Arresting transience       (DE | EN | FR)

Wings spread wide, the buzzard soars high above the ground. Legs bent, his fixed gaze is aimed down - almost as if it has just spotted a potential prey. Will it start its dive? Or will it circle on in the sky for a while? It is difficult to guess and both possibilities seem somehow right and wrong at the same time. Aurelia Müller's photography is marked by a peculiar ambiguity. It translates movement as much as it evokes stillness, the momentary is as much present as the permanent. And this is exactly what catches the eye.

The large-format photographs of Aurelia Müller invite the viewer to take a closer look, even if the photographs do not seem ‘eventful’ at first glance. They almost exclusively show just an object that has been freed from any surrounding context and captured in the center of the image. The viewer can therefore focus even better on the object itself. In a time in which anything and everything is rushing fast and captured quickly on the run with a digital camera or one’s own smartphone, Aurelia Müller does exactly the opposite. She takes her time to look inwards and falls back on her old and heavy Sinar professional camera. Each picture is the result of time-consuming and delicate preparations, there is no place here for snapshots or other random-generated items. The side-effect is that the photographs are correspondingly over-accurate. The artist presents her subjects usually as a x-fold enlarged paper-printed layout. This enables the naked eye to see otherwise hardly recognizable details in an unusual sharpness. The subject is accessible and visible to the viewer in such a way as it has only rarely or never be seen. Involuntarily, one is tempted to lose oneself in this world of images but this is exactly how the intense confrontation with the medium of photography itself is clearly revealed.

The aforementioned buzzard quickly shows that the irritating ambiguity emanating from the photograph has something to do with the way of shooting it. The hyper-real clarity with which every single detail on the body of the animal is seen makes the picture different from the daring and fast-taken animal documentary photographs we usually know. The extraordinary sharpness reveals therefore that it is not possible that the picture of buzzard was captured in mid-air. A closer examination finally reveals the thin wire stretching from the tail feathers and the realization the ‘flying buzzard’ is in fact a stuffed exhibit. This vividly and pointedly recalls the ancient topos of photography, when freezing a moment means to kill life as well as giving it, to instill new life into something dead.

The relationship between life and death in the broadest sense plays a thematically important role in Aurelia Müller’s work. The various photographs of dead insects, for example, seem to be trying to withhold a perishing body from time and to reflect on it and it role in life, one last time before it's all gone. Significantly, we think that the butterfly in CUT I may fly out of the image at any moment. Other pictures, however, document death as irreversible. The photograph of the small pterosaur, cast in stone already 148 millions years ago, reflects about the finite nature not just of individuals but of entire species. And the series END NAP appears even to be a study on the different positions taken by bees at the moment of their death. The embryonic positions assumed by the bees, their fragile limbs drawn close to their bellies, are not simply humanizing them: it shows that they are taken seriously and pays homage to them as individual lives.

The series REFLECTION also deals with the desire and ultimately the ability of photography to capture the finite and to save it from death and oblivion. Aurelia Müller has unearthed in antique shops and other sources old early 20th century studio photographs of children, women and men taken and re-photographed them herself. Transferred to large format this way, the traces that time has left on the small pictures become prominent: stains, discolorations, scratches, bends, marks of various kind attest and highlight the transience of the image. In some places the original photograph has faded so much that the pictured people seem to literally dissolve in it. Instinctively, one wonders what has become of the people, why photography probably ended in the antiques shop and whether anyone still recalls the photographed individuals. Aurelia Müller's photographs do not just tell the story of the transience of memory captured by photography, but also of one’s own finality.

In his famous essay Camera Lucida - Comments on Photography, Roland Barthes states that photography, by testifying that what is depicted had actually existed, urges the viewer to rethink and let go the concepts of "life, death, and the inevitable disappearance of generations". The author reaches the conclusion that photography confronts the viewer with the fundamental question "Why do I live here and now?" This is the cornerstone of Aurelia Müller’s work. Thus she creates fascinating and enigmatic pictures that are an invitation to look, to see, to explore and to reflect about one's own being, one's own existence.

Petra Giezendanner