Dezemberausstellung, Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 2014
The Summer Show, The Ravestjin Gallery, 2016
Camera Issue 15/16; Photography & Ethnology
Text: Léa Tirilly, 2016
With his series Masken, Michael Etzensperger reinterprets photographs from books about masks in non-European cultures. The practice of photographic superimposition enables him to disrupt their initial representations and make them at times elusive. The lines multiply, the colours merge, the hairstyles became more complex, the faces are altered. The eye seeks to distinguish the two images by alternately plunging into them and distancing itself from the photomontage. A fruitful, even hypnotic exercise, in which new images vie with each other to emerge. Each of Michael Etzensperger’s photomontages become the medium for possible spectres. In some ways, we can link this practice of overlaying and deconstruction with those of the Surrealists and Dadaists in the early twentieth century. The artist can experiment freely with transfiguration in the manner of Man Ray’s rayograms, or metaphors as in a collage by Hannah Höch. The images mingle to create an apparently free and independent composition.
But Michael Etzensperger’s series of Masken is also an opportunity to restore these masks to life, after they were frozen in the works
of ethnographers, in which photographs usually have no more than a documentary purpose. For many ethnic groups, the mask is part of a ritual for entering into contact with a higher world. They often depict mythological figures, animals, or deities, or they possess an intercessory function. They can be considered, in many respects, as alive. We can make a comparison with certain African statues, to which initiates give food and drink during sacred rituals, constantly enriching them with new symbolic materials. They are released from any kind of immutable shape to finally become perpetually changing forms. Here it is as if the photographer has breathed new life into the masks. And these assemblages seem so much the more dynamic in that they place the subjectivity of the viewer at the centre of attention. The tangle of forms is such that it becomes impossible to master the figures in their completeness, and each viewer ultimately favours one particular dimension.
Léa Tirilly is an art historian specialising in African art. She has worked on voodoo statuary in Benin and the issue of aesthetics
in ritual sculptures.