And what are you dreaming about?Ingmar Alge’s preferred motifs are houses and landscapes positioned somewhere between civilization and nature. They take the form of abandoned, lonely, sometimes mute arrangements, emanating hints of ambivalent moods whose impact can be melancholy and romantic, yet at the same time distanced and cool. For example, the house in „Höchst Nr. 6“ (2005) presents a mixture of austerity and idyllic idealization, like a large-format photograph in a property brochure. We are all familiar with this kind of house from our own experience: detached houses of the kind that exist in their thousands on estates around the big cities, now starting to form coherent, lightly populated suburbs that are slowly devouring the countryside. These houses are dreams come true for an individualized affluent society where the private sphere is considered particularly important. Here a home of one’s own seems almost essential for optimal development, and to protect private happiness as much as possible. So the houses are hidden behind tall hedges, the windows are small, the shutters are down. Direct contact with the neighbours does not seem to be desired. People prefer to bring the big wide world into their homes via a satellite dish, fitted at the front of the house for all to see. The warm evening light that imbues the scene with a breath of romanticism cannot make the house seem any less forbidding, but it does invoke the dreams associated with this way of life: possible self-determination without having to consider others, and absence of everyday hustle and bustle.
The picture „F5“ (2005) shows the loneliness consequent upon absolute privacy, upon being hermetically sealed off form the outside world, almost as a parody. Combining a detached house behind the palisade-style hedge in the middle of a broad plain with a female figure has something surreal about it, and this is reflected in the way the figure has stopped in astonishment. The house’s lonely site in this expanse off flat countryside does not remotely correspond with the real availability of ever scarcer space in the conurbations where such houses normally stand. Hence the pancake-flat tract of countryside without any vegetation fort he eye to light on is so lacking in any stimulus that it becomes an ambivalent emotional space. It makes this „dream living’s“ emptiness, monotony and lack of imagination tangible, but the wide plain also symbolizes the freedom associated with this kind of privacy.
Though neither of the two pictures shows the occupants of the two houses they give us a sense of what their lives are like by triggering our imaginations, as in a film. We wonder how these people live, how they usually spend their time, what fears, hopes and expectations they have. Do they dream of breaking out of the daily grind, of being completely free? How do they spend their free time? Do they sometimes leave their house to meet friends?
There does not seem to be any remedy against loneliness in Ingmar Alge’s view of our society. As the picture „Montfort“ (2005) shows, the bar where people normally meet to forget the daily round for a few hours over beer and wine has nobody in it at all. This makes the fact that the place is so clean and tidy all the more striking. Drinks menu, ashtrays and beer-mats are all in the right place. The leather and wood on the seats are freshly polished, so that even the curtains are reflected in them. The blazing light pouring through the window makes it impossible to look outside.
The unreal scenery in „F4“ (2005) seems like a prototypical glimpse of the American dream of freedom at first glance: a gigantic car-park, so empty that it could also be a motorway, stretches to the horizon. T allows our eye to roam to infinity without a single obstacle, and makes us want to travel – a long way, into that imaginary earthly paradise where the weather is always fine and life is uncomplicated. Butt his romanticism is not entirely perfect. There is a strange atmosphere about the scene. Why is the car-park completely empty at midday? Is the unnaturally green, shimmering line on the horizon perhaps associated with this eerie emptiness and calm? What are those strange signs with nothing on them? Is the building on the horizon a petrol station, a service station, a customs post?
Although they are painted realistically, Ingmar Alge’s pictures radiate a highly artificial quality. This is expressed in the unusual perspectives and the unnatural light that defines the atmosphere, like for example the green glow in „F4“ ort he glowing outlines of the hedge in „Höchst Nr. 6“. This makes the pictures look both familiar and alien. The ambivalence results from Ingmar Alge’s approach to preparing the pictures. He starts with photographs he has taken on his travels or in his immediate neighbourhood, the suburbs around Bregenz, where he grew up, and where he now lives again. If a house or a landscape captures his attention, he often photographs it several times so that he has as many models with different atmospheres at his disposal as possible. Here photography takes over the role of the traditional sketch, and is used to appropriate the subject of the picture. As a photograph cannot possibly reflect the artist’s mood precisely, he composes the photographic basis for a picture on the computer. Sometimes Ingmar Alge even re-arranges the images completely. For example, he uses a different sky and distorts the perspective so that the landscape shows an almost 360 degree panorama, ort he houses seem more voluminous than they possible could be. In this way he creates situations that seem natural but that do not exist in this form in reality.1
The realism in Ingmar Alge’s pictures is predicated on presenting reality without prejudice, but on emotions, „on what lies beyond the horizon, behind the facade“.2 The medium of painting, in which surfaces can be built up from countless finely varnished layers of paint on top of each other, offers him he possibility of creating such complex pictorial and emotional spaces.
By transforming photographic images, changed only slightly, of everyday, unspectacular houses and landscapes into painting, Ingmar Alge successfully shifts features of our surroundings, to which little attention and is thus able to identify characteristic behaviours in our society. The prefab behind the hedge and the car-park in the open countryside become symbols of Western man’s loneliness and longing for freedom as a consequence of increasing affluence and the individualization this brings. These pictures do not tell stories, but exaggerate slightly y subtly manipulating reality and intensifying its colours. This makes the pictures into socio-political statements, and also offers us an opportunity chance to reflect on our won desires and dreams.
© Claudine Metzger
Translation: Michael Robinson
In: Ingmar Alge, Entfernung, Museum zu Allerheiligen Schaffhausen,
1 Ulrich Clewing, in: Ingmar Alge, Malerei 2001 02 03, published by the Zweckverband der Dachauer Galerien und Museen,
Dachau 2004, p. 15.
2 Conversation with Christa Häusler in January 2001, in Ingmar Alge, published by Kuckei+Kuckei,
Berlin 2001, p. 7.