Wolfgang Staehle’s latest video installation builds on a tradition pioneered by Warhol
On September 11, 2001, I found myself on the streets of New York City, like everyone here, in a state of shock after witnessing the Twin Towers’ collapse. I roamed about in Chelsea and found myself at the doors of the Postmasters Gallery and had my first introduction to the work of Wolfgang Staehle.
In that exhibition, I was confronted with three panoramic projections of live video feeds displayed on the walls of the gallery. One of the images included the New York City skyline with a plume of dust and debris covering lower Manhattan. I recall staring silently at the images and feeling a profound sense of powerlessness. The gallery director and I both stood in silent witness. I turned and walked out of the gallery with that image fixed in my mind.
Wolfgang Staehle, weary of the regular channels within the art world founded www.thing.net in the early 1990s and became an early pioneer in using the Internet as an integral part of his work This site and web server has played host to other art world Web sites, as well as online forums for digital art.
Staehle’s work integrates web cams which capture images of architecture or pastoral landscapes which are then relayed to projectors within the gallery.
Staehle’s recent exhibition “2004” at the Postmaster’s Gallery is a quiet reprieve from the rhythms of urban living. Upon entering the gallery, once again panoramic images captured by Web cams updated every 10 seconds dominate the darkened space. In the first gallery midtown Manhattan viewed from the east river’s edge of Brooklyn dominates. Adjacent to this is a Frederic Church-inspired view of the rolling hills on the Hudson River Valley. In the back gallery is a stunning pre-recorded loop of Niagara Falls with full sound roaring into the space and serving as a vehicle to draw you into this awesome spectacle.
At the entrance, is another small monitor capturing images of the Grand Tetons mountain ridge from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This last piece is less compelling perhaps because the resolution of the image is low and pixilated and presented in a familiar format found on computer desktops everywhere. But the images in the main gallery have a meditative quality about them which resonates.
These mundane real time images stand conceptually on the shoulders of Andy Warhol’s 1964 film “Empire” in which Warhol captured eight hours of footage of the Empire State Building. In the 1999 exhibition “Net_Condition” at ZKM Center in Karlsruhe, Germany, Staehle revisited this subject with “Empire 24/7” in which the artist captured digital images of the iconic building resulting in a reinterpretation of Warhol’s attentive backwards gaze, turning the web cam into a vehicle for reverence.
Staehle’s “2004” evokes a degree of contemplative distance. The work has evolved picture making and turns the traditional static reproduction of the natural world around us into a dynamic reflection of it. With each new image presented every 10 seconds, the illusion of sublime escape is dashed and real time forces the viewer into the position of historical witness that carried with it some residue of anxiety perhaps stemming from the times we live in.