I first remembering seeing this photo back in the fall of 2007. I had just given notice to the last office job I thought I could ever hold (still true to date) as unforeseen events made me realize I needed to give freelance writing another full-time go. Naturally, I was going to run away first to Berlin for a bit of fun and inspiration, and doing a bit of homework first, this image popped out at me from a Canadian art magazine previewing Roman Signer’s solo exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. I was completely unfamiliar with his work, but something about this photograph, its inherent dynamism, the glean of this uncanny cherry red, the double take it made me do, led me to least circle the preview for later inspection.
Image credit: Roman Signer Kajak (Aarau) 1998-99. SMB, FRIEDRICH CHRISTIAN FLICK COLLECTION IM HAMBURGER BAHNHOF PHOTO STEFAN ROHNER © ROMAN SIGNER
I would be in Berlin by December, and the friends I was staying with recommended the Signer show too, and their opinions held more weight than any 20 word preview ever could. Wandering through the Bahnhof should take a full day, but I needed two to watch all of Signer’s videos and documentations.
As a comprehensive exhibition of performance documentations, most of the work existed on screens and monitors, but several of the works after-motion had been left or placed in the gallery halls. I can only recall a sensation that made me realize why keeping fireworks under your bed was about as exciting as lighting them later. The dormant motion of objects against gravity, the visual and aural residue of explosions, and the generalcapsulation of propulsion was all readily palpable in each work, with something inherently human as the trigger. One work that continues to stand out in my memory is a hand held video work following the path of wayward balloon, leading to a chase as the wind picks up, and the inevitable inability to continue the chase as we, through the seemingly dejected camera, watches the balloon drift far and away. It was as devastating a work as I ever saw, and it is only now looking back that the description of Signer’s works as “time sculptures” finally begins to make sense. His interest in working with the uncontrollable elements of water and fire, earth and air, yet in his attempts to control some element against them, are absurdist in humour, humanist in conceit,and ultimately a gesture of self-destruction.
Next week, Signer arrives in Huntly to make a new work along the River Bogie called Transmissions from the River (Übertragungen aus dem Fluss). I have no clue as to what to expect, as the river is constantly changing and transmitting as is, but inspired by the attempts to discuss his work again, I am organizing this event which will also wrap up my time here in Huntly, which it turns out, has been the first time in these past four years I have not had to hustle for work as a full time freelance writer. I wouldn’t say it’s serendipitous in the least that Signer should bookend this moment in my memory, but I can’t deny it’s a nice way to remember the unpredictable and inconceivable changing of the tides again and again.
*First published on The Huntly Review