Tim Plamper | Atlas

Consciously exploring borders and coming into direct contact with opposites fraught with tension stand at the outset of Tim Plamper’s new work series and they thus also mark the beginning of the exhibition at unttld contemporary. In the autumn of 2014 Tim Plamper embarked on a six-week journey through south-eastern Europe and Turkey, traveling as far as Georgia, all the while following the signs of change in Europe’s border region. He focused his attention on the relicts of the cultural past and the fragmented legacy left behind by political ideologies and upheavals, and how they influence current developments and conflicts. His flat in Istanbul was – to take one example – right in the middle of the Kurdish district and he witnessed the violent altercations between Kurdish protestors and the Turkish police which flared up almost every night, at the very same time the IS was attacking the Syrian-Kurdish city of Kobanî.

Plamper had documented his trip in great detail with his digital camera. But as he tried to send his photos to Germany for an exhibition and hooked up his computer in an internet café, a momentous short circuit ruined the camera’s memory card. All that was left of the digital travel archive was the fragmented sound tracks of video recordings. What remained were the indelible memories and disturbing images etched in his mind. The search for “fragments of everyday change” (Plamper) on Europe’s borders yielded fragmentary impressions at the very limits of the act of remembering.

Back in Germany, he developed sound collages from these remembered images and the surviving audio fragments, collages underpinned by a dystopic atmosphere. He gave the longest of the soundscapes the title “Atlas”, designating both a geographical as well as a mythological and metaphorical border. The composition’s underlying substrate is formed on the one hand by the rushing waters of the Kura River in Tbilisi with passing ambulance vehicles, and on the other the violent altercations between Kurds and Turkish police in Istanbul with loud shouting, the noise of tear gas being fired, and helicopters circling overhead.

Although he understands it to be an autonomous work, the title-giving sound collage, once considered in interaction with the large-format drawings, has something akin to an explanatory function for Plamper, like an abstract soundtrack to the narrations woven into the pictorial layers. For most people, listening to music triggers images and emotions, which impress their attendant moods onto the process of observation and can lead to projections being cast onto what is being perceived.

As with his earlier works, the starting point for the new drawings are digital sketches. A large part of Plamper’s compositions are created on the computer, where in detailed preliminary studies he combines and layers motifs he takes from his extensive photograph and image archive, using a certain degree of artistic freedom to realise them as drawings. In the Atlas series however the decisive moment of transformation is added. As previously mentioned, with the aid of the surviving audio fragments, Plamper has translated the images of his journey imprinted in his memory into soundscapes. In turn, the drawings represent a kind of feedback loop of the acoustic material into a form of visuality. The large-format works are based on the frequency spectrum of the sound collage Plamper has visualised with the help of a periodic function. “The spectrum frequencies of an acoustic signal characterise, on the one hand, its sound, while showing the textures of the rhythmical dynamic of this signal.” (Plamper).

Images of memory turned into sound, sound patterns turned into images – this points to how our memory works and the process of assimilating and remembering. Accordingly, the drawings are not trying to “tell” us something, although they are interwoven with specific content, but rather they show us something, namely the process of recognition, which is closely connected with the process of remembering, for as the American physicist and computer scientist Douglas R. Hofstadter has observed, all thinking is based on analogies. Ultimately, we can only apply the newly perceived to what we already know. The spectrum frequencies will thus remind us of light reflecting on the surface of water or landscapes shrouded in the darkness of night, while in the middle of the abstract lead textures we make out refugee boats, waterfalls or mountain chains. The works are thus about the specific moment when one recognises something in what is represented.

Although Plamper primarily draws, he works with the classical parameters of the painter, with the processes of applying and removing layers, the interplay between real and illusory space, etc. Naturally enough, the depth of the material in the medium of drawing is played out in millimetres. Before embarking on the drawing process, Plamper scratches into the raw paper cipher-like structures and occasionally words. As a result, the pigment can only partially, or at times not at all, permeate these scratched indentations. This approach reveals his aim – to explore the boundary separating the motif from the material, the meta-space between the paper and the pigment, the space where meaning entrenches itself. Recently, he has attempted to define this space more clearly by – in the manner of a collage – splitting up and overlaying it. For example: new non-representational motifs emerge out of the overlaying at the intersections of the respective cut surfaces and they cultivate their own reality.

Association and dissociation
The manifold layering and overlaying, combined with Plamper’s paradigmatic working method of adding and removing, allows a complex reference system of entanglement and disentanglement to arise, one that manifests itself in the double movement at the heart of networking: associating and dissociating. On the one hand, the phenomena of the present are knitted together with elements drawn from one’s own past and imagination; on the other, the attempt is made to disentangle by taking a dissociating approach, so as to then describe these phenomena from a position of distance. The conscious shifting between the two states of being bound and being distant is – as explicated by Rahel Jaeggi and Tilo Wesche – an essential characteristic of critical thinking: “Critique always means simultaneously dissociation and association. It discerns, disconnects, distances itself; and it links, sets itself in relationship to, produces connections. In other words, it is a dissociation out of association and an association out of dissociation.”[1]

We live in an age in which everything and everyone are networked together, an age in which people are increasingly perceiving themselves as part of a web that spans the whole world, a web they share with one another, but a web that also separates them – it connects and disconnects them simultaneously. Tim Plamper has found images for this complex structure of our present age, images which are both socially relevant and aesthetically densely woven.

Roman Grabner, 2016


[1] Rahel Jaeggi/Tilo Welsche, Einleitung: Was ist Kritik. In: Rahel Jaeggi/Tilo (Hg.), Was ist Kritik? Frankfurt/Main 2009, S. 7-20, .8.