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DIETER DANIELS
SNAIL AND MIRROR OR WIND AND VIDEO

On the elements of Werner Klotz’s workThe surrealists already knew that an encounter of inappropriate elements can unexpectedly send out the spark of imagination. They in turn refer to Lautreamont and his famous dictum of the “encounter of a sewing-machine and an umbrella on an operating table” as the source of poetry.

It is uncertain whether this association of things strange to one another, which for Lartreamont in the 19th century was so confusing, would still be felt to be so unusual today. Considering the flood of goods that almost daily offers us new, unfamiliar objects, particularly the constantly new connections of hitherto separate devices, poetic sensitivity doubtlessly has to acknowledge considerable losses. To give an example: Ten years ago, most people would have considered a combination of a telephone, photocopier and modem absurd- today, the resulting fax-machine is part of every third household.

Certainly not every re-mix of devices is such a success; the karaoke-worthy electric razor with infrared remote control, for instance, was not marketable. Yet the decisive difference between Lautreamont’s search for poetic inspiration and the “clones” of new technical devices, constantly produced and presented to us by industry , lies in the question of functionality: Poetry most categorically tries to avoid it, while industry – sometimes in vain – wants to force it.

Now what about a device that combines a complex optical structure of glass and mirrors with the organic elements of a living snail and soil? This strange “junction” engenders multilayered associations: the soft, slow snail, whose trail of slime runs across the clear, smooth, hard mirror’; the transparency of the optical system and animal’s blindness. The whole construction seems to serve an unknown purpose, maybe meteorological measurements, similar to the popular frog, or studies of the behavior of mollusks.

Another apparatus connects video equipment in a room with a wind - measuring instrument placed in a hole drilled into the windowpane. According to the wind speed outside, the video image of a subject inside is set in rotation and a precise scale shows the respective value. What could be th purpose of this construction? Is it a device for testing thermodynamic processed between exterior climate and interior space? Or is it a device for the study of human perceptual physiology and it dependence on weather conditions?

In a survey on the two devices described above, the connotation of “art” will presumably be found only in a small percentage. These pieces so convincingly seem to look for a purpose they don’t have, that at first a basically purpose free observation, i.e. an aesthetic observation, is obscured. They occupy an intermediate position which neither belongs to the compulsive purposeful new creations of the world of industrial goods, now to poetry’s deliberately purposeless connections of the unconnected.

And yet, when questioned about their possible aesthetic or even art historical aspects, these woks offer amazing answer. The connection of nature and technique is found in all artificial and artistic products from the cultural history of man. Only since the beginning of modernism has the predominance of extra-artistic techniques made this problem a central point of “survival” of art as an end in itself. Since art can no longer compete with industrial progress, it provides causes for reflection on the basic conditions of existence and perception.

In this regard, the unexpected meeting of a snail and a mirror could refer us to the basic elements of man’s comprehension of the world: The continuous movement in time and the visual orientation in space. Both the slowness of the snail and the refraction of the mirror are borderline cases of the usual comprehension of the world. In the joining of the video-self-portrait and the wind speed, elements from nature and technology also come together. The seemingly self-sufficient video technology is subject to the vicissitudes of weather. Man’s self-ascertainment by means of media is seen as being dependent on the vagaries of nature.

Snail and wind may serve as metaphors for a melancholic view of the continuous processes of nature – which despite all changes remain constant –in contrast to the linear, one-dimensional progress of technology. Mirror and video as means of self-observation refer to the narcissistic element of all artistic work. So if, facing these devices, one allows the spark of imagination to take its own course, we find Melancholy and Narcissus as two chief witnesses for the psychological condition at the end of the 20th century. What else can we expect from art?