Virtual stories or about the moments

In literature, moments of thought play a significant role, exemplified by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who articulated his flashes of insight into aphorisms. However, in medieval craft workshops, moments didn't hold significance. Artists were bound by defined commissions, foreseeing the outcome. The creation of works was a long strategy, destined for eternity, such as for ritual use. Yet, history swiftly disrupted the traditional, introducing new ideas. In visual arts, the momentary and the accidental gained prominence only in the 20th century.

Spontaneity became valued, allowing artists to express themselves immediately and unadulteratedly. The speed of creating a painting acquired a unique quality. Artists experienced "Sternstunden" in Tachism and German Informel, creating works in minutes on specific dates, emphasizing speed, even for recipients.

Lars-Ulrich Schnackenberg narrates moments, calling them virtual stories. His strategy isn't solely about the speed of creation but combines a desire for representation with realistic characteristics, reporting on the chance events. He doesn't introduce something new in the sense of abstraction as a new reality; rather, he constructs his own visual realities, accountable to these moments as virtual stories.

Paradoxically, these virtual stories, these moments, are actual experiences. Schnackenberg reports on himself in his pictures, his experiences, everyday peculiarities, intense lived moments, or those visually experienced, through media, television, friends, personal actions, family, social and economic situations, and the studio. These experienced situations become triggers.

The titles of the representations align with this concept. For instance, sitting in a beer garden by the Rhine, and someone says, "My brother, my sister lives in Baghdad," precisely on the day Baghdad is bombed, the world becomes different, peculiar. These moments, stemming from chance occurrences reporting a larger order and becoming objective experiences for individuals, often seem random and incidental to others. Schnackenberg reports these subjective objectivities.

Whether it's the moments of Rückert's Kindertