by Nadia Egan // May 16, 2022
After more than 30 years of teaching, Raimund Kummer is ready to retire. The artist and professor of sculpture at the HBK Braunschweig has been constructing an expansive oeuvre over the past five decades, with glimpses of these works finding their way into the nooks and crannies of his latest show. In a final hurrah before entering into retirement, ‘Kummer weint / Schliess die verdammten Eisfach!’ is a two-part exhibition spread across the university’s Montagehalle and Hochschulgalerie, and showcases works never before seen by the public. A result of rummaging around in rediscovered material, the show is a compilation of an immense anthology of photography, sculpture, sound and film that introduces the visitor to the artist’s continuous and ever-evolving experimental process.
The sheer magnitude of the space, when entering into ‘Kummer weint’ in the Montagehalle, is immediately striking. Appearing somehow both minimalist and maximalist, an array of over 1000 black and white photographs sprawl across the walls and are gathered in vitrines. Shot and printed primarily in analog, the photographs document the artist’s life from 1976 to the present day. Beginning with ‘Afghanistan Road Trip’ (1976)—where Kummer decided to pursue a career as an artist—the montage of photographs follows a chronological form of continuous narrative, acting as an autobiography of sorts.
Kummer’s choice of black and white over colour photography stems beyond a concern with the aesthetic. Kummer expresses his belief in the medium having a much higher degree of abstraction than normally assumed—that the image is no longer concretely connected to the perception of reality. This sentiment is realised in his choice to use black and white photography, distancing the viewer from the idea of photograph as a window into the world. Instead the pictures are presented from an aestheticised distance, accentuating the agency of the lens that stood between the observer and the observed.
Of particular note, and described by Kummer himself as the most “radical” works in the compilation, are a series of photographic performance self-observations from 1980 entitled ‘Cut,’ ‘Kummer schneidet – Kummer rasiert’ and ‘Kummer schwärzt.’ Similar in composition, the latter two document an exploratory process as the artist alters his appearance—first by shaving his head and then by covering himself in black shoe polish. The experimental feel continues into the developing technique, from which Kummer presents so-called slash prints (negative prints) of the original. Through this process, he continues to alter his appearance, ending at an obscured and barely recognisable version of his former self.
The artist’s experimental process reaches its culmination with ‘Cut.’ This is a concluding statement to the two previous works; the shaved Kummer returns and confronts the viewer head on in another installation of self-portraits. Along the length of each print, a deep slash is visible. From a distance, it appears superficial, perhaps achieved after the printing process. Yet upon further inspection, the reverse becomes apparent. Constructed by taking an unexposed black and white negative from the cartridge, Kummer took a sharp blade and cut it lengthwise, before rotating it back into the cartridge and exposing it.
Collectively, along with the neighbouring ‘Kummer weint,’ the photographic self-portraits, which picture the artist’s face closely cropped, are profoundly intimate. The visitor comes face to face with the artist, at times seeing him in his most vulnerable state. This intimacy is accentuated by the materiality of the photographic print—shown in its rawest form rather than neatly mounted in frames. There is no distance between the photograph and the viewer, no buffer to cushion one from a closeness that can feel uncomfortable at times.
Concluding the first half of the show is ‘Piano’ (1981/2021). With roots in ‘Erweiterung der Kampfzone’ (1982)—a series of photographs chronicling a piano shaped hole in the wall of a Böckhstraße building before its demolition—a glass sculptural piece has been resurrected from the photographs’ negatives. With the same proportions as the original, the front and back of the wall are this time separated, with the two sides positioned parallel to one another. As the viewer circles around the sculpture, a moiré effect is produced, adding an additional point of interest to an already multidimensional piece. Above all, it acts as a sculptural culmination, or climax to the series of photographs presented in the Montagehalle.
A complete change of scene is encountered in the dark depths of the Hochschulgalerie. Lit only by two projections running on a loop at either side of the hall, it’s initially impossible to make out what is presented within the space. Nevertheless, a murky presence can be felt. As one’s eyes adjust to the dim light, the individual components of ‘Schliess die verdammten Eisfach!’ gradually become clear, as do their immense proportions. The title is inspired by the words of his wife—a non-native German speaker—and adds a comical, somewhat charming twist. In the centre of the gallery are stacks of aluminium frames—cut-down remnants of the former exhibition architecture used at the Folkwang Museum in Essen. Dominating the space, they bear a monumental weight and substance. To one end, a film shows the sculpture ‘Prosopagnostisches Netz’ (2011) as it’s transported at night on the back of a flatbed truck. To the other, a swivel casting apparatus rotates the mould of an oversized optic nerve on all axes. Through eight loudspeakers suspended above the aluminium frames, a woman’s voice recites approximately 1000 titles from Kummer’s Catalogue Raissoné. Sounding a little like airport announcements, the titles cascade into the air and melt into the surrounding space.
Most astonishing about the exhibition is the sheer volume of work Kummer has produced in the past 50 years, of which only a small part is on show. Taking in and remembering each individual photograph from ‘Kummer weint’ would be a hopeless task, but the monumental endeavour and the artist’s unique experimental approach to material and content leave a lasting impression. Though links are made to past works, the fact that Kummer did not make this a didactic or purely chronological exhibition makes the diversity of his oeuvre feel immediate and contemporary. Without explaining these links further, the spectator is able to value the works for what they are rather than trying to connect them to a larger picture.