DeepTime

TOM FECHT

05.05.2017 – 08.04.2018

The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue with texts in English and German by Petra Kayser and Isobel Crombie as well as images by Claudia Terstappen, Greg Wallis, Andreas Fechner and Christian Voigt.

Exhibition view Museum DKM
Photo: Tom Fecht

In the exhibition TiefenZeit, the Museum DKM presented a selection of the large-format photo series by Tom Fecht (*1952) on 300 m2 (four exhibition rooms). Examples from the series Eclipse, Electric Cinema, Incertitude and Gravitational Fields and thematically related still lifes and portrait studies were shown. Fecht has been involved in night photography since 2008, drawing on his creative potential from planetary and metereological natural phenomena, including eclipses, moon phases and special gravity effects in the Interplay of tides, often under extreme light and weather conditions. The inspiration and starting point of his art is at the same time his studio in the Finistére, on an unspoilt coastal strip of the French Atlantic coast.

His works reveal phenomena that appear invisible behind the surfaces of the sky and the sea and make them magical in an unrepeatable way. Minimal wave movements and flashes are visible in their inexhaustible patterns and fractal refractions. At the same time, they allow themselves to be emotionally grasped and overwhelmed by a barely comprehensible expanse.

He succeeds in recording natural events that are difficult for the human eye to grasp through sophisticated techniques, processes developed over years of. As a result, Fecht’s works not only transcend the aesthetic and technical boundaries of landscape photography, but also lead to the magical charge of nature in the depths of time.

Tom Fecht studied cybernetics, art history and computer science in Germany and the USA. Parallel to his studies, he founded the Elefanten Press Gallery in Berlin in the mid-1970s, followed by the publishing house of the same name. His own artistic debut began with the participation in Jan Hoet’s Documenta IX in 1992, for which he initiated the project Mémoire nomade – Names and Stones in Memory of the Victims of AIDS in cooperation with the German AIDS Foundation, which runs until the year 2000. Against the background of his previous engineering career, Fecht turned to photography in the late 1990s. In his works, empathy, poetry and an unbroken interest in physical phenomena meet in exploring the technical boundaries of analogue, digital and scientific photography. Works by the artist are in the collection of the new NationalGallery Berlin and the MUCEM (Museum of The Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean) in Marseille; all photographic works of the artist since 2012 are unique.

Opening address at the exhibition DeepTime

The exhibition is entitled DeepTime, and I am actually performing a paradox right now by talking about the depths of time in a very short amount of time. This relates to the fact that time is persistently that what we do not have – an experience beautifully embedded in this collection. Still impressed by the wonderful guided tour through your museum, I want to stress this one point in advance – immediately after this experience, I am not surprised at all that you are fascinated by the work of Tom Fecht.

The phrase »I don’t have time« is as much nonsense as the phrase »I have time«. Time cannot be possessed. On the contrary, time possesses us, time uses us, just as it does all other objects in existence. Thus time exposes the way it is running, ticking, rumbling, and performing its work above and underground. Time consumes us as a living, constantly nascent material. This should be reason enough for modesty, all the more so in a world which is clocked extremely tight, where the conscious experience of the present, of time expanding within the now – e.g. in aesthetic pleasure – has become a luxury.

The paleontologist and biologist Stephen J. Gould[1]– whom I admired greatly – among others, coined the term deep time in the second half of the 20th century. He had an impressive manner of explaining the meaning of deep time using a parable: Imagine that anything we are able to perceive as the world, this pluriverse around us, equals the volume of our individual bodies. Now stretch out your right hand, take a nail file in your left, and brush once across the nail-tip of your middle right finger. What is crumbling there, that tiny speck of white dust, equals our significance within the entire concept of the universe.

Deep time – modesty, the luxury to sensually grasp the depth of time – brings us somehow down to our knees. It is to be confronted with a timely dimension that stretches far beyond our own existence, a dimension we are therefore unable to fully grasp, even if we learn how to measure this »it«. In this sense, deep time – and this also plays an important role in Tom Fecht’s work – is something I will refer to as a Denkding, a thinking figure, a crutch to our imagination. It helps us to realize that this world is substantially more than we ourselves are able to represent as thumblings in it.

