Roman Signer Zelt (Tent)

18th November 2019

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder pg106

My initial thoughts and feelings on seeing this work is – ‘Urrgghh, Yuk! Not for me!’ It looks like work an A level student would complete with a smile of ‘look what I did for my sequence of work.’ It is just so cringe making.

Let us see that if after researching the work and understanding the context and concept of this OCA exercise and the images combined, my mind is enlightened and changes its’ viewpoint.

Taken from the website: romansignar.ch

Zelt (Tent) are a series of video stills showing a sequence of images of a man running from a tent, which explodes. “A passage of time and movement is depicted in each successive frame.” OCA course Folder pg 105

I had pre-read this article on Signer’s website before starting this part of the exercise and it answers some of my questions that I have about the work and already I am beginning to look at this work from another perspective.

Roman Signer Rachel Withers

Signer’s works have acquired the label ‘time-sculpture’. They share traditional sculpture’s concern with the crafting of physical materials in three dimensions, but they extend that concern into what may or may not be characterised as the fourth dimension: the dimension of time. Time-sculpture investigates the transformation of materials through time, focusing the viewer’s attention on the experience of the event, the changes wrought, and the forces involved. Variously combining three-dimensional objects, live action, still photography and moving-image documentation, Signer’s time-sculptures frame episodes of the containment and release of energy − always with ingenuity, often with captivating, epigrammatic swiftness and irresistible humour. In Cap with Rocket (Mütze mit Rakete 1983), for example, a length of string connects a firework and a knitted hat that Signer has pulled over his head. The firework is ignited; it shoots into the air and whisks the hat away, revealing the artist’s face. In Stool − Kurhaus Weissbad (Hocker − Kurhaus Weissbad 1992) a small explosion triggers the catapulting of a four-legged stool out of a window; the stool sails through the air and crashes to earth. In Kamor (Kamor 1986) a gunpowder explosion at the summit of a small mountain in the Swiss canton of Appenzell produces a burst of flame and a plume of smoke and momentarily lends the summit the appearance of a live volcano. In Attaché Case (Aktenkoffer 1989/2001) a concrete-filled briefcase is taken on a short ride in a fast machine − a helicopter, to be precise. At a height of about a hundred metres it is dropped. Like a meteorite, it plummets into a grassy field and gouges a deep crater in the turf.

Simple! And in some ways, the step from sculpture to time-sculpture is indeed beautifully simple: elementary, to borrow a word the artist himself has often associated with his work. In the face of the striking immediacy and poetic plasticity of Signer’s pieces, critical commentaries can sometimes seem frankly redundant − like a dull-witted, pedantic glossing of a perfectly-timed, beautifully-judged joke. The critic is dogged by the suspicion that (to co-opt a phrase from Simon Critchley) a time-sculpture ‘explained’ might be a time-sculpture misunderstood. From a seemingly restricted palette of processes and materials, Signer generates a poetics whose tones range from the melancholy to the thrilling, from the charming to the violent, from the grave to the frankly, irresistibly silly, and many points north, south, east and west of these affective co-ordinates.

© Rachel Withers 2007, Excerpt from:
Withers, Rachel, ‘Collector’s Choice. Roman Signer (engl.). Volume 07’, Cologne: Dumont Literatur und Kunst Verlag, 2007

Due to the fact that I have researched a little bit more and read the above article about Signers working beliefs and some of his work, I understand where the series comes from. I am a big fan of Gilbert and George and their living sculptures so Signer has taken it one step further and put his living sculpture into a narrative sequence, recorded it, taken out stills to tell the story in six easy shots that have a beginning, middle and end. This gives us a time-sculpture still narrative – very clever. Do I like the series now? No! I still I do not, but I do like the reasons behind it and why it has been created, however the subject matter still comes across as a teenagers piece of work and is quite boring. Perhaps if the subject was slightly different I would have been attracted to the overall piece of work and just not the concept behind it.

Would this work have been as effective if the cameras viewpoint has changed with each shot?

This series of stills work because of the uniformed shots which are taken from the same static viewpoint. The viewpoint of the viewer is straight in front of the subject and this allows their eye to keep a constant comparison of the time lapse changes within each shot, the tents explosion and of the man running towards them. Due to this it shows movement and the passage of time without any other visual aspects disturbing the viewers deciphering of the image content.

The constant viewpoint also allows the viewer to view the scale of the explosion and its changing size and shape as well as the running mans movement towards them and how his size also changes accordingly within a time frame.

This would not have worked if the viewpoint would have changed within each shot because the narrative (although the same) would have lost its dynamic layout and the information connected with changes of the subjects size and distance would not have been easy to envisage. The grid formation also works with this viewpoint as the narrative is kept clear by the constant and doesn’t allow the viewer to look for any other information other than the explosion and the running man.

What encapsulates this sequence, makes it seem like a finished piece?

This sequence of images has a distinct beginning, middle and end. Each image is connected with one viewpoint and one narrative theme. The title of the the series is ‘Tent’ therefore we know this is the subject matter we are focusing on and therefore the end of this sequence would be the end of the tents life because it has been totally destroyed from view apart from some debris on the floor around the site where it was.

How do you ‘read’ the sequence – from left to right, like a text?

Yes I do read the sequence from left to right that is what I have been taught to do since the age of three, and as there were no instructions to the contrary, I have continued to decipher the work as usual.

Zelt (Tent) strip order from grid above

Do you notice your responses changing through each shot?

No, because I didn’t like it to begin with and was just happy to get to the end of it.

How do you interpret the work? is it ‘just what you see’ or is it a metaphor?

I just see what I see, nothing more or less. However knowing the concept behind it has made it a little more interesting, but I still do not have any time for it.

How am I going to end my picture analysis? I now see the work as part of performance piece which has been captured in stills from a video. This makes the creative process more in depth than just a click of the camera that created a set of images that are to be presented in a specific sequence. It is easier for me to all of a sudden shout ‘eureka!’ because I come from a fine art and conceptual art background. If someone is a pure photographer this transformation of photography to time-sculpture, performance art is quite a big leap. It becomes an end piece of a performance rather than a photographic sequence in its own right – it is a recording of something outside of the image – the time-sculpture.


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