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Agony of the Real*
Think up an art project: Photograph children with their stuffed toys in front of living room cupboard units. Observe the children’s attachment behaviour towards their stuffed toys, their private way of talking to their animals. Fix the children’s gaze onto the eyes of the observer and the parents simultaneously. And in the wall unit, the definitive media of the past century or centuries should stand in rows: television and books. This photo – a social study and a media allegory at the same time. One of the books on the top shelf might be “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” on closer inspection, and in this book, someone would also speak to his stuffed toys: The lesson of Eternal Recurrence and the Eternal Recurrence of the misunderstanding of this lesson, pure fatalism in fact. And this is what is meant by the damned Agony of the Real, a phrase that gets into us, gets into the media, on television programmes, into photos and texts, words acting like pictures and so speaking a thousand words but still remaining empty in some way. And Nietzsche had a problem too with his attachment behaviour, the child could be saying, while on television, a news broadcast with images of Mogadishu airport in autumn 1977 would be on the screen, arranged by Nam June Paik of course, while at the same time, Father or Mother would be saying to the child: “Yes, stand there – yes, like that, hold the stuffed toy higher – and now, smile!” and they would simply photograph the entire arrangement with this Kodak film. While at the same time, we would be forced to wonder whether we could live free of revenge one day. Free of revenge for having spent our childhood in front of wall units such as these, free of revenge for having been socialised in such living rooms and in such photographs. While at the same time, the ‘70s was coming to an official end at last, just as the future was coming towards us. While at the same time, pictures of islands or coasts by the sea, candlesticks and Swiss Cheese plants kept resurfacing from within us and we hoped to find an explanation for them in the composition, for example: “But pictures have syntax!” While our unconscious kept on transfiguring itself in face of this photograph that represents an occasion, nothing more, and that we would finally understand this, and at the same time what that would mean: an image that oversteps itself! Rainer Totzke

*Translation of the book title “Agonie des Realen” by Baudrillard (1978, Merve) and a “Feuilleton catchword” (Totzke) in German newspapers.

Photograph category child
Since the inception of photography, children and toddlers have been depicted in reconstructed or real interiors of homes. The interior is attributed qualities of property, travel and cultural tradition. Objects are arranged in the composition to frame the child photographed, showing her in the social setting of the family. The child in the portrait is a part of the presentation of property, of worldly goods, and forms another category alongside travel and tradition.
A girl, with a stuffed toy, a child-sized polar bear. A modern resumption of the motif of polar bear furs, on which the children of wealthy families were photographed at the beginning of the 20th century. On the wooden-panelled wall, a painting with rocks, water and island – symbols of travel. A view of a seashore; longing and desire for faraway places.
Travel-property-ownership. Travel souvenirs. Supplements to necessary household equipment. Souvenirs of distant destinations, holiday periods and the privileges of travel. A tea set made of yellow, light metal, perhaps from Morocco, demonstrates cultural openness. A mouth-blown glass fish from the North Sea island Bornholm, a souvenir from a short trip. The leafy plant, an object of cultivation and part of the living room equipment. A transferred relict from palm gardens, orangeries and tea houses.
The television’s empty screen, a potential sign for the view of the world, participation in world events, the need for daily information and private entertainment.
The girl is positioned exactly in the centre of these signs and categories. She shows herself and her stuffed animal to the camera. Category girl in the category interior of property. Stuffed animal property and stuffed animal owner, small format in large format, guarantor of the future in one’s own home. Birgit Szepanski

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