Laura Sperl: Im Prozess
03.08.2022 – 04.09.2022
Performance – Process – Photography
Part of the room is covered with black foil. Eight tubs are placed on three sides. They appear black in the red light, but later they turn out to be green. The main object is hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room. 280 light white strings, about half a centimetre wide are hanging down from two delicate squares, each with seven horizontal and ten vertical slats. The audience settles expectantly in front of this stage space. The scene doubles in a wall-filling mirror, ambient music surrounds it, the red light filters out all object colours.
Expose, develop, stop, fix, water is the sequence that everyone who produces analogue prints in the photo lab has internalised. The process is part of the work. In printing and even more so in a performance, in which the act of exposure and development becomes a performative act. The artist is at once author and actor, choreographer and motif, production manager, lab technician, stylist, technical decorator and timekeeper. The tension increases when Laura Sperl and her assistant Clara Jansá place themselves between the strings, close behind each other to cover them with their bodies, legs closed, arms stretched out halfway to the side. They remain in their position. Then there is the sound of a shutter being released, followed immediately by a flash that fills the room, whose light is supposed to cast the shadows of the two bodies it hits frontally in the midst of the light-sensitive strings.
Like so many times in photography, the moment of release is out of all relation to the weeks of preparation, material research, exposure tests, shopping, construction of the object and coating the strings with photo emulsion. And it is also out of all relation to the subsequent processes – developing, stopping, fixing and soaking – which make up a large part of the performance from now on. The strings, each a good two metres long, are dipped into two tubs, panned, blackened and lifted out again, stopped, panned and lifted out again, fixed, panned and lifted out again, watered, panned and lifted out again. The sour smell of 26 litres of fixer remains restrained. The figure, too, wants to be clearer, wants to leave a definite trace, a white silhouette amidst the black cords. It is restrained, but the longer you look for it, the clearer you see it.
The performance gives an impression of what interests Laura Sperl when it comes to photography: the experimental nature of the analogue, the photogram and cyanotype as the most immediate types of recording (object and light-sensitive support touch each other in the process), the work in the darkroom, being in the picture and in front of the picture at the same time – or rather: being in the middle of it, the surfaces and colours of the image carriers (see her series of shadow exposures), the scale of reproduction, the projection of a body onto a surface, the touching, the performing, the performance in comparison to the document, in short: the physical act of the analogue.
Seesaw (2020) and Brückenperformancebelichtung (2021) are similarly programmatic works in which the performance and the resulting “piece” are mutually dependent. The temporary, moving action is recorded (be it literally with a pencil, with video or with photography) and meanwhile produces a work that, in the traditional understanding of art, has a form, a volume, a measure and a materiality. Process and product intertwine, darkness and light, performance and document, movement, dance and recording. The “Exposure Performance” developed as part of the BMKÖS Start Grant hints at Laura Sperl’s interest in “disappearance and dissolution, the ephemeral and the fragile” as well as in the skin, that surface that faces the sense of sight but also wants to be touched, is sensitive and immediately transmits every touch from its surface sensors to our central nervous system. “In human contact one is inevitably dependent on the skin, it is that manifested place of the other that is accessible to the gaze and the touch.”
The text was created as part of the mentoring programme of the Academy of Fine Arts 2022.
Author: Ruth Horak
Translation: Laura Sperl
Performance Documentation: Ulrich Sperl