Mystique and conspiracy: The Polaroids of Horst Ademeit
Report from… Berlin, and Horst Ademeit’s Secret Universe at the Hamburger Bahnhof
May 13 – September 25, 2011
10557 Berlin, Germany
|The oeuvre of Horst Ademeit (1937-2010) consists of no less than several thousand photographs and hundreds of pages of accompanying text. From the late 1980s, Ademeit employed a Polaroid camera to obsessively document his surroundings. The result is a body of work that in its eclecticism and volume amounts to what the curators at the Hamburger Bahnhof have poignantly labeled a “secret universe.” Due to the cohesive complexity that Ademeit’s first museum exhibition offers, the audience can now gain unprecedented insight into both the artist’s visual language and his mind.|
Ademeit, who passed away last July, spent most of his life in Cologne and Düsseldorf. He first trained as a house painter. Following a brief period of working in textile design, he became a student of Joseph Beuys in 1970. Beuys’ belief in art as an omnipresent part of life that was accessible and could be practiced by all significantly informed Ademeit’s outlook. He also turned his focus on the immediately available: everyday objects, news, and confinements. In addition, Ademeit’s work entails the more obscure attempt to register what he referred to as “cold rays” and invisible radiation. But how to document a notion or fear of something ungraspable? In Ademeit’s case, the solution meant to combine visuals with intellectual content.
In fact, all of Ademeit’s photographs are obscured by the application of handwritten notations. This mesmerizing assemblage of data was painstakingly gathered from electricity meters, thermometers, compasses, clocks, and other measuring devices. But Ademeit’s observations were not limited to the factual. He also recorded sensual impressions and thoughts. His notes on smells, sounds, atmospheric characteristics, and moods, provide a glimpse of the artist’s emotional reality.
Ademeit’s works are visual but also contextual records of specific places as the artist experienced them at a distinct moment in time. Despite the accounting of neutral information, they are also personal musings, a fact that is enhanced by Ademeit’s focus on the familiar. Throughout his career, his preferred subjects remained his apartment building, its basement and yard. It was only after the excessive study of his most immediate environment that he extended his interest to the neighborhood at large, including construction sites, parked automobiles, bicycles, and garbage piles. In “o.T.” (an abbreviation for “ohne Titel” or “Untitled”), Ademeit investigates two bikes with the incredulous eye of a detective. He notes that the second bike was parked at 9.58 PM, that handcuffs are hanging from the frame and that it has been chained to the fence. In Ademeit’s world, nothing was trivial. Mystique and conspiracy were constant companions
This exhibition reveals that Ademeit only slowly expanded his world. In 1990 however, he made a major adjustment. He shifted from photographing objects and interiors to printed media. Each day, he set up measuring instruments and a compass on his newspaper and photographed the still life. In the end, this series involved 6006 works. “5805” is a typical example of this body of work. It shows two opened pages of the Bild Zeitung, a daily German newspaper notorious for its sensationalist reportage. Like the New York Post, the Bild signifies a media outlet that draws its readership’s attention by means of shocking headlines. Ademeit contrasts this superficial gathering of information with his personal, highly detailed notes. Fused together into one picture plane, his observations and the newspaper’s heavily illustrated subjects transform into a vivid and highly detailed index card of the day at hand: September 24, 2003.
When viewed as a large group, Ademeit’s photographs manifest as an elaborate archive of everyday information. Within this complex system, each work reveals the artist’s ambition to thoroughly decipher his place and time. They tell the story of an individual in emotional turmoil, who was seeking to establish a sense of order in a seemingly chaotic world.