Elisabeth Fiedler

INGMAR ALGE – Centrifugal Force

It is not silence, but rather soundlessness, a frozen scenario and a strange abstraction conveying timelessness, loneliness, desolation and a staged thrownness, that are characteristic of Ingmar Alge’s work. Arising from his interest in socio-politically relevant ecological, economic and infrastructural problems in relation to the individual and the community, the issue for him is how art can intervene within this context.
Influenced by American art of the 1980s and 1990s, such as the socio-political interventionist art of Jenny Holzer or Barbara Kruger, and the focus on collective trivial myths in western everyday culture found in Richard Prince and reflecting the painting of the Junge Wilde (young wild ones) in Austria, within his painting he examines the ambivalence of an emotional access to society in its increasing disjunction and isolation and also the potential for formal specification of archetypal behavioural patterns, models an longings of the being.

While, at the beginning of the 20th century, the realisation of the importance of the unconscious within Surrealism, Dadaism and Pittura Metafisica produced and refined new production techniques such as frottage or collage and also ranges of topics encrypted in depth psychology, cubism developed from the awareness of the hybridity, fragmentation and deconstructability of the world analytical as well as synthetic procedural methods for approaching the complexity of rationally and emotionally perceived reality. The examination of the phenomena of morbidity or modern nomadism within American society – since the 1920s with a particular focus on man and his relationship with the environment – are later also to be found in the work of Dan Graham, who never isolates the subject, but always provides a social context. At the same time the medium of film developed, whose sequencing and framing of an apparent reality constantly coincides an overlaps with fine art.

In this regard, the work of Edward Hopper is important to Ingmar Alge. His cool, apparently realistic image world raises the theme of loneliness and, parallel to this, the thrownness of man in the existential sense. The unfathomable expanse and exposure in Hopper’s pictures, their constructed directed lighting and hushed atmosphere, inspired not only Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho but also Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso and Wim Wender’s The Million Dollar Hotel. Homelessness, reality overlaps, time shifts, subtlety and perfidiousness are also features of David Lynch’s films, whose work is equally important in understanding that of Ingmar Alge.

 The middle classes, the breakdown of the believed security of the small town, of the family as a socially relevant constant, the ascendancy of the dark side of repressed violence an sexuality, of the irrational and concealed: these are horrible from the banal ort he mystic form the everyday. Ambivalence between the banal and the essential is found by Alge in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho or in Alan Ball’s TV series Six Feet Under and also in the films of Austrian Ulrich Seidl, in the writing of Oulipo member Georges Perec and in the books of Martin Amis. Alge is also interested in the intersection between various media such as film, theatre or chatroom, as used by Constanze Ruhm in her work X Characters: RE(hers)AL which is „charted as a cosmology of changed identities“.1

He himself quite consciously opts for the medium of painting, within which he opens up new levels of discourse following postmedial development. Born in the town of Höchst in the Vorarlberg, he repeatedly refers back to this in addressing the theme of the immanence of individual social groups. Although his detached house pictures may at first glance seem like documentary studies of a societally and socially relevant phenomenon, on closer inspection one discovers that what appears as documented is in fact a construct of the artist. This means that he takes settings of various models found in his own head, in archives or on the Internet an uses Photoshop image editing software to „assemble“ them. In this way, images drawn from his memory, archetypal impressions and media information are merged, exuding an artificial strangeness and recalling film stills. Many of his works are in the same dimensions as the film format, i.e. at a ratio of 16:9.

It was above all Pierre Bourdieu who made a sociological examination of detached houses in various studies into the development of this housing type in France in the mid-1980s. In Der Einzige und sein Eigenheim (the individual and his own home) he not only refers to the history of the establishment of home ownership in particular since the French Revolution, but also focuses on the related problems of urban sprawl, inner city erosion and the ecological impact of these. The desire to own a house was studied as „a result of the interaction between the old longing for private happiness and inheritable property, and the effects of a liberal about-turn in housing policy in the 1970s. Due to the increased allocation of personal loans, since then individual building construction has been encouraged (also to the profit of the banks’ and builders’ commercial operations), as opposed to collective residential construction; the consequences include the homeowner’s isolation from colleagues, neighbours, cultural life and a fixation on the private ...“2  The sales pitch is seen as the „first step towards a ‚work of denial’, which generally culminates in the purchase of a house. Here the poor insulation, lack of a cellar, the noise of the lawnmower at the weekend all reduce the aspired freedom down to a very similar measure as that of a rented apartment; it is often also at the cost of long commute times to and from work.“3 And „because he often ventures on projects that are too great an investment, since they are more tailored to his pretensions than his means, he puts himself into a situation where he is ruled by overpowering forces.“4

Ingmar Alge cites this architecture of the 1960s and 1970s, portraying it in its miserable facade design with closed doors and windows, the only indications of a link with the outside world being a recently trodden snow-covered garage entrance, as an analogous, irregular sign of existence marked out by man, and the satellite bowl as a sign of the digital link to the rest of the world. Here reality shows, shopping opportunities, dating agencies and media coverage pretending to be objective all clearly at as substitutes for actual contact with other people. These are uniform facades that, contrary to the life’s desire of the individual, outwardly reflect the effective standardisation of the lifestyles within the houses, and are evocative of fortresses, of something inaccessible.

Set in infinite expanses or boxed in behind thick hedges on minute plots, these dour grey fronts convey retreat and barricading from inside out. So the idyllic notion of private intimacy stands in opposition to isolation, coldness and brutalisation. The chain of associations here stretches form family tragedies, to abductions and neglect, through to buried corpses. The classic form of oil painting on canvas emerges in this respect as a camouflage technique, behind which the unfathomable disguises itself as a version of social progress.

While here it is the archetypal type of house standing fort he security of man which is portrayed as life- and soulless, in other works it is dehumanised people who confront us. The only person who Alge names – and without the title he would anyway be unidentifiable – is Brendan Adams. The Capetown-born musician lies on his back, guitar in had, within a dreary, endless universe, trying to make something out with a glass telescope. Music, the universally understood language in the consciousness of nowhere, of temporal and spatial freedom form boundaries, seems to confirm the permeability and impossibility of unambiguous information.

The glaring light of three lanterns over an empty car park, marked out by abstract areas of grass, seems to correspond to a boundless, gloomy light that can neither rise nor sink. The young man standing at the centre of the picture with his back turned – we cannot tell whether he has just arrive or whether he is waiting to leave – is a visible symbol of an inter-being who knows neither place nor time.

The situation of two people at a terminal, identified only by the number 7, appears similar. Characteristically the setting of this work is he boarding area of an airport: a place where, in Alge’s words, functional lack of empathy is endemic. The caginess of the woman with folded arms would seem to stand in contrast to the openness of the man behind her, who is talking on a mobile telephone. Nonetheless the isolation and placelessness, the dislocation, here correlate with the coldness and timelessness of the light reflected on the wall. Focusing on the moment, the picture portrays the stalling of any communication or narration, freezing it in silence, within which there is a tangible feeling on the one hand of something final, on the other of search, the feeling of moving on inherent to the airport, but also the doubts that come with any self-determination.

This sense of being „removed from the world“ is particularly referred to by Alge in Yoga: a woman in sunglasses is performing exercises on a mat in front of a permeable and indefinable, perspectiveless background reminiscent of Gerhard Richter.

Essentially the figures within the staged settings appear anonymous, frozen, speechless and undefined. The cool atmosphere within the pictures is emphasised by extreme light and shadow distribution, which Alge has studied closely in Vermeer, Giorgio de Chirico and also Edward Hopper. In Alge’s work the mutual complement of light and content play a role as important as the compression of time, the greatest possible focus on the moment, in order to examine the commensurability of the effectiveness of painting with regard to content.

Extreme backlight makes it almost impossible to recognise the visible precisely, while one seems to be placed in full light oneself. He uses this light in a work containing the first person to date that faces the viewer frontally. Significantly, this is a refugee, who looks directly at us form a raised balcony. In this way Alge confronts us with the tension of the anonymity of the migrant by making exact identification possible, reversing the usually taken perspective of the „local“ to the foreign, and drawing the observer into the picture as an illuminated addressee. The focused roof balcony of the house appears brittle, the section of wall under the refugee’s tight foot threatens to fall on our heads. In this context, Tom Holert and Mark Terkessidis describe emerging housing estates as „heterotypes, meaning that they encapsulate the utopia of a perfect life free form disturbance. On the other hand, they (the estates) expand aggressively, i.e. they take up large areas of land and thus constrict the freedom of movement of other citizens.“5As an apt introductory quote, which could equally be applied to Alge’s work, they take the Greek poet Giorgos Seferis’ words: „There is now only the world here and elsewhere, just as the world is, and no one arrives anywhere.“6

Ingmar Alge has chosen this book title as that of his exhibition, referring as a law of nature to the changes of an increasingly constructed and dynamised world in which the illusion of privacy, seclusion, the chances of reflexiveness on the familiar ultimately appear to have been exposed as obsolete.

© Elisabeth Fiedler
Translation: Yplus

In: Ingmar Alge, Fliehkraft,
Neue Galerie Graz am Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz 2007