Roman Signer (b. 1938), Zelt (Tent), 2002, 6 Cibachrome prints (Videostills: Tomasz Rogowiec) (27.5 x 20.5 cm / 10 7/8 x 8 1/8 inches 46.8 x 38.7 x 3.7 cm / 18 3/8 x 15 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches (framed)) each © Roman Signer, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth
Swiss artist Roman Signer uses photography, film, and video to document performances, events or ‘akts’ he creates. Zelt comprises a sequence of images showing a man running from a tent, which then explodes. A passage of time and movement is depicted in each successive frame. The sequence relates a kind of ‘sculpture’ of changing forms that include the location of grass and trees, the tent, the man, the burst of flame and smoke. Characteristic of Signer’s oeuvre, the event itself is both comic and mysterious. There is a sense of finality and transformation. Roman Signer (b. 1938), Zelt (Tent), 2002, 6 Cibachrome prints (Videostills: Tomasz Rogowiec) (27.5 x 20.5 cm / 10 7/8 x 8 1/8 inches 46.8 x 38.7 x 3.7 cm / 18 3/8 x 15 1/4 x 1 1/2 inches (framed)) each © Roman Signer, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Often there is nothing left but the photographic record, so it’s vital the record itself is as expressive of the event as possible. You could say that ‘earth artists’ like Andy Goldsworthy use photography in the same way, to document ephemera.
Roman Signer and Andy Goldsworthy are both artists who have played with creating sculptures that are transient or ephemeral in nature. Whereas Roman Signer’s work is inspired by his love of detonation and blasts, creating extremely brief but dynamic sculptures, Andy Goldsworthy works with nature to create beautiful but ephemeral works of art that are extremely striking and vibrant. Even though their final art forms and style of working are completely different, there are quite a few similarities between the two-
- Both create art forms that are transient in nature.
- The art forms cannot be preserved infinitely or for a long duration of time.
- Most of their art is outdoor. This means they must be photographically documented at the time of their creation in order to have a record of the art.
- Both their arts can only be recorded via photographs or films to be viewed or appreciated later.
- Both conduct these experiments/sculptures/art forms privately, mostly without an audience. The public can only see the work after it has perhaps ceased to exist.
While one takes pleasure in the destruction of things and creates sculptures out of that, the other creates sculptures out of nature’s bounty and creates some stunning forms and patterns. I quite enjoyed researching and reading about them and came across some good reading material that provided good insight into their thought processes.
Now to analyze the “ZELT” (Tent)-
The images are stills from a video recording of an experiment that Roman Signer conducted and created live sculptures in that moment of time.
1. Would this work have been as effective if the camera’s viewpoint had changed with each shot?
Having studied about typologies earlier, I have come to understand that it is important to have a single viewpoint to get an effective documentation of the subject. When one is looking at more than one image in a sequence it becomes less distracting if the viewpoint is the same. The same angle will provide a continuation of the series and keep the focus on the main subject. The background remaining the same, chances of the viewer’s eye going to a distraction in the background are less. If the camera’s viewpoint would have changed in this sequence, definitely the focus would have shifted and the viewer would have been conflicted between the background and the subject. With each different angle, the resulting image would have changed. Every new angle would, therefore, require the viewer to view the image in a different light.
The same angle keeps the eye fixed on what’s happening in the foreground/or the subject, subconsciously eliminating the background to some extent. The viewer thus is only looking at what’s happening to the subject and is not distracted by new elements in each frame. Therefore, in my opinion, a change in viewpoint would have made this sequence less effective and obscure.
2. What encapsulates this sequence, makes it seems like a finished piece?
A few elements in this sequence are important – the tent, the blast/explosion, and the aftermath. What makes this sequence seem like a finished piece is that it starts from the image of the standing tent, followed by a man running and eventually an explosion that destroys the tent. The sequence looks complete because one is not left wondering at the end of the sequence as to what happens next. The sequence has a beginning and an end.
- The tent is there in its entirety in the first image and in the last image, it is completely destroyed.
- The urgency in the man’s run (to save his life) can be seen in the first couple of images and towards the last two, you can see he is slowing down as if to say the worst is over.
- The explosion, which is a bright orange ball of fire can be seen fizzling out into just smoke by the last image.
The fact that the sequence has a beginning, a middle and an end and is very evident in the images, makes it seem like a finished piece.
3. What do you think are the influences that led to this work?
There could be possibly more than one influence that led to this work, as per me. Though from what I have read, he really didn’t have an idol or followed in someone’s footsteps or get inspired by somebody else’s work that greatly. These are a few things that come to my mind that I could possibly suggest could have led to this work:
- His interest and fascination with explosives and detonators.
- To capture something on film that can never be reproduced in the same exact way ever could be a big motivation behind his constant experimentation with explosions. To create transient sculptures and not knowing what the outcome will be is something which can be intriguing to many artists.
- He probably subconsciously also related this to life – “whatever is born must die.” “Here today gone tomorrow,” and so on. So maybe this also had a philosophical inspiration.
- It also is on some levels both a risky and humorous sequence of images, portraying either a sense of relief of narrowly escaping death or a sigh of relief or a laugh when one narrowly escapes a risky situation.
- If the man in the images is the artist himself, he might like taking risks. Some people get a kick from how close they can get to death and cheat it.
4. Do you think these influences affect the way we interpret it?
I think these influences do affect the way we interpret it because whenever one views an image as an audience one does automatically ask the question – “What must have led to the artist creating this?” And to have some kind of an idea or even if we attempt guesswork, it does give us a sense of effective interpretation of their work.
- https://bombmagazine.org/articles/roman-signer/ (must read – insightful)