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In Suspense

Published in the catalogue from Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

Amateur photographs have a sentimental, very private value and serve as aid to memory. They help recollecting, renewing remembrance. They send the photographer back to an apparently authentic, mostly glorified and colourful past. They are witness of the transitory and temporary aspects of our own life and yet at the same time, they represent a desire for permanence and continuity. Rarely though, they are a manifestation of aesthetically intended creation. The imagery of amateur photography is focused on people, landscapes, flowers and objects that the person on the trigger feels attracted to.
Jörg Sasse has been collecting these picture taken by friends, acquaintances and unknown people for years and uses them for his own artistic productions. Nonetheless he is not interested in trace locating i.e. in looking for the private sentimental memory potential or the documentary value of the pictures. He also ignores the focused centre of the picture. He rather highlights the accessory, incidental details of the shot, which were not intended. Thus, he actually engages the 'slag' of photography as subject for his visual language.

8087, 1995 (86 x 128 cm) Background, middleground and foreground: a pale sky, a slightly ruffled sea and a sun flooded beach taking half of the picture; four striped beach chairs, one playing boldly his own game, another one in the middle fixing the spectator on perception by central perspective a dear composition in tones of blue, red and yellow, presented in horizontal and diagonal axes; a harmonious, but old-fashioned image, lacking tension. Its atmosphere reminds of photographs by Jacques Henri Lartigue or a film still by Visconti. It even hints to the Impressionists. It would have long merged with the flood of today's pictures, if it were not for an intriguing resistance in its pictorial quality, that makes one look twice, stay on. One wants to know what this picture is about, how it was made.

Jörg Sasse scans his photographical raw material into the computer and generates an image that is then transferred from a negative film onto photo paper: he cuts, enlarges, reduces, shifts motifs and even lets them disappear. He straightens lines, plays with the millions of colour nuances of the computer spectrum and cleans up until he has found "his" picture, until the "picture works as a picture>>, as he says. His working process can be compared to the methods of a sculptor, reducing the raw material, then again to a photographer's manipulating and retouching and also to the colour mixing of a painter. But his instruments are neither chisel, nor camera nor brush, but mouse and screen, offering him other artistic potentials. A loosely, sometimes more tightly "woven" pixel net covers the surface of the picture, making it appear irregular and compact, leaving shapes and motives focused or fuzzy and influencing the intensity of the colours. The spectator gets the impression that the picture is either just about to appear, or, on the contrary, in a process of dissolution.

In the harmonious beach picture there are two elements that are interesting: a dark spot in the upper right corner, a bird (which Sasse had taken out of a swarm and then translocated) and a man at the left side (which he had left over from a group of people). Man and bird, both blurred in different ways, both at the periphery of the picture: emerging or disappearing? Those three beach chairs, standing in a diagonal, taking on a stable position within the picture, they seem to want to close in on them, to keep them there in order to assure a certain stability to the picture and to the wandering eye of the spectator. At the same time the horizontal perspective leads man and bird in the opposite direction out of the picture; and the eye follows them and the artist leaving the picture for a digital world, where new images are generated. These two motifs create an openness, a quality of "work in progress". As in a photograph, they represent suspended motion and time, but they no longer refer to a past or reality beyond the picture. They are like in a painting part of the artistic imagination and in their visual presence, they anchor the perceiving in the moment of the aesthetic experience. Meanwhile, their pixel existence reveals transitoriness and shows the potential of change, of many other possible images. One gets dizzy, being suspended in the presence of immediate perception and the "future" of imagined ideas, between visualisation and reflexion, outer and inner eye; a to and fro that blurs the lines.

Others of Sasse's pictures as well show motives that leave the spectator somewhere between the actuality of the present picture and the virtuality of many others. Knowing about the shapelessness, the immateriality of digital characters, the faceless persons, like the woman in the meadow or the boy in the red and white checkered shirt who hides his face behind the green of the grass, appear like ghosts, as apparition or optical delusion that could become clearer when rubbing one's eyes, or that could dissolve and disappear completely. Bur despite all attempts of optical and local adaptation, it remains there. And it becomes clear why Sasse introduces many formal elements and motifs of motion that structure the composition and make the picture work as a picture, but bear at the same time the potential of change: diagonal, vertical and horizontal, the vibration of colours, train, car and plane. Even the "titles", a combination of numbers which the artist elaborated as a principle of classification working at the computer, express fixation as well as variability, a suspension in the present and the virtual.

Eventhough Sasse is mainly concerned with pictorial qualities, he and the spectator cannot avoid an intermedia discussion, as every new medium raises questions on the previous one. Sasse has banished the "furor antitechnicus" from his work and demonstrates which artistic liberties can be generated by digital tools, how it makes blossom the potential of imagination, imparting a new magic to the picture. He lets his pixel language have a dialogue with painting and photography, e.g. between Claude Monet and Walker Evans. In the contemporary garment with its suspended, transitory or virtual aspects, familiar habits of perception and representation are simultaneously confirmed and questioned. Sasse's pictures disclose the ambivalent attitude of today's artists: they link the archaic desire to understand the work of art as an expression of individual originality with the knowledge about the infinite possibilities of variations, the transitory and temporary character of computer generated images that long ago invalidated artistic uniqueness. "Do stay with me, thou art so beautiful>>, Sasse seems to ask his pictures, in an ironical nostalgic way and, against all expectations, they actually do remain there for some important moments.

Annemarie Hürlimann, 1997