Anita Beckers

Sonja Braas

11 May - 06 Jul 2006

Sonja Braas
The Quiet of Dissolution
May 11 – July 6, 2006

As a premiere we will present the new series of photography „The Quiet of Dissolution“ by SONJA BRAAS.
Natural disasters per definition only exist because of human presence. Destructive forces are essential for nature\'s development; its existence is based and dependent on sometimes catastrophic, sudden changes. It is only when these necessary natural phenomena lead to the destruction of human life and environment that they are defined as natural or cultural catastrophes. Not only did the interpretation of natural disasters change with the advancement of science and technology but science, technology and philosophy also changed through natural disasters 1675 the local priesthood still expected Judgement Day to be near after Christiania was hit by an earthquake; 1755 after the Lisbon earthquake Kant already formulated a theory about the origin of earthquakes, one of the first systematic attempts to attribute these to natural causes. The basis for geography and seismology was set, religious convictions like those of the Theodicy were questioned and philosophical directions like the Enlightenment were influenced. According to Adorno the Lisbon earthquake transformed European culture and philosophy. Natural catastrophes have cultural and political consequences, can lead to the creation of national identity as in the case of the flood in East Germany by solidarising with the victims or aggravate and highlight social inequities as it happened after hurricane Katherina in New Orleans.
The general interest in nature is focused on a greater efficiency in its utilization and control. This perception of nature as a controllable entity leads to an increase of human influence to the point where control achieves the opposite -the partial or complete loss of it, to the point of the anthropogenic or environmental disaster. Causal connexions become more complex, as there is an immediate correlation between culture and nature. The transition between natural and environmental disasters is fluent; drought, floods and storms are not new phenomena; only their characteristics have changed. The fascination evoked by these symptoms is proportional to the damage caused, and is indicative for the way we perceive nature, ourselves and the place of science; about what both excites and horrifies us. Of particular importance are the links between nature\'s catastrophes and man made boundaries. Every society puts up clear boundaries, borders or categorization to define itself: to define and separate the normal from the abnormal, edible from inedible, clean from dirty. We are alternatively fascinated, horrified or excited by the breakdown of these borders and their inherent structure and security and by the possibility of contact with what is "Other", with what is on the other side of our orderly world and out of our control. Overall, culture becomes in many ways a symbol of control over nature - nature becomes its Other, against which society, technology and science are to protect us.
The transition of the perception and reverence of nature as a sublime power to a feared, since destructive one is subjective and dependent on whether it is based on a voluntary and temporary experience like that of disaster tourists or television viewers or an exposure that is forced as well as unpredictable in its duration and consequence, as is the case for the victims of such disasters. Unless directly affected one becomes a detached spectator, enjoying the fascination of nature’s spectacle and the shudder created by, for example, the repeated presentation of a seemingly all-devouring wave. Media serve this large fascination for earthquakes, fires, floods and storms; natural catastrophes and their consequences turn into entertainment in films and television. The suggestion of omnipresence inherent in all media coverage, demands ways to depict the elusive, unforeseen catastrophe, which by its nature is unpredictable and thus leads to the reoccurring absence of media at the moment of disaster. Authenticity which is subsequently also missing from the coverage is pretended through the constant and repetitive use of amateur footage or sometimes by a complete lack of descriptive imagery as in the case of earthquakes, when the recording of the jerky movement of surveillance cameras are meant to document the event. These images do not really serve as information, they are too limited temporally and locally, but evoke emotions that range from voyeuristic horror to deep felt solidarity with the victims of these disasters. The human suffering, death and destruction caused by nature are of greater interest to the media and the viewer than the misery caused by war or other man made disasters. It allows for dramatic scenes of human courage against the backdrop of cataclysmic destruction by earthquakes, tornadoes and floods, the confirmation of the final victory of man over nature, culture over chaos. Just as fast and intensively as the coverage begins it ends - until the next time.
The work The Quiet of Dissolution deals with the ambivalence in the understanding and perception of nature in the concentrated form of the natural catastrophe, based on the equating of culture with order and nature with chaos. Despite the more complex definitions of transitions between culture and nature, based on the intensifying human influences on nature and the anthropogenic causes of natural catastrophes, there is a large fascination for that, which appears threatening and outside of our control. An irrational romantic perception of nature takes place; that of a raging, avenging being that strikes back, as an opponent, who needs to be restrained. Once the immediate danger has passed it is followed by a comparably irrational repression, an almost complete ignorance of the presence of nature and possible risks. The goal is to return everything to the way it had been before, as if nothing ever happened and will never happen again, because science, technology and society will not allow it. This ambivalence can be found in the images, iconographic depictions of natural disasters, frozen images of the unforeseen, sudden and overwhelming; large sized photographs of models that pretend authenticity and question it through the control and order of the chaos in the image. Mystification is reconstructed and broken down.

Tags: Sonja Braas