Family Photos

"Family Photos" by Hans-Peter Feldmann

For the last four years in the months of December and January the exhibition "The Poster" ("Das Plakat"), organised by museum in progress, Austrian Airlines and Gewista, has given contemporary artists the opportunity to express themselves on public billboards throughout a whole city and thereby to make contact with people outside of museums and specialised locations for today's art.

With this in mind the Düsseldorf-based artist Hans-Peter Feldmann commenced work for around 3,000 billboards in the Vienna area for this event "The Poster/museum in progress" which has already become something like a Viennese tradition. Extending once again over a period of several weeks around the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995 he is presenting a particularly shrewdly designed work for the occasion, the medium and location of Vienna.

Hans-Peter Feldmann has created a special image for Vienna and this direct encounter with its inhabitants. It has its roots in his previous artistic work but also enables him to fulfil an old dream. "Family Photos" ("Familienphotos") is the title of the exhibition which is taking place on billboards throughout the whole Vienna area.

Feldmann has put together examples from his own family of the six types of images which the photographic world in the print media has known since the post-war years. Accordingly Hans-Peter Feldmann's posters show "family photos" of the artist's own relations. However only in the first phase, because the artistic work is intended to trigger the widest possible reaction in the individuals who see it so that, to a certain extent, they come to see their own "family photos" as art work.In any case they should no longer throw them away and should rather become a little accustomed to the that these anonymous, apparently banal and worthless photographs constitute the most significant archive, the great surviving memory and in a certain sense the real monument or memorial to the 20th century.

Partly for this reason Hans-Peter Feldmann has kept the design as simple as possible. It is no coincidence that the blue background to the black and white photos corresponds to the old photo albums which everyone has and in which the photos often slip around as on the posters. The intention of the artist in this work is certainly – although miles away from any kind of simple-minded populism – to create the thought in the observer, "But I could do that too!" – "Yes, please see it like that!" Hans-Peter Feldmann wants to say, and also, "Treat your own 'family photos' like this, don't throw them away. Then things are not only preserved in which our century is reflected as in no other medium, but you yourself are also doing what a contemporary artist in particular does – drawing attention to small but essential differences".

Seen in this way it appears to me as though Hans-Peter Feldmann has understood this new medium – "The Poster", a series of exhibitions on the streets since 1991 – in a very special way. That is in the sense of an artistic concept of process which the generation of artists of the late sixties were decisive in moulding and which today seems to be almost lost. The art work is in this case not the apparent "product" (the poster designed by an artist which can also be seen as a showcase or as a spectacular exhibition space), it is rather the process which "The Poster" by Hans-Peter Feldmann with its widespread distribution sets in motion in one or another of the observers who, as a passer-by, naturally walks past billboards day in and day out but now suddenly starts asking questions. For instance: "But I've got pictures like this at home. Where are they? I should search them out and preserve them!". Hans-Peter Feldmann intends the totality of these processes to be the art work, "The Poster" is merely a kind of spark for this process which is the artist's main concern.

At the same time "The Poster" by Hans-Peter Feldmann is of course in one way artistically designed to the highest level, which at first glance the observer does not notice-and should not notice. "Process art" (in which the actual artistic work consists of the process set in motion, not the apparent "product") had always needed such an "aesthetic of casualness". However, Hans-Peter Feldmann is actually the artist who has most intensively and most intelligently investigated the various – few – types of images which the photographic and imaginative world knows. He is also numbered among those artists who have thrown the most light on the new relationship between the various visual media which at the end of the 20th century have increasingly dominated our perception of the world since television began competing with photography. "The Poster" by Hans-Peter Feldmann can also be read from this point of view. Feldmann never reverts to the familiar interpretation which characterises the history of media epochs as a sequence of photo, film and television technologies. For him, whose work springs from the quiet contemplation of several million private and press photographs over a period of thirty years, magazine photography is still an influential genre, "When it gets too quick for television the photos cut in", says Feldmann.

So the decision to show "Family Photos" on the billboards in Vienna is also a philosophical statement about the media: what will remain from this century are the millions and millions of anonymous photos which perhaps really constitute the art work of this epoch. It is a decision against advertising photography and also against television. In the end these anonymous photos appeal to us more than the perfect pictures coming out of the goggle-box. Hans-Peter Feldmann believes correctly that they are plainly and simply more honest (just as it is a very "honest" act on his part to display his personal family album to the population of Vienna).

The project of Hans-Peter Feldmann on the Vienna billboards is planned as an open and, in principal, unlimited activity. Anyone can contribute their own "family photos" to the poster series, which will be added to the posters after selection by the artist in accordance with technical possibilities. This intention of the artist already took effect during the preparation of the poster project at Austrian Airlines. After employees spontaneously offered to make available over 200 "family photos", Feldmann has already integrated some of them into the final design of the posters. What the Viennese public will see on the billboards is already a "time exposure" from the interactive process intended by the artist.

However, Hans-Peter Feldmann's most important concern is to convince as many people as possible, at least in Vienna, that they could be throwing away a lot of this century if they put their "family photos" in the dustbin or the paper recycling container. Or also: Just as we have accepted that photography is unspectacular, everybody is an artist. In this century Modernism has always circled around these thoughts.

(November 1994)