.

The perspective of perception is meant in a wider sense; it covers the physical perspective of a sensual perception as well as the general personal situation of the perceiver, his history, experiences, expectations and character. Husserl's discovery was that its subjective aspect is no deficiency, but a genuine part of perception.

To view a familiar object severed from its usual context is an irritating experience. But this irritation points to the very fact of the contextuality of all perception that we do not usually recognize unless irritation takes place. And the perspectivity of human perception becomes obvious as well. In our every day life we tend to take our own individual point of view as the only perspective possible. A differing point of view is easily qualified a misunderstanding or simply as wrong. That one and the same object or fact can be perceived and understood differently by different people - everybody perceiving from his own individual perspective - and that our point of view about things and facts may be either as well-founded or as unjustified and founded on unquestioned prejudices as that of anybody else, is easily forgotten in a world which is reigned by efficiency, rationality, and profits.

The irritation created by a work of art can be a corrective to that. Ilka Meyer's artefacts irritate and reveal at the same time as they cast doubt upon the ostensibly evident by visualizing visibility as well as the possible range of perspectives on the visible.