The other side of the mountains. Text by Francisco Carpio included in the catalog of the exhibition Life in motion, by Christian Voigt

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAINS

 

“Some said that there had been cities of dreams/ on the other side of the mountains. / They didn’t say if they were suspended in the air, submerged in the lagoons/ or lost in the heart of the forest.”  Álvaro Cunqueiro

 

These words, from one of the most individual voices of our contemporary literature, transport us directly to that human ability, so magical and pantheistic, of flying and dreaming beyond the walls of our reality. There will surely always exist a place, a city, a heart or a dream to discover on the other side of the mountains…Perhaps travelling is that.

 

Forever on the path

What it is, without a doubt, is to chart—and above all, fix—a limit in the time and space that surrounds us, like a span to send us far from the ordinary, creating a different framework, with individual meaning. Travelling is to be, perhaps, forever on the road—as Jack Kerouac and his companions of the Beat Generation knew well.

Travelling is always necessary. One travels inside and outside. By the paths forked by the mind, dreams, vision, emotions, or by the places that we transverse with the truth of our feet—as Kavafis has already said—the important thing about a trip is not arriving at any particular destination, but the journey itself, the experience lived during the passage. “Never forget Ithaca./ but do not rush the journey./ It is better that it last for many years / and when, in your old age, you arrive on the island/ how much you will have gained on the way…”

It is an ethical, aesthetic, artistic, and vital challenge. And it is within these ethics—and these aesthetics—that numerous artists have enriched and broadened their initial inquiry, by incorporating new spaces, borders, countries, and territories; they have crossed borders and frontiers, real customs, but there are also others who have journeyed through the dynamic stillness of immobile travelling. They have done so in order to explore the new, borderless geography that portrays our Planet Earth and its restless reflection, our Planet Art.

I am sure that this is also Christian Voigt’s desire and drive. His photographs are turned into emulsified records of a personal and organic logbook, which is fed gradually and empirically by those spaces, those countries, those territories. His is the look of a traveling photographer, but to a certain degree it is—let us be clear from the start—that of a simple travelling photographer. In a time like ours, so global and so in need of mirrors to our identity, travelling is not what it used to be, when the first travellers of the Grand Tour started their personal and universal journey. Today’s equivalent to the 19th-century traveller is, sadly, the tourist; a completely spurious version, or, at the very least, a weak shadow of what it was to tread the geography of the world and to tread the second geography of the experiences that this generated.  Nonetheless, fortunately, the need to travel has not disappeared.

 

The watermark of oneself

Let us be, therefore, optimistic and think that, with a spirit not that different from the past’s romantic travellers, there continue to be true hunters of life, like Voigt, these who explore a double terrain, one which makes up the world, and the one which defines their human adventure. And that life is represented in their works, visual translations of a continuously moving flow, snapshots of an experience which unfolds on the photo papers, fragments of the memory which the eye of emotion has seen through the eye of the camera. Life in motion.

This way, far from being any merely documentary pursuit, our photographer deals with the places visited—and the people who live there—establishing a direct and sincere dialogue, transferring onto his works vivid perceptions and emotions, and the sensations and desires felt at every moment. This leads us, without a doubt, to highlight what is one of the most referential aspects of his creative identity: the certainty that in each and every one of his photographs one can perceive his own presence, even in those where it seems as if his main objective was only to reflect a natural or human beauty; a subtle, yet plausible presence, secluded yet traceable, printed as if it were his own watermark.

 

A perfect rhyme

If we are going to speak of travelling, we cannot, in any way, stop remembering its perfect rhyme: the landscape. Another of the factors which define his photographs. (Re)presenting landscapes has found new treatments and intentions, transcending the strictly documentary and turning it into one of the greatest and most epic topics of contemporary photography. A new photographic look at landscape, which allows for new visions, shares space with the more traditional scenic, romantic, exotic, or sublime representations. At the same time, it introduces a dimension of personal experience which individualizes the typical and archetypical idea of representing a geographical space, in order to make it into a more flexible, expanded, and, above all, experienced perception.

This genealogy of photographs, - to which belongs Christian Voigt in his own right-, is what turns his images into reflective gazes, through which human beings connect with the spaces we live in and transform. A desire that I am sure he maintains in constant receptive state, walking—together with the tips of his pupils and the worn-out soles of his shoes—in a sort of creative drifting which allows him to connect the mental state to the physical one.

It is then when that rare epiphany is produced, in which the—good—photographer, facing his subject, is capable of seeing beyond the simple gaze of a viewer. Thus, some rundown buildings in Burma, the wailing of foam and water of on some waterfalls in Laos, the petrified memory of what were once temples full of life in Cambodia, the lit-up anthill that is Saigon at night, the cold stillness of a Chinese pagoda or the bang of life on the reflection of the Nile, the beauty of spilt silk on Venetian floor, or even the theatre of blood of a butcher’s market in Bhutan, all of these and more are aligned as if by magic before the viewfinder of his mind, and that of his camera; this allows him to capture the desired image, not only optically, but also artistically and humanly.

The landscape, as represented by these photographs, is not the physical space that we find ourselves in; rather it is the result of an aesthetic experience in which nature and culture fuse. The gaze of a photographer turns it into another reality, into an authentic, and emotional, geo(photo)graphy.

 

Human geography

One the other hand, his photographs- as cultural creations- do not cease to have a constructive character. It is well known that the concept of landscapes is a construct, a mental formulation which we carry out through ‘what is seen’ when contemplating a territory, a country. The landscape is not, then, solely within the ‘real’ and physical ambits of nature, it is also the result of the intervention that history, which is to say man, has worked upon it. Because that is what his landscapes in essence are: not only representations of nature, but also of the mark which mankind has left upon it in the form of architecture, buildings, cities, and monuments. Geography yes, but perhaps, above all, human geography.

Likewise, the colossal magnitude—both physical and emotional—of the natural and human scenes which he captures with his photographic images, together with the no less impressive amplitude and scale of the chosen formats, leads me to connect his works with the concept of the sublime. “The sublime” —Kant tells us in his Critique of Judgment—“is not contained in any object of nature, only in our minds, since we can make ourselves aware of our superiority with respect to the nature outside of ourselves provided that we have done so with respect to our nature inside…”

This idea-impulse of the sublime, which has, since the end of the 18th century and the rise of Romanticism, pushed so many artists to begin the long journey in search through, by, for, and in nature, is well represented in these pieces. Landscapes that invite us to establish an attractive and complex dialogue between the lit world (the real) and the burnt world (the imagined). 

Another explorer of the sublime, Gaspar David Friedrich—incidentally, a compatriot of Christian Voigt, which situates him de facto within this very Germanic aesthetic tradition—also said: “A painter should not only paint that which is before him, but also that which is inside of him.” And that is what I believe to be the essence of these photographs: an introspective and dual portrait of what Voigt sees when contemplating the scenes, but also what he ‘sees’ inside of himself.

 

Francisco Carpio

 

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