Karin Hoerler and the purity law

About photography in Karin Hoerler’s works.

It is clear that Karin Hoerler’s work is based on photography. However, they are not photographs that she took herself, but pictures that have been found or, to be more exact, selected purposely. Karin Hoerler concentrates
on photographs of a documentary nature.
Postcard motifs were the basis for an earlier series in her work. They were post cards of summery open-air swim- ming pools, with the rather familiar flair of an idealized leisure-time world. A world that spruces itself up for the town’s advertising brochures. Although they are not in themselves orchestrated, the camera direction is chosen so that a world is created from harmonious images, and the dingy corners are left out. These documents of an ideal world, these unspectacular postcard motifs, provided Karin Hoerler with the basis for developing her own particular artistic techniques.Karin Hoerler puts photo documents through an experimental process. She cuts the image into segments, mirrors them, and then puts them together again along the mirrored axes. By dissecting the surface of the image she stretches the pictures. Textures develop from the resulting structural changes in the representations.

The experimental manipulation of documentary image material reached its zenith in the experimental German documentary film by Walther Ruttmann: "Berlin: Sinfonie der Großstadt” ("Berlin: The Symphony of a Metropolis”).

Walther Ruttmann wrote that he sought “to make a Film-Symphony from the existing real energy of movement in the metropolitan organism”. In the film’s treatment the screenwriter Carl Meyer wrote that a symphonic film structure aimed to forgo actors and a story, to concentrate on reality and to create a composition from the basic resources of film itself. The symphonic montage created new meaning that went beyond the representational character of documentary films. A movement to the left would be edited opposite a quasi mirrored movement to the right. Upwards would be countered by a downward movement, and so on.

Karin Hoerler’s montage of documentary material also follows a musical and rhythmic structure. And if film history confirms that the viewer is hypnotized by the rhythm of Ruttmann’s film, it can be said that something similar is also found in Karin Hoerler’s photo montage.

The perceptual psychology aspect in axial symmetry.

The phenomenon of axial symmetry has a special position in aspects of the large field of perception psychology.

The axial-symmetrical representation delivers only half the alleged information. The fact that the same content
(only reversed) appears twice, means that half of it is redundant, and that is immediately recognized.

Gombrich’s research records shows that such apparent redundancy results in the eyes automatically looking for the point that shows the join or break in the figures that have been created in this way. One could say that a "break finder” (a term developed by Gombrich) steers our gaze.

When the break - the edit - in the film “Berlin: die Sinfonie der Großstadt” (“Berlin: The Symphony of a Metropolis”) occupies the memory of the viewer with a right movement after a mirrored left movement, similar to musical figures, in the case of a simple folded figure image all the elements are present simultaneously, which allows it to viewed quickly. The inherent balance in the figures is perceived as pleasing.
However, if the simple figure is mirrored again confusion occurs, and any further repetition threatens the equani- mity, and destroys the uniqueness of the middle axis. The eye jumps from break to break, objects dissolve and new ones develop only to immediately disappear again.

Rival systems develop that spread out on both sides, as well as up and down. The searching never ends because there are various possible ways of reading them. And the wandering gaze finds itself more and more in a visual minefield, where perception focuses on the changing figures within, which we are not able to isolate or hold on to. And so the pattern seems to fluctuate before our very eyes.

In her work with photographs Karin Hoerler opens up the actual image by making cuts in the picture. It is then mirrored and duplicated along these cuts. But where an ornament that could easily be deciphered begins to form, she accumulates breaks and edges and withdraws the new figure from this agreeable perception.
Ornamental textures develop that do not follow the calming regularity of an ornament.

The photos that Karin Hoerler laid out on her dissection table, in 2008, came from her family album and document her parents’ history before she was born. Karin Hoerler subjects these pictures, full of memories from her families past, to patterning. She segments them and creates edges by breaking them apart, then she multiplies them by repeatedly mirroring the pieces until their mass becomes an ornament.

The Mass Ornament, formulated by Siegfried Krakauer in 1927.