But, as Tom Fecht’s work also makes very clear, deep time is an aesthetic matter, a profound aesthetic experience. In a very unique manner, his work implements what constitutes, in my opinion, the most important dimension of art: to remain or to become sensitive to the very other – to that which we persistently cannot grasp. His Incertitudes, for example, which you will soon see in this exhibition, are the strongest expression of this gesture to me. To once again toy with Gould’s parable: The photon-dust of the stars falling down from the cosmos, the innumerable particles of light, inscribed on the photographic negative during hours of work, originate from a time in the past we may only measure within certain limits and envision with our imagination at best. In its actual depth, the chronologic time we are able to experience has a tendency to grow beyond itself. It is inclined towards infinity, a duration reaching far beyond our earthly existence, which we are therefore unable to witness. The ancient Greeks had a beautiful term to describe this, namely Aion. Aion was the youngest offspring of Chronos, the Greek personification of linear time, who – and obviously not only in Francisco Goya’s[2] picture – devoured his own children, driven by a fear of losing his place as a ruler over their human lifespan, a fear of experiencing the mercilessness of time running irreversibly.

The artist may sensitize us to Aion – to this mode of time, which we cannot witness directly, as it is so much grander than us – by pushing the deep time dimension within the artificial image experimentally over the edge. Without technological prosthesis (this constitutes the paradox in these works), the invisible cannot be rendered visible. In Fecht’s case, photographic technology helps us recognize something otherwise inaccessible to the naked human eye.

Deep time operates as a seismograph, manifesting in verticality. Its magical and destructive potential inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous film, familiar to each of you. Vertigo[3] – madness objectified in the protagonist’s whirl of hair. Tom Fecht’s Star Pointer, which you may experience as the star of tonight’s exhibition, the black and white frozen image of a flamenco dancer,[4] connecting heaven and earth within the micro-universe of her straight posture, produces an experience of verticality in the sudden event of dance. The elegantly outstretched spine of the dancer connects her left hand, which points above to the stars, with her right, pointing down to earth behind her back.

In an intuitively astute curatorial move, this picture, which you will see immediately at the vanishing point when walking up to the rooms containing Tom Fecht’s images, forms a quasi spatial dialogue with two horizontally stretched, large-scale photographs dedicated to the enormous fascination of natural electricity in lighting bolts. Tom Fecht calls them Electric Cinema. And they do, in fact, contain drama. For the flamenco dancer’s gesture – this connection of one hand to the stars, to the cosmic, the other to the ground – is nothing but an embodiment or allegory pointing to the lightning bolt’s tremendous discharge. The dancer’s body becomes a sculpture of energy in this picture. We encounter a similar experience in Electric Cinema, which somehow transmit their energetic charge onto us. During the short instant of lightning – an extreme opposite to the concept of deep time (even though lightning roots in the depth of time) – the microcosm of our planet and the macrocosm of the pluriverse are short-circuited in the exact moment of discharge.

A minimal contact can have enormous consequences, as all of us may know from everyday routines. It can be productive and destructive. A horrendous, sudden event, which also generates interplay of broad horizontality with vertical depth, as in Fecht’s images. For this infinitesimal moment, the lightning bolt opens up the horizon to a brief moment of perception. The vertical and the horizontal cross each other in a lightning’s flash.

In Fecht’s large-format Triptych TIME, the horizon has been pushed up to the margin of the photographic print like a small boundary to the vast, restless, fluid body of the sea. This is earthly time, the time of our planet, determined by the oceanic, like the Atlantic Sea Fecht is so fond of portraying. Mare externum, the open and at the same time deeply opaque ocean, confronts us like a black mirror in this triptych. Of course, we see the contraction of this huge organ of the sea, but at the same time, it appears like a mirror, inviting us to play our infinite game of recognition, delusion and misjudgment. These are powerful, meaningful images.

It is a lucky construction that the curators decided for a completely different image to start the exhibition. I am talking about Le Corbusier’s[5] glasses, a very particular selection from my point of view, a miniature-spectacle forming a stark contrast to the following images, for instance, with the sequence of seascapes in the TIME triptych; however, this photograph is also closely connected to the others, as the dark glasses of the famous Bauhaus architect – placed against the light on a white background – cast a delicate shadow, and this shadow forms the figure of infinity. It’s a wonderful serendipity and so typical of Tom Fecht’s work. His artistic oeuvre is not defined by futile search, but lucky findings, which, of course, presuppose an incredibly high amount of patience and a porosity of perception in relation to the other – that is his signature. If I translate this into my language and perception: the shadow of Le Corbusier’s glasses writes infinity in a manner which refers to another figure, familiar to those of you who are engaged with alchemy. I am thinking of the Ouroborus figure, a double-snake, biting its own tail, devouring itself to create new life. This has been the great inspiration to mathematicians of the 17th century, leading to the symbol of infinity, as we know it today, the double circle coupling into an infinite movement ∞.

This is a beautiful, quiet hint, a small sensation in this exhibition, to me, since it signifies a reference to the practice of alchemy, an approach that Tom Fecht has not only practiced throughout his work, but which he incorporates in the true sense of the word. For the way he experimentally conducts research and fabricates images in his laboratory in Brittany, Tom Fecht can rightfully be referred to as a modern day alchemist of photography.

Deep time – I want to finish with this thought, which is completely unprepared since I was only able to formulate it today. Deep time is a term that not only captures Tom Fecht’s exhibition, it can also stand in excellently for this museum. This museum is home to a tremendous abundance of concretized time from many, many centuries and, even more phenomenally, when we really descend deeply into time, the horizon of events extends. By immersing ourselves into deep time, our cultural experience becomes broadened and enriched; we do not remain in one singular culture, namely our own. It is wonderful to see and feel Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Iranian traditions amongst idiosyncratic German avant-garde artists – to see all kinds of cultures, schools of thought, and artistic varieties in dialogue with each other. Congratulations on this successful aleatoric encounter, to this wonderful house, but tonight mostly congratulations to Tom Fecht and this phenomenal exhibition of his art. I wish you lots of pleasure and a bit of deep time experience.

Siegfried Zielinski

[1] Paleontologist, geologist and evolutionary biologist, *1941 in New York (US); †2002 ibid.
[2] Painter, *1746 in Fuendetodos (ES), †1828 in Bordeaux (FR)
[3] Vertigo, Movie by Alfred Hitchcock, 1958 (USA)
[4] Ana Fernández Molina (Ana Parilla), *1953 in Jerez de la Frontera (Cádiz) (ES), †2004 in Madrid (ES)
[5] Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, Swiss-French Architect, *1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds (FR), † 1965 in Roqubrune-Cap-Martin (FR)

Gravity Fields of Stardust

Fin de la terre – at the edge of the world, where the dark blinking cosmos plummets straight down onto the black foam of the deep Atlantic sea, Tom Fecht has found his place. In the spirit of Jean Paul’s escapist Giannozzo, who moves like a bird of paradise alongside weather and clouds, the artist Fecht anchors in the air of nature’s planetary and meteorological phenomena.

Since 2008, he has dedicated himself to night photography in its most advanced modes of technology, distilling a unique poetic essence from the patient long time observation of light phenomena, such as solar eclipses and lunar phases, the movements of the stars and the sea. Standing in front of the wall-sized prints of his series Eclipse, Electric Cinema, and Gravity Fields, the spectator mutates into an awestruck something with a pounding heart.

His compositions of time and light also inspire comparisons to important figures in art history. Hieronymus Bosch, for e.g,. whose three-winged altarpiece The Garden of Delights confronted the medieval spectator with his future in the heavenly Garden of Eden or in hell. Permeated by alchemy, the painter invents the universe as a sphere of glass with the cosmos arching above the earth and nothing but darkness beneath. Thus the artist claims, in Christian understanding, the viewpoint of the divine creator, who separates light from darkness, creating land and sea out of this cosmos.

In 2017, an artist faces once more this great mystery of human existence and to capture it in his images. The gesture of bowing in front of sublime nature, which Caspar David Friedrich coined incomparably in his romantic views on natural beauty and the forces of nature, still imagines humans as “flesh striving back to the stars.” Tom Fecht, however, depicts the future of earth for us, when the becoming and vanishing of matter will define a pace beyond any human trace. The confrontation of light and natural phenomena also defines the work of William Turner and Alfred Sisley. But in contrast to Tom Fecht, their art moves within the Christian tradition, still taking delight in the admiration of a nature attributed to God.

Tom Fecht is not just a photographer, but can be counted among alchemists. On one hand, he searches for magic, capturing the moment of unique truth when a lightning bolt strikes, travelling even to Ireland and the south of Italy to succeed. On the other hand, with his intricate visual apparatuses, he captures an evolutionary dynamic transcending the time of humanity. He takes on the challenge of underlining the overpowering fragility of human existence, giving a face (Gestalt) to the larger picture of the universe. He is aware of his failure, which he shares with other great minds, among them Ludwig Hohl, who demands to know: “Did anyone ever get the larger picture first, and only then the details? I mean a wholeness, that really is serious?” Fecht is »failing terrifically«, his touching light paintings bear witness to a passion reaching for the stars. This manifests in the residual light of a solar eclipse on the tips of waves at sea in his Eclipse series or a seascape lending its backdrop to a performance of incredibly beautiful lightning bolts in Electric Cinema, a sequence of electro-sculptures for a second. And as if the moon has been removed from a different dimension, it reflects the light of an absent sun. Not more, not less .

The changing of the tides, the incessant rising and receding of water and the smallest waves, appear as a chaotic teaming of lights on the large scale photographs of the diptych Gravitational Pull. These Fecht-works recall paragons from the laboratory of Otto Steinert and his student Detlev Orlopp. Orlopp’s compressed surfaces of water are disturbingly similar to his images of rocks. Here a historic photographic oeuvre connects with Tom Fecht’s contemporary works, elegies on humans as stardust.

The unique focus of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s seascape photography is the horizon line, dividing or connecting heaven and sea, or an opening into zones of the great mystery behind. Tom Fecht’s standpoint in the very middle of the water masses indicates that he understands himself as part of the surrounding nature.

Irmgard Bernrieder

Works in the exhibition

Room 1
Prologue (Showcase):

Anonymous Artist

Prehistoric hand imprint (presumably female), ca. 37.300 BCE
Red ochre pigments on granite, El Castillo Cave (ES)
Photo-Repro on silver gelatin, 25.5 x 20.5 cm
Private collection Tom Fecht, Berlin

James Nasmyth, James Carpenter
The Moon considered as a planet, a world, a satellite, published in 1885
Collection Stiftung DKM, Duisburg

Neil Armstrong
First Footprint on the Moon, 20.07.1969
J.F. Kennedy Space Center, Cap Canaveral (USA)
NASA – Vintage print on silver gelatin, 25.5 x 20.5 cm
Private collection Tom Fecht, Berlin

Exhibited artworks by Tom Fecht

Infinity, 2012
Still-Life-Portrait Le Corbusier
Unique C-print, 106 x 146 cm (framed)
(Courtesy Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris)

Room 2:

Electric Cinema VII, 2008
Piezo-Pigment / Inkjet on 100% Cotton
Unique print 91 x 233 cm (framed)

Electric Cinema VIII, 2008
Piezo-Pigment / Inkjet on 100% Cotton
Unique print 91 x 233 cm (framed)

TIME, Triptychon 2014
Eclipse # 8088, 2014 (AP)
Eclipse # 8089, 2014 (AP)
Eclipse # 8090, 2014 (AP)
3 Unique C-prints, 185 x 300 cm each (framed)

INCERTITUDE # 32001, 2016
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper / 3200 ISO
Unique print, 126 x 211 cm (framed)

INCERTITUDE # 4001, 2016
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper / 400 ISO
Unique print, 126 x 211 cm (framed)

Tide # 334, 2011/2017
Piezo-Pigment / Inkjet 30 x 20 cm on Hahnemuehle 300gm²
Edition 1/12, 43 x 33 cm (framed)

Tide # 336, 2011/2017
Piezo-Pigment / Inkjet 30 x 20 cm on Hahnemuehle 300gm²
Edition 1/12, 43 x 33 cm (framed)

Eclipse # 8031, 2014/2017
C-print / Unique print, 185 x 300 cm (framed)

Room 3

Star Pointer, 1999
Portrait Ana Parrilla (Flamenco Dancer 1943–2004)
Silver gelatin print on baryta paper 2016, 127 x 100 cm (framed)

Basics, 1997
Contact print from the original negative 8’’x10’’ on silver gelatin
Baryta paper 25 x 15 cm,
Edition 7/10, 40 x 30 cm (framed)

Room 4

Gravitational Pull (Diptych), 2017
Homage to Barnett Newman
Left: Day before One (Gravitational Pull # 8475), 2016
Right: Day One (Gravitational Pull # 8568), 2017
Unique C-prints, 305 x 125 cm

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