“The only true voyage … would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes ... ”1 Marcel Proust
We perceive the world around us primarily with our eyes, each of us doing so in our own unique way. Perception is a complex process, during which we filter what we have perceived through our experiences and memories and compare it to the apparently realistic picture of the world as is provided by the medium of photography. Today, even though experts are needed to detect digital manipulation of images, we nevertheless know that this medium is subjective to the same extent. Melanie Wiora seeks to visualise this interface between a personal inner view and a supposedly objective one in her photographic and cinematic works.
In this vein, Wiora’s photo series Eyescapes shows images of different landscapes reflected in the eye of the artist. By enhancing the contrast, the landscapes are made visible, and the motifs merge with the shape and colour of her iris and pupil. The veiled lustre that characterises the shots results from the moist surface of her eye. The distortion and curvature of the landscapes are due to the convex shape of the eye, and the coarseness is a result of the extreme magnification. Being privy to this intimate view, one seems to become lost not only in Wiora’s eye, but also in the depth of the landscape motif itself. At the top of the image the lashes of the artist protrude into the picture like thorns. They frame each image like a curtain that allows us to look upon the stage where the scene is being played. We see the world through her eyes.
The images from Eyescapes demand an inquiry into the definition of the relationship between the landscape and its perception. In his text “Why landscape?” from 1996, the art historian Andreas Bee focused his thoughts on the following insight: “In the landscape a section of nature is perceived aesthetically by an observer. Thus, the origin of the landscape is not nature, but the sensuously comprehending subject.”2 Picking out a section of nature and treating it as the model does not necessarily create a landscape. This is created only by the epistemological act of perception. Our perception is therefore the result of our personal, selective view and of our cultural background. Wiora visualises this by putting both the eye and the landscape together in one picture and thus appears to reveal her own view or way of seeing.
The Eyescapes are portraits in the broadest sense. In portraits, in addition to presenting the physical resemblance to the living original, the intention generally consists of bringing out the essence or the personality of the portrayed person. Because human facial expressions are so important, the portrait usually shows the person’s face. However, in these “self-portraits” Wiora concentrates on only a tiny section of her face. The viewer’s subjective level of perception is connected to the supposedly objective reality of the landscape. Thus, the artist separates herself from the documentary nature of photography and shows instead apparently personal images of reality – her landscapes.
Melanie Wiora’s fascination with landscapes continues in her series Natura. In it she focuses on landscapes in moments of transition, such as bubbling bodies of water or fog draping mountain ranges. The photographs contain an extraordinarily inherent power and drama. The artist explains, “I try to confront the familiar with images that go beyond a representation of the external appearance. My intention is to illustrate the character and essence of what is being represented, the nature of nature.” She succeeds by not simply photographing natural forms but by transforming and optimising them on the computer so that the essence of nature is even more recognisable. Through the process of digitally altered colours and contrast curves, the photographs appear predominantly cold and gloomy, and abstract as a result of the motifs’ reduction and a lack of their sense of scale. The images create a feeling of uncertainty in the viewer regarding what he actually sees. We are forced to look closely and still it remains unclear as to what physical state nature is in, whether we are dealing with fog, water, rock or ice, and where the sky begins and the earth ends. There is no mistaking that the artist studied painting at the beginning of her career. Images such as Natura II or Natura XXI remind us of Gerhard Richter’s seascapes from the 1970s. Here, too, the horizon lines are not clearly defined. In his Seestück, 1975  the water and sky nearly merge into one another. The perceived sensation of abstraction is increased by the fragmentary nature of the depicted subject and the indeterminate location.
This could be called a sort of formalism; however, with Wiora it is only a means to an end in order to create images that can release many possible associations in the viewer. One is drawn into atmospheric scenarios while a world opens up that sometimes appears surrealistic.
This also applies to Wiora’s most recent video works, Eruptions (2014) and Rise and Fall (2015). The former shows a mud volcano which slowly becomes visible as the mist of escaping vapours begins to clear. In the second video you can see a close-up of the eruption of a geyser. The artist filmed the video with a special high-speed camera so that the movements can be shown in extreme slow motion, making visible to the viewer even the most minute details. The images are accompanied by the sound of rushing water, the flow of the blood stream and the sounds of human breathing. The primordial power and rhythm of nature are intensified by adding sounds from inside the human body. Man and nature come together in a living organism, join in symbiosis. The merging of structures and forms is reflected more clearly in the moving pictures than in the photographs. It displays continuous change from one state to the next rather than intermediate stages. In Eruptions wild, bubbling water mingles with fog that flows from all directions. In Rise and Fall the water moves in opposite directions, both ascending and descending. Wiora makes corrections in colour and contrast during post-production here as well to intensify the experience of nature. The final colour spectrum resembles that of the photographs in Natura. The colour palette in Eruptions moves within a broad range of shades of blue. Rise and Fall begins in shades of dark grey and blue, opens up at the eruption into a spectrum of turquoise which then merges into a grey colouring. Taking the individual video frames for themselves, they are similar in content to the abstract nature of the photographs. The drops take on seemingly crystalline forms or are reminiscent of splashes of paint.
Melanie Wiora’s harsh, dynamic images present us with the primal forces of nature, which are subject to permanent change of growth and decay. In contrast to the landscape, nature is regarded as being independent of any subject who may be there. Nature refers to the entire “natural” segment of phenomena. We are a part of nature, just as the landscape is, in a certain way, part of nature or rather an independent section of the larger context of nature. The photographs in the Natura series as well as Wiora’s video works are thus, in a figurative sense, an image of humanity, by becoming an expression of the importance of one’s self-perception.
In all the works seen here in Travelling Beyond Melanie Wiora takes us on a journey that goes beyond our everyday experience and also expands our perception. Her pictures of landscapes are connotative complexes of symbols that offer room for interpretation, while never denying their autonomy. Due to their idiosyncratic aesthetics, a process of transformation towards unique visual worlds takes place, which the viewers are actively involved in with their spirit and imagination.
1 Proust, Marcel. “The Captive.” In Search of Lost Time, Vol. V. Trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, Revised by D.J. Enright. Modern Library ed. New York, Random House: 1993, p. 343.
2 Bee, Andreas, “Warum Landschaft?” In: Andreas Bee and Martin Stather (eds.): Landvermesser – Landschaftsdarstellungen in der zeitgenössischen Kunst, (Exhibition catalogue, Mannheimer Kunstverein, 1996), Heidelberg: Verlag das Wunderhorn, 1996. p.16.
In "Travelling Beyond", Katalog, Paul Kottmann (Editor), Kunstverein Eislingen, 2015
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
Franziska Nori and Christiane Feser
One of the central themes of Melanie Wiora’s work is the relationship between the mental world and the possibility of its photographic representation. The artist emblematically highlights the connection between reality, image and the eye of the beholder, elements whose mutual relationships determine the nature of the photograph.
In the photographs of the Eyescapes series we see simple subjects first of all: a city skyline, houses, trees and streets. These scenarios are delimited in the upper part of the image by a rounded horizon with no sharply defined lines. This is in fact the close-up image of an eye that fills up the photographic field with the environment reflected in its convex iris. Melanie Wiora uses a digital camera to photograph her own eye and then processes the photograph by computer to make the effects of reflection more clearly recognizable.
Eyescapes, the title of the series, alludes to the genre of landscape painting. By replacing “land” with “eye”, the artist significantly suggests the idea of the iris as canvas and the subjective landscape of the eye. The extreme close-up photographs of the iris show an image of the world reflected in the eye of the beholder, which is the photograph itself in this case. We thus see what Melanie Wiora sees and the images become a metaphor of the essence of photography: not an authentic representation of the world but a reproduction of what the photographer wants to show us, her specific way of looking at reality. Finally, as the artist herself recalls, the second and crucial element influencing the content and message of photograph is the observer: “I’m interested in creating pictures which provide viewers with insights. Not confined purely to visual perception, the pictures also rouse the imagination and memories.”
Franziska Nori (project director CCCS), Christiane Feser, published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition "Manipulating Reality - How Images redefine the World", 2009, Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina, Palazzo Strozzi, Florence
The camera approaches, zooming in so close to the body that a solitary eye ultimately remains visible. The eye belongs to the photographer and reflects the rest of the world for us. Using a digital camera, Melanie Wiora lines up her own eye in her sights. It is near enough to render visible the images reflected by its outer membrane. Instead of portraying the rest of the world in detail, however, the eye's colours and contours resolve the reflections to an extent where only fragments remain at the surface. Other components appear to recede into the depths and send back impressions.
Involuntarily, the beholder attempts to enhance and define the images more sharply with personal associations in order to translate them into new cognitive structures: "I'm interested in creating pictures which provide viewers with insights. Not confined purely to visual perception, the pictures also rouse the imagination and memories", says Melanie Wiora. She selects simple titles for her photographs, such as Houses, Path, Bridge, By the Water and In the Mountains. Instead of offering viewers abridged accounts of scenes, these expressions focus attention on visual content and trigger processes of inspection and interpretation.
The themes are familiar, yet the context so indefinite so as to prompt more detailed recall: A forked tree with a row of tall trees in the background, a narrow stony brook between gently rolling hillocks, a steep staircase, a house at the top left? The eye serves as a window, not always clearly indicating whether the aperture is directed inwards or outwards. The eyelashes sweeping in from the upper edge of the picture open up the multi-layered visual space, creating an interplay between both spheres of reality.
The idea that photography provides a documentary record of material being is negated by the photographs from the start. Melanie Wiora uses photography in conjunction with her own resources, perspective selections and computer-aided post-processing techniques to result in transformations which no longer permit an unmistakable construal of vision and reality. Various image and depth layers slide across each other on the eye's thin membrane. Although the individual image sources are identifiable, their respective contributions to the overall picture cannot be clearly described.
Supplemented and accompanied by personal pictures and ideas, the photographs are lent a tangible, subjective character far exceeding the scope of their determinate, visual substance.
Melanie Wiora leads viewers to the outer reaches of optical sensory perception which continue to unfold and become sharper the more closely they are observed. All told, a scrutiny and evaluation of Melanie Wiora's photographs reveal that, in the beginning, the world is in the eye of the beholder.
In "Eyescapes", catalogue, Franz Dudenhöffer (editor), Kunstverein Speyer, Bild & Kunst, 2003
My video installation Eyescapes - By the Water shows three projections of a river landscape. The pictures are reflections on my eye that I filmed while looking into the landscape. The landscape as well as the lashes and the lids are mirrored. The colours of the iris and the pupil partially overlap the scenery. In effect, the installation shows views into a familiar, yet changed world.
The three video projections consist of a calm sequence, in which the eye focuses on a tree. The following sequence shows a rotary motion in which the images of the surrounding landscape pass through the surface of the eye. The eye moves slowly upward into the sky. When the eye scanning the landscape seizes the fork of the tree the direction of the movement changes. The eye lowers down to the river scenery again. The cycle is repeated.
The video projections are temporally shifted. In effect the landscape seems to move from left to right. The impression of rotation becomes intensified. The space created by the three projections is developing a strong rhythm of calm and movement.