The Figuration of the Commonplace
by Thomas Wulffen

What's Left?
Not much, we might say at the end of this decade and this century. All systems - whether technical or ideological - are being integrated into a comprehensive whole. Alternative options are only possible to the extent that they stabilise the overall system. Any antagonisms become a saleable perfume (Contradiction by Calvin Klein). Art becomes an appendage of advertising in the tourist industry or dissolves in its own Bermuda triangle of service, entertainment and the theory of knowledge. "What is more fluid than water? Art - it's superfluous."1 The familiar boundaries between genres have cancelled each other out. A white cube becomes a club event. Art picks up where art leaves off, because photography is of the same value as painting. The Internet is a way of painting with different means, even though it pretends to be something quite different. But the present has always existed, although 'presence' is the motto of our time. The public media are doing their utmost to demolish the borderline between privacy and publicity. Yet all they do is move in such a way that the familiar dichotomy stops being perceived altogether. Dissidence only occurs on the edges, so that it is almost unnoticeable. It does not make itself known with any clarity, but mimics others to avoid being absorbed and to remain effective.

Middle of the Road
They don't pretend to be different from the others. What Stefan Banz shows on his videos are everyday stories which do not deny their private family background. The main characters are called by name: they are his own children - the characters who figure in his photographs. Whenever they stop short for a moment, an event is put at the centre of these videos. We only see an extract of the event, though it obviously has a beginning and an end. Yet the viewer knows that this beginning and this end are only part of another beginning and another end. The diachronic aspect of the videos distinguishes them from the synchronicity of a photograph. Synchronous exposure and lighting give each photograph its own specific artificiality, which a video could not have achieved without the artist's intervention. In 'The Transfiguration of the Commonplace' Arthur C. Danto writes: " the greater the degree of realism intended, the greater the need for external indicators that it is art and not reality, these becoming decreasingly necessary as the work itself becomes decreasingly realistic."2 In a video, there are very few "external indicators". The means used by the artist are repetition (loops), reversal, slow motion and the sound that goes with it and which is sometimes no more than a droning noise. The reverse conclusion is therefore quite rightly that realism was unintended. After all, realism is a 19th-century concept, and even 20th-century forms of realism refer back to it. We lead middle-of-the-road lives, surrounded by media images and sounds, which also means that we cannot perceive 'reality' without images (of images). Every single take of the videos is marked by the sort of images and sounds which we have experienced and stored before. Reality only comes about through an adjustment to these images, whether they are our own or whether they belong to others. As a concept it is no more than a form of shorthand for this procedure.

Right in Front
Stefan Banz's videos are marked by this difference between adjustment and concept. They play with the reality content which we can see but which we do not believe them to be capable of. The essential ingredient is indeed a familiar environment, which, in turn, points to its own environment. The apparent publicising of privacy, on the other hand, poses a question on a different level: What is the difference between public and private? In other words, where does ordinary life end and where does a family series begin? This issue remains ambivalent, and the decision is in the eye of the beholder. What we are faced with is some kind of mimicry which is effective and leads to the figuration of the commonplace.

1 Cf. the scene in Stefan Banz's Video What Is ... (No.11/1998) where his son Jonathan is sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of coffee and a sandwich. The table is laden with coloured test tubes, and Jonathan asks cheekily: "What is more fluid than water?" - a question he answers himself straight away: "Art. Because it's superfluous." The sequence is repeated in an endless loop by the artist, so that the statement becomes something of a curiosity or indeed a ritual.

2 Arthur C. Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace - A Philosophy of Art, London 1981, p. 24.