Exhibition text from “Watching My Own Rotation”, Solo show at 68projects by KORNFELD Galerie Berlin

Ceci n'est pas un paysage

In landscapes, we are Ptolemaics. We find ourselves in a world that revolves only around us. It does not even cross our minds that we are on a rotating ball of dung hurtling through space; everything is a spectacle just for us, our feeling, our contemplation.1  Even the sun rises and sets for us. After all, that's how we talk: sunrise and sunset. And yet, we only observe our own motion, our spinning on Earth. That's why Lena Keller called her painting of the blue hour, which opens the exhibition, “Watching my own rotation” (2023).

Keller's distinctive painting style includes blurred contours (yet the mountain line is razor-sharp!) and blended colors, which can make viewers feel like they need glasses. Her works are mostly medium-sized and vertical in format, unlike traditional landscape paintings that tend to be horizontal, which suggests that looking at the world as if it were a landscape has long since ceased to be the only filter through which we view nature as a landscape. We now also have digital photo filters. After all, today, we mostly see landscapes through cell phone cameras. Their filters (as insiders will know) sometimes produce very similar effects  those Keller displays here and in other paintings. Note, for example, the morphing of the branches in the back right of “Untitled / Clearance 2” (2022).

Keller chooses her image formats and cropping as if her paintings were pictures on a cell phone. The only landscape format in the exhibition “The murmur of the Pyrophytes” (2023) is a three-part image, reflecting the panorama mode on the cell phone, which initially also consisted of three images. With digital photography, the two opposing forces that define landscape are becoming more pronounced: distancing and commodification. Through the lens, the world moves a little further away. The filters are even more focused on how the viewers want to see it. At the same time, the filters – applied to the world like make-up – emphasize the difference between landscape and nature. In the latter, humans actively create (the farmer on the field is immersed in nature), whereas they are confronted with the former as passive consumers.2

Landscape thus reveals more than just a relationship between world and image. It also illustrates the relationship between humans and the world, showing that we are digital Ptolemaics. It is a testament to Lena Keller's keen analytical eye that her painting takes on this neglected image- world relationship. Her work reflects the genre and media history of the landscape image, revealing our relationship to landscape and, thus, our relationship to the world.

At the same time, it develops this world relationship in different directions. I want to single out one of them: some color progressions suggest inflammation, for example, in “Forest Slope 2” (2022). These bring to mind the well-known danger of total environmental destruction - total in that human life on earth would no longer be possible. This would, of course, also mean that there no longer are landscapes, only nature. This impression of an impervious, deserted, and perhaps even hostile nature is supported by the abstract character of the images: it is unclear what the images depict, but there's a sense of defamiliarization and detachment. They almost seem surreal and disturbed, without a human trace. The fact that we see them as landscapes is only the result of a perceptual convention, which, however, is also a conventional relation to the world. And this relation to the world will ultimately lead to the destruction of ourselves and of landscapes.

Keller’s landscape paintings thus have a peculiar, dystopian sense of time. They show us nature not as landscape but as post-landscape.

Dr. Björn Vedder

[1] Walter Serner, Letzte Lockerung. Ein Handbrevier für Hochstapler und solche, die es werden wollen, Zürich 2009, S. 13.

[2] Gottfried Boehm, Wie Bilder Sinn Erzeugen. Die Macht des Zeigens, Berlin 2008, S. 72ff. Zum Filter als Make-Up vgl. Jean Baudrillard, Der symbolische Tausch und der Tod [1976], übersetzt von Gabriele Ricke, Ronald Voullié und Gerd Bergfleth, Berlin 2011, S. 180ff und Verf., Solidarische Körper. Die Auflösung des Hardbodys in der flüssigen Moderne, Marburg 2022, S. 102 ff.