The history man
Matthias Wiihner has been everywhere, met everyone, done everything, or so his pictures would have you believe. Robert Montgomery investigates. Not feeling part of history is a symptom of post-modernism. Sketched
out. the cultural theorists see it like this: we all watch TV a lot. so we see daily
global news reports. News reports are. or so we are told. history in the making. These get beamed into our living rooms from all over but they remain ‘virtual‘. Okay? So. you can see history being made but you can‘t touch it. The drama of history unfolds but as an individual you have no effective part to play — you don‘t really matter.
Matthias \Viihner used to feel the same. But now he imagines he cottnts. that he has a small part in the big drama. Since late l993 Wiihner' has spent his time leafrng through the photo LII'Clll\C of the mainstream German news weekly Quirk. He finds an image. it might be John F. Kennedy waving from that convertible in Dallas. and takes it off to a digital darkroom. There. using an image-tnanipulation technique normally used to ‘enhance' advertising images. he incorporates his own image. literally putting himself into the picture. The artist was given
Matthias with his miserable looking friends
In Dallas with JFK. appr
access to the archive by Ulrich l’ohlmann. keeper at the Fotomuseum in Munich. where a huge archive of post-war documentary photography is held. Pohlrnann says Wiihner chose to work with images that were ‘dominant in his own history'. The resulting prints show Matthias Wiihner‘ waving cheerily alongside JFK. kneeling beside Willy Brandt at a State ceremony. holding hands in the park with Brigitte Barrlot and (funniest) standing beside the Royal Family mimicking their miserable expressions.
Taken individually. some of Wiihner's images seem to criticise our ability to remain detached from the pictures of human suffering produced by the news industry. in one print that uses a classic Magnum photograph. he appears in the shadows behind Vietnamese children fleeing a napalm attack. Wiihner evokes being there rather like Martha Rosler‘s 1970‘s photo-collages envisaged the war-zone being brought
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ching the grassy knoll . . .
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As a series though, Wiihner's photographs are too frivolous to apply serious cultural criticism. He pops up everywhere. assumes an appropriate expression and blends in ~ a chameleon. like Woody Allen‘s character in the film Zc/rg . Wiihner is portrayed in a series of dumb cameo roles. as the drama of history unfolds. Maybe. after all. he represents an inconsequential individual —< ‘the man in the street'.
The impact of this work suffers a little from us already having seen the now famous trick editing which lets Tom Hanks shake hands with JFK in Forrest (Itmzp. But then that's technology for you. by the time artists catch up. Hollywood has already gone a stage further in making it harder to distinguish fact from fiction.
Mun ll’it/mut Qualities 1's (ll Portfolio Gallery. Ifz/inbury/tfrom Sat 20 May-l7 Jim.
The Clydeside Painting by Julie Brook and the pupils of Golfhill Primary School
Immediately you push open the doors you are plunged into a fluorescent, deep sea world of sea urchins, exotic fish and seaweed that writhe and twitch as you move towards them along the dark corridor leading to the foyer of the Mclellan Galleries. Interaction is the name of the game at Art Machine ’95 where the viewer is urged to shake off his or her role as the passive punter and get stuck in. As Kathleen O’Neil the exhibitions curator explains, ‘Everything begs to be touched. The concept was to push the boundaries of art in the community to its extreme. The work in this show largely depends on the audience to bring it to life.’
But it’s not the most user-friendly of galleries. The imposing marble staircase, oak panelled corridors and crystal chandeliers were designed to inspire awe rather than encourage public participation. The uniformed doorrnen with their mobile phones don’t seem entirely comfortable with the interactive ethos that has transformed the ground floor of this grand, municipal-style building into a kind of fine art Santa’s grotto.
Exhibitions at the Mclellan Galleries
don’t start until the first floor but Art . Machine ’95 has taken over the entire
building, including a converted storage room. Two huge perspex periscopes flank the staircase. Lit from within, they can be turned and the ground floor viewed through a screen. Even the staircase has been transformed with draped and entwined textile seaweed, embroidered starfish and crustaceans creating a tactile surface as you sweep your hand along the banister. Entitled the Deep Sea World of Jock Cousteau it is the work of Acme Production, a multi- disciplinary team made up of local artists who work in theatre, television and community art education.
The Enchanted Wood is very much in the tradition of macabre Victorian fairy-tales. Set designers Belinda Scott and Liz Mitchell have worked with children to create a total environment to be explored by travelling on a journey past castles, treasure chests, stuffed polar bears and heavy, gold framed mirrors from the museum’s collection.
Captured is aesthetically a much more sober affair and the work of ilicola Atkinson-Griffith. Her project attempts to ‘address and distil the need to be listened to and to know that you are being heard.’ The work consists of 300 interviews with people
living within the Strathclyde region. Each interview reads like a snapshot of someone’s life, a mix of mundane details and an expression of personal hopes and dreams. Transcribed from tapes and handwritten onto books, they hang from a metal structure linked to a time switch that makes the leaves of each book flutter like an animated library.
The scale and diversity of the work in Art Machine ’95 means you could easily spend the best part of a day getting the most from a show that probably has something for everyone. Considering the exhibition reflects the imaginations of artists ranging in age from four to seventy you won’t be surprised when you’re confronted with the sight and smell of a 20ft totem pole covered in jelly babies, followed by a video installation using sound- sensitive computer technology triggered off by your very presence. Art Machine is an ambitious and disparate show but the interaction between artist, community and viewer is the connection that binds this artistic pick ’n’ mix together. (Gill Roth)
Art Machine ’95 runs until 25 September, Mclellan Galleries, 270 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.
“The List 19 May-l Jun I995