Notes on some of Charlotte Bastian’s more recent works
Charlotte Bastian’s works are communicators between dimensions: between analog and digital, image and space, reality and illusion, safety and catastrophe. Ever since studying visual arts at the Universität der Künste Berlin, the Universidad de Sevilla and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Bastian, who was born in Berlin, has concentrated on fusing different levels of visual representation. From the start more interested in interdependencies than in isolated observations, Bastian uses a variety of artistic media, combines them and reassembles existing or freshly produced individual components. Already during her studies, she focused on sculpture, drawing, printmaking (etchings and woodcuts), partially collaged photography and on animated film. While completing her masters, she added painting to the list. At the very latest, after traveling to diverse regions, such as the Lausitz in Germany, Iceland or South America, the environment and climate emerged as central themes in Bastian’s works; at the same time, film and collage gained in importance, both formally and technically.
As the smallest possible step in transforming a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional object, Bastian uses collage to give her works an explicitly overt sculptural quality. The question of how collage and sculpture, i.e. the two-dimensional and three dimensional, may be linked in artistic production and its reception, converged for Bastian in the idea of introducing technical media into the optical perception of images.
With an affinity for media-archaeological artistic approaches and for traditions of „virtual art“ that outwardly simulate spaces using artistic-technical means, Charlotte Bastian has for some years now worked, on the one hand, with stereoscopes she constructed herself or selected carefully from diverse collections and, on the other hand, with praxinoscopes she also built herself. Stereoscopes—as precursors of today’s VR headsets—are devices that have been in development since the early 19th century for reproducing static images in such a way that they conjure up a spatial impression of depth that does not correspond to the physical facts. Whereas the praxinoscope involves a procedure that was a precursor of cinematography. Developed from the late 19th century onwards, praxinoscopes operate on the principle of the loop, of a cyclic, smooth sequence of movements, whose visual dynamics create, through prolonged and continuous rotation of a series of images, a cinematic moment.
Technically speaking, while creatively applying the principles of these two media, Charlotte Bastian’s works do not in any way remain analog: the images we see are digitally generated collages based on photographs that she shot digitally. The devices themselves—when it comes to the stereoscope, some might be familiar with it from childhood in the previous century—are hardly remembered today (the Stereomat, View-Master, etc.). And yet for the artist, they add media-aesthetic value: the stereoscope in Bastian’s installations invite us to take a deeper look into the interior of such devices, to almost lose ourselves in them and to explore the dramaturgy of light and scenic staging, layering of spaces, and their nuances from light to dark.
It is nearly impossible to escape the fascination of Bastian’s images—so intensely luminous is the disconcerting but riveting light that hits the lens of the eyes beholding them. Moreover, the recent, spatialized visual worlds of her series “Glocal Sceneries” seem quite strangely unbounded and remote in their perspective. By taking a spatial viewpoint, a level of perception opens up that a flat image cannot produce—a depth is evoked, a feeling of being inside a space we are, in fact, only viewing. This effect is enhanced in an almost paradoxical way by the artist using collage techniques to combine unnatural spaces and, in doing so, assemble perspectives and proportions differently.
Given that since the late 2000s Bastian has thematically explored changes in landscape during the Anthropocene, it is no coincidence she began working on the collages of her on-going series “Patchworks” in those years. Without wanting to be documentary, the artist creates—usually from two or three photographic scenes and motifs that actually depict quite different locations around the world, photographed by her, sometimes using drones—a visual disparity and unlocatability that aims at cognitive dissonance. These picture worlds evoke uncanny moods in which remnants of nature, allegedly idyllic sites, wastelands and derelict architecture clash equally bleakly: metropolitan architecture triumphs senselessly in a precarious polar setting (“Bonochui”, 2019); uninhabited, corrugated iron huts on parched earth push their way onto a scarred, perhaps post-socialist, purposed space (“Aqui”, 2019); cars, seemingly turned to stone, head on a highway towards their destination, a cross of petrol and petrification (“Highmata”, 2020). As two-dimensional prints, which are then collaged analog, Bastian’s photo collages have a resounding effect: people are only rarely visible—it is as if they had already become rare as a result of the hardships of what is depicted. If we perceive the works (which Bastian has collaged on the computer) with a stereoscopic gaze, so to speak, immersively through the device, the collaging achieves an immediacy that seems all the more foreboding.
Yet, at the same time, the technical view and lucid experience of the images facilitate the idea of safely containing the catastrophic conditions that are to be seen. Though we are dealing here with the same idea that led to the very processes that produce the depicted conditions all around the world in the first place: indeed, the catastrophe is not occurring inside but outside the camera. By consciously incorporating this weak point in perceiving ecological reality into her works through these media, she also draws attention to the systemically suppressed role art plays in producing these conditions and their perception. Her works with the praxinoscope, which enables the perception of motion, make us immediately aware through titles like “Tipping Point” (2015) “Slope” (2015) or “Afire” (2018) for looped images of fire- and icescapes, that both the conditions named as well as their perception are not just a question of static states, but also one of speed and its derailing effects.
Martin Conrads, 2022
(Translated by Catherine Kerkhoff-Saxon)