„Cut an object in half, it becomes a model. A model is a representation of a system.“ Christopher Williams

Exhibition of works by Christopher Williams hosted at the House of Art in České Budějovice is not only one of the earliest presentations of the author’s new set of photographs (first presented to the public early this year in the New York based David Zwirner Gallery) but also the very first independent exhibition of Williams’ works in a country of the former Soviet Bloc. Though not particularly conspicuous, this fact is of special importance since the split that world experienced at the cold-war times is one of the author’s major topics. The cold-war theme is already embedded in the name of “For example: Dix-huit Leçons Sur La Société Industrielle“, his long-term project referring to a thematically-affiliated book by Raymond Aron published in 1963; visually this subject has been treated in the Williams’ large “Coldwar Pair”: pictures of the Kiev 88 camera and corn with the Kodak Calibration Sampler. While Williams believes that the political history of Eastern Europe is embodied in the Soviet imitation of Hasselblad, a German camera manufactured after World War II in a Ukraine factory previously intended to produce weaponry, the West is epitomized by an apparently promotional photograph of a plastic model of corn. In the project herein presented Williams even strengthened his interest in the geopolitical issues (such as decolonization, industrialization or Americanizing), not least because, as distinct from his previous works, all the photographs were made during his stay in Germany. 

In 1970s Christopher Williams studied at the California Institute of Arts in Los Angeles, tutored by John Baldessari and Douglas Huebler, founding fathers of the conceptual art. In contrast to people of this generation that emptied the medium of photography of any craftsmanship, Williams makes his photographs using special printing techniques in laboratory conditions so that his works assume the appearance of a postindustrial spectacle. He relies on the modernistic principles of new objectivity, which pictures an object separated from the surrounding world in a neatly arranged central perspective, be the photographs taken indoors or outdoors, and be they black & white or color. Great importance is attached by the artist to the installation and extraneous circumstances of his exhibitions such as the architectural elements and institutional aspects. Apparently dissimilar pictures of cameras, models, vehicles and other products of industry are not only linked together by a chain of mutually interrelated references, but their relation is also highlighted by their disposition within the gallery premises. Mounted as distanced on the walls from each other as distanced are their themes, the framed photographs are mostly hung very low so that the visitors can examine them at the closest range. In some cases Williams has decided to modify the exhibition space in a rather radical manner, removing a few architectural elements or adding new ones. Moreover, he has often accompanied his exhibitions by radio broadcastings or movie projections aimed to emphasize the principle meaning of his work that, in his own recent words, “when observed from the viewpoint of political implications rests in creating a context for a certain type of perception”. 

The exhibition to be staged in the House of Art will offer twelve entirely new color and black & white photographs by Christopher Williams addressing his repeated subjects of cameras and other technical apparatus, but featuring also new themes of nature. Positioned centrally in the exhibition is the picture of dewed ripe apples, a topic bringing to mind the growth and fall, and it is quite immaterial whether we shall attribute its fragile stability to the photographic image or to the society. Expressly self-reflective character can be recognized in the cross-sections through the East-Germany camera of Practica, the Weimer Lux CDS exposure meter and the darkroom still-life. Similarly self-referential photograph of Bläsing G 2000, a flashlight system, is associated with a differently rendered picture of a shop window in the Usrula Schweyen Dry Cleaner’s by the dominant text which makes the photographs more appropriate for reading than for viewing. The black & white pictures of windows are mainly important for their model character while the B&W photographs of a haycock and children playing on the Miró’s bronze sculpture derive their importance primarily from their setting in the Schwarzwald Park and the Frieder Burde Museum in Baden-Baden. Referencing the medium of photography is also the mop probably put aside in a corner of some non-exhibition area of the Baden-Baden Kunsthalle premises when the Williams’ last-year exhibition was being installed. Significantly, the yellow color of the mop’s fibers is the same as the color encountered in all sets of the author’s photographs, and it corresponds with the corporate color of Kodak products. Williams thus shows that self-reflection of the medium does not consist in analyzing the material substance of the medium itself, but in conducting a critical review of its program and any other discursive components wherein each apparatus is rooted – both photographic and social.

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