Safety Curtain 2003/2004

Dawn – On the Safety Curtain by Thomas Bayrle

Thomas Bayrle consistently produces extremely large pictures and this Christ in the city is one of the largest. The elements of this picture are small, very small. The tension between two scales – the micro and macro perspectives – releases most interesting energies in his art. In a recent interview he said, "Since the early sixties I have paid attention to the absurd, grotesque pictures of mass production and consumption. In place of dots I put coffee cups, oxen or shoes as components of the picture. For a long time I have also used cars, telephones, aeroplanes or houses and streets for the construction of pictures." An oft-repeated metaphor in his work is the motorway. For him it is a symbol of the apparently never-ending, 24-hour conveyor belt production which our society maintains.

The origins of Bayrle's graphic and experimental printing work lie in a German variation of Pop Art, but beyond that his interest in the relationship of art to society led to original research in which cybernetics and even biology play a role. What comes out of all this are visually confusing and intriguing patterns which refer to aspects of the city and the world of mass-produced consumer objects. Some of his pictures resemble labyrinths in which the eye becomes lost. In the catalogue to an exhibition in Japan a few years ago he said, "I compare the relationship between the individual and the collective to that of the dot and the raster screen. Because the dot is a part of the raster screen – just like the cell is the fundamental building block of the body." This working principle, the combination of heterogeneous elements in visual patterns, which is reminiscent of Piranesi, has been central in Bayrle's work since his early political objects from the sixties. In Mao (1966) – a robot picture equipped with a motor, a painted wood construction – party members form a Mao star. Slowly, like in a circulating plant, the star transforms itself into the face of the "great Chairman" himself. In this way – through accumulation – the individual cells produce a superform.

The Safety Curtain for Parsifal Year is made up of a complex collage, a mega-city (background) and a Christ (foreground) who appears to have grown from the sea of buildings. In a similar way to the composer Steve Reich, Bayrle works with a few modules from which he puts together the city through a wide range of combinations. The body of Christ set against this city consists of several hundred containers, in all of which he has included a police photo of a motorway scene. Through the adaptation to the individual containers the scene is distorted in a different way each time; the situations are always similar but never the same. Bayrle determined the proportions of this Christ figure in 1988 on models of the old masters Cimabue (around 1240–1302) and Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). The city in the background was put together in 1977. The whole picture therefore consists of recycled parts stemming from a wide range of contexts. Bayrle: "I tried to select and work out a suggestive and no way interchangeable image. I go back to a depiction of Christ that I began 15 years ago but never completely condensed into an autonomous statement. It's important to me that Christ is in the middle of this, our world, even grows out of it and is literally made up of it. I confront the body divided up into organic containers with an unoriented mega-city. It's a narrative, city-tapestry made up of a few modules in many variations into which, eaten up by the streets, the Christ almost sinks down. The eye can lose itself in the mass of buildings or imagine driving along the streets and crossroads and so follow millions of destinies in a vast, endless landscape of apartments, windows and streets."