In an essay published in the Frankfurter Zeitung, June 1927, Siegfried Krakauer speaks of a mass ornament. He exposes a choreographic fashion that forms ornaments with large numbers of people, using the Tiller-girls as an example. He writes:
“The stadiums and cabaret patterns . . . are made up of elements that are purely building blocks, nothing else. Making a building depends on the format and number of the bricks. It is the mass that is made use of People are part of a figure . . . only as a member of the mass, not as individuals.” (S. Krakauer, Das Ornament der Masse, (The Mass Ornament) Frankfurt 1977 P. 51 ff)
Like the Tillergirls: “. . . There are no individual girls left, just an interminable girl complex, whose movements are demonstrations of mathematics.” Within the film industry this kind of display spread world wide.

The opening of the Berlin Olympics in 1936 presented thousands of members of the Eichkamp International Student Sports Camp as parts of a moving ornament, all swinging hoops and ribbons. And in her film for the Olympics Leni Riefenstahl edited symphonically, movement against movement.
She had already started using this technique in her work in 1935 in “Triumph des Willens” (“Triumph of the Will”), after being inspired by Ruttman’s editing techniques and feeling for rhythm.
“The masses are the bearers of ornaments. Not the nation, because when figures are established, they don’t appear from nowhere, they always grow from an alliance”. So Krakauer makes an interesting difference between masses and nation in his essay. The National Socialists’ propaganda machine formed the nation into a mass ornament.
While the ornamental decoration of historicism and Jugendstil both definitely allow for individual characteristics that can slowly be discovered by making comparisons, and the axial symmetry of a face is not actually a real mirroring of the one half, mass-ornamentation relies on absolute synchronization.

Ornamental violence is the father of all things and the mother of all suffering.

The photos with childhood memories are not the source material for Karin Hoerler’s pictures from 2007 to 2010. For these she uses photos from her mother’s and father’s lives before that time. They are photo-documents that alongside their documentary character have something inherently orchestrated about them.
Although the motifs are very much from her parents’ private life and surroundings, they show standard motifs that are found stored in so many similar photo-albums. Karin Hoerler abstracts what is private in various steps. She deletes the grey values. She strengthens the outlines and covers the pictures with a broken chromaticity.
However, her most major and, for the meaning, most relevant intervention, is the ornamentation created by breaks and joins, and by mirroring the picture particles geometrically.

“The Tillergirls can’t be put together again as people, the mass physical exercises curve in a way that denies rational understanding because they are never carried out by a whole complete body. Arms, legs and other segments are the smallest parts of a whole composition.” (Krakauer)

Those born later mostly have an uncomprehending view of their parents’ youth, but may find a possible approach to interpretating it in Karin Hoerler’s work. The nazification process was also an ornamental one.
The nation, in building traditions and ritual figures, degenerated within a short time to become a rigid, patterned, ornamentalmass, to a mass-ornament, cleansed of all irregularities. And in this respect it was a development from purity law to racial hygiene. Compulsiveness is inherent in an ornament developed for decoration. “At the end there is just the ornament, its inaccessibility leaves the structure empty of substance.” (Krakaurer)

In trying to locate her parents Karin Hoerler has consciously, or maybe unconsciously, discovered the structure of an era. Because patterns erase individuals Karin Hoerler sometimes marks her father and sometimes her mother with a cross.

Karin Hoerler works even more intensely with the chosen images by drawing increasingly disintegrating motifs with wax-oil crayons directly onto large canvases.
She creates grainy textures that, in a last rush, congeal to become an image. The technique of formal mirroring is more in the background here. Karin Hoerler finds new cuts within images that have opposing contents. Five uniformed people sit in front of a mountain backdrop, and as a result of her image montage they are placed behind a heap of dead bodies. There is a horizontal cut through this picture, which doesn’t create the marching-in-step of ornamentation. This cut heightens the contrast between the different subject matters. If earlier on we used the example of the symphonic montage principle as joining images fluently together, then here we can make a comparison with Eisenstein’s principle of dialectical contrast montage, in which the images’ contrasting subject matters should create a shock.

Karin Hoerler’s montage confronts the viewer with her own individual search for the answer to the question: where do I come from, and what are my roots?
A question with which everyone is personally confronted.

Gottfried Hafemann, 2010