For her latest show, Viennese artist Dorit Margreiter returned to a work she had begun in 2004 whilst the recipient of the Blinky Palermo scholarship in Leipzig. Zentrum (Centre, 2004–ongoing) is the artist’s examination of history – in particular the history of the former East Germany – which provides a perfect example of how a specific lived reality can be deliberately displaced from the ‘centre’ of our attention and made to disappear. What might have been? Where might it have led? Such questions hover unspoken over this minimalist installation.
On entering the gallery, we find ourselves before a screen showing an animated sequence of abstract letters entitled zentrum (alphabet) (2006/2008). The word they spell out in defunct neon, as we come to realize only later, is ‘Brühlzentrum’, the name of a 1960s’ residential and shopping complex in central Leipzig, which was a model place for a model life in a model state many years ago, but is now one of its ruins.. This neon lettering is the focus of Margreiter’s study. In a documentary video, shown in the gallery’s second space, we see transparencies being cut out by hand and stuck over the illuminated letters – a laborious, anachronistic process. On the gallery floor stand simple cardboard models of the basic typeface. On the walls hang three posters: one contains the entire font including special characters, another displays the word ‘analog’, and the third presents the latest camera from Leica that promises digital technologywith the look and feel of 16 mm film.
The works in this room demonstrates Margreiter’s strategy of adaptation and extrapolation: as well as adopting the logic of the lettering to create a ‘new’ typeface called ‘zentrum’, she also cosmetically enhanced the broken old neon signs and made a film designed to look old. The result, shot on the Leica digital camera, was shown as a 16 mm short film, Zentrum (2006), in the gallery’s third space. It shows the lettering at night, shining in the dazzling light of two handheld lamps that are aimed towards it. With its raw, experimental feel, the film combines the aesthetic of early black and white movies with today’s technology and ways of seeing. As the carefully staged end product of a lengthy process, the short film represents the synthesis of these two times and perspectives: only the powerful rays of today’s lamps symbolically bring to light possibilities within this writing that could never have been perceived 40 years ago when it was created. It is this interval that reveals options that were always contained in the letters, but which only come into their own in retrospect. In this regard, Margreiter’s artistic strategy is based, as cultural theorist Barbara Clausen points out in the exhibition catalogue, on Walter Benjamin’s theory of history. In Benjamin’s view, the present does not illuminate the past or vice versa. Instead, he speaks of the ‘image […] wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation’. This is also how Margreiter’s installation functions within the space. It is a constellation of parts that suddenly come together in the viewer’s head to form an image, a figure of thought. Significantly, Margreiter’s film and installation make no suggestion as to the meaning we are supposed to project onto the illuminated letters. Her reconstruction is not a prescription. The typeface is no longer what it once was. It is new, temporary and open-ended. Just like the writing at the beginning of the exhibition, which we only managed to decipher in hindsight.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell.