The tip came from Jeff Wall: the grand master of narrative photography saw the first show of these Polaroids by Canadian painter Attila Richard Lukacs two years ago at Edmonton Art Gallery and called his gallerist straight away.
It is easy to imagine Wall being fascinated by these photographs, since in a certain sense they represent the opposite of his own photography: small-format, serial and, above all, authentic. And they were never made to be exhibited, as Polaroid photography was an integral part of Lukacs creative process a particularly quick and effective medium for figure, portrait and composition studies. During these intense sessions, he photographed lovers and friends but also random acquaintances, youngsters picked up at the E-Werk techno club, lost newcomers in the city or prostitutes.
Having made a name for himself in Canada, pioneering a brand of figuration that sought to set itself apart from the formalism and abstraction of the previous generation, Lukacs came to Berlin in 1986, aged just 24. Here he met his fellow Canadian, the painter, picture archivist and conceptual artist Michael Morris, who was commuting between Vancouver and Berlin and who introduced the younger artist to the citys art and gay scenes, acting as his mentor during the turbulence of German reunification and the chaotic years that followed. And 20 years later, it was Morris again who, having come across the Polaroids in Lukacs studio, not only recalled the time in Berlin but also recognized the pictures quality as photographic works in their own right. For the exhibition in Canada, his official role was curator, but in Berlin his contribution was more that of a collaborator: two videos screened in the gallery as part of a reconstructed workbench show not only a photo session but also Morris arranging the Polaroids.
It is his organization of the individual pictures into tableaux of mostly 12 to 30 images that pins down their serial character, creating an almost filmic density: often just one or two models, with a skull or making a Nazi salute, with their trousers down, in a wheelchair, suspended head-down from the ceiling or shooting up. With their specific-brand sweatshirts, uniforms, combat boots, bomber jackets and shaved heads, a sexualized affinity to skinhead culture is flaunted. This sexualization of the ideology of hate was explosive at a time when marauding gangs of skinheads were still to be seen on Berlins streets. But the power structures in the Polaroids also appear carnivalesque or theatrical: the relationship between master and slave is precarious but ambivalent, only a simulation but not without impact.
The same cannot be said of the viewers relation to the picture since the most important tool for these works, besides the Polaroid camera and serial organization, seems to be an exact knowledge of art history, echoing the sexualized bodies,both suffering and rebellious, in the paintings of Francis Bacon, with further references to old masters, from Caravaggio to Degas. And in this field, Lukacs and Morris are experts whose obsession remains palpable in their playfulness.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell