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© by Melanie Wiora 2005


Natura Medians – Wild Waters in Melanie Wioras work

Rolf Sachsse

This is what we see: Water – rearing up, foaming, splashing; in eruptions, fountains, waves and wild currents. All this is displayed in indefinable depths, yet powerful, and almost always against a dark sky and permeated by a dense fog. The water is presented in all different refractions, clear as day and awash with sea spray, almost every drop of it recognizable, yet blurred movements flow to the side. There can be no question that the artist Melanie Wiora, who studied painting, understands her artwork well as a photographer.

Large color images are presented in this new series by Melanie Wiora. As dramatic as the situation in each individual image appears, the positioning of the camera is still difficult to determine. Where exactly the waves foam, where the geysers spray, where the horizon of water, fog and clouds lies, Wiora does not tell us. What matters to her is both the power that the image creates, and the fragment of wild events which she photographed. Together, these priorities both follow a logic which – as in her earlier work – orients itself on the perception of images in general. A first indication is given by the choice of the title of this new series: Natura.

“I would like to suggest that we can better understand nature if we understand it as a cultural product subjugated by historical change,” writes the Hildeshim philosopher Tilman Borsche, and then goes on to address the dissolution of the concept of nature ever since the Renaissance. Throughout ancient times and the Christian-influenced Middle Ages, the term ‘nature’ was used to describe the divine nature of the individual. Today it is still heard in sayings such as “It is in his nature.” However, ever since man has become the object both of his own self-knowledge and of science, nature has come to mean the unknown, the other, the wild, the indefinite, but also the fascinating – both in the positive and negative sense. After working on the act of seeing and the human image in her impressive series up to now, Melanie Wiora places her new work at the interface between shock and surprise, between curiosity and rejection, and for this she has chosen the most appropriate medium: photography.

It is the first technical image medium to become second nature to us in our own information processing. There is no place on Earth we can go that we have not already seen in some media. When we remember something, it is difficult to distinguish between the real experience and the medial image. Both have been perceived in the real sense of the word. But a new problem has cropped up among these images, and that is the central issue in this series by Melanie Wiora: How does our own nature deal with the images of the unknown, the other and the natural world? Is it possible for us to recognize these as such? How do you embrace a picture of nature without having a real situation to remember? Melanie Wiora not only introduces a classic problem of perception of photography, but asks directly about the meaning and effect of visual art.

The philosopher Baruch Spinoza considered natura naturans and God to be identical, a nature which creates itself, this idea strongly contrasting with the scholastic natura naturata, the manmade nature-like things, as described by Martin Heidegger later. Had Melanie Wiora limited herself to the natura mediata – meaning the mere depiction of natural forms – her work would hardly be recognizable, much less describable, as art. But she has created the natura medians, which moves itself into the picture or which represents itself. She points her camera at the action and captures the image, but her art does not stop there. The resulting picture of the event or situation is merely raw material. In the classic work process it would be the sketch or study. In analog photography it would be the negative or slide, but not the final image, the appearance on paper in the exhibition and book. So the result is a natura medians, showing a picture of nature that may appear probable if we look at it, yet we also recognize it as nature that is created, produced, or shaped, namely as the art of Melanie Wiora.

After the photograph is before the photograph, the media theorist Hubertus von Amelunxen once wrote cryptically – and in the Natura pictures by Melanie Wiora one would be quite apt to agree with this statement. No photograph remains unchanged when it becomes a picture. Contrast and color adjustments, the choice of the printing process, determination of size, surface, framing – these are all measures with only one goal, and that is indeed the same before, during and after the photograph: a picture or a series of pictures. In this respect, Melanie Wiora aims at a specific result: the best picture.

In her photographic works Melanie Wiora uses a very specific color scale, one which at first glance may appear somewhat cool. Many of her pictures show an overcast, cloudy sky. The basic light corresponds to a rainy day in Western or Central Europe: it is bluish gray and direct sunlight rarely makes an appearance. All this holds true for the new pictures also, and yet they are different. For the first time color and contrast are not used as a narrative, but as elements of the composition. More than in any of the other series by Melanie Wiora, you first see here a carefully composed space, and only then do you begin to alternate between the vague recognition of a situation and the viewing of a composed space. It is nearly impossible for the observing eye to stop moving back and forth. Monochrome sensations stimulate the brain, and the search to determine the scale of the scene to solve the puzzle may cause the viewer to despair. But whatever you see, they are still pictures, even beautiful ones, and occasionally perhaps even eerily beautiful.

The colors are responsible for the chill felt by the viewer. No blue sky comes to lighten the viewer’s disposition. Dark clouds threaten, and often there are clouds and walls of fog blocking the view from the depths. Here and there areas of precise water formations appear, yet they are strictly delineated and impossible to locate in the depths of the image. These areas are often significantly brighter than the surrounding curtain of air, water, and fog. This movement within the image also serves a function of perception. The observation is thrown back into the picture itself. Thus, it can accept the picture as a surface, similar to the ideas of Cezanne, who viewed every picture as a piece of painted canvas and thus was a pioneer of abstract art. Therefore, it is good to view the pictures of Melanie Wiora from the perspective of abstract photography.

Snapping the pictures back into the photographic plane opens us up to the small sensations of which the pictures of the Natura series offer many: First, there are the many microstructures of spray and overlapping foaming waves which can be seen as informel persisting in front of the form. They lend the pictures a structure which is part and parcel of all abstract art. On the other hand, in small areas of the image it provides islands of realization: closed circles, bark-like bars, dark delineated squares. They are usually not recognized as separate forms, but provide the viewer with the necessary elements of interest to be moved by the image. Finally the path ends which first led to the picture and then back away from it, while looking at diagonal and horizontal space dividers formed by waves, spray and quiet zones of the water. These make up the actual image.

Nevertheless, formalism is not the primary concern of the artist Melanie Wiora. She begins her work with the great wonder of the knowing eye, then she seeks out the necessary techniques of implementation, and finally, one after another, quietly emerge a series of images that can release a multitude of associations on the one hand, but on the other hand develop such a large life of their own that they each could stand alone. They are technically generated images. They take a moment out of nature and give it to us viewers in highly developed forms. Finally, they stand for themselves; they are themselves – simply as images natura medians.


In "Natura", catalogue, Dr. Isabella Kreim (editor), Kunstverein Ingolstadt, Revolver Publishing, 2010
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