For their recent exhibition, the young Swiss photography duo Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs presented large photographs, a film and a sculptural installation, all new work made for the occasion. “Wozu Zeit” (For What Is Time) reflected on the impact photography has had on perception. Although many still regard the photographic image as truthful, Onorato and Krebs counter this notion by revealing the tools and procedures they use for making their images. These tools tend toward the primitive, elementary and makeshift, evoking an earlier age of mechanical production.
In his Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes describes the first cameras as implements “related to techniques of cabinetmaking and the machinery of precision.” In that spirit, Onorato and Krebs have created a homemade sound machine. Various house- hold items arranged on a simple scaffolding serve as drums. Small hammers are programmed to bang every few seconds, supplying the score for their 16mm film Blockbuster (2012, 5 minutes). Screened with an old projector whose lens protrudes through the wall into the adjacent room, the film shows a man standing on a ladder with a raised hammer. Through the flattening of space, he seems to be pounding on the top of various buildings—which actually exist at a distance from him in the background—as if trying to single-handedly alter them. This wonderfully humorous and absurd little film, with its punning title, brings us back to the early years of filmmaking, when the soundtrack was supplied by a piano player in the hall. The ham- mering sound and the man in action suggest the act of building and making, of shaping and creating the space around us, both in a very physical, direct way and in a metaphorical sense.
This playful approach to process can also be found in two black-and-white prints made with an analog camera. Fog depicts an abandoned building in the background and, in the foreground, a wooden framework that overlaps with the contours of the building. The viewer is forced to decipher the layers of space in this strange and confusing composition. Demolition Continues uses chronophotography to present a spinning contraption amidst the rubble of a building. The image calls to mind EÌtienne-Jules Marey’s experiments with capturing the mechanics of motion and the passing of time. The inherent correlation between the histories of photography and urbanization are a constant subtext.
Onorato and Krebs, while paying homage to technolo- gies of the past, do not wallow in nostalgia or sentimentality. Instead, the duo cast a humorous and even ironic eye toward the glorification of those bygone days. The artists allow us to reflect on our current modes of production, mostly characterized by outsourcing and industrial fabrication, while develop- ing a language of their own that is whimsical, thoughtful and thoroughly constructed.
Photo: Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs: Demolition Continues, 2012, gelatin silver print, 63 by 451⁄4 inches; at RaebervonStenglin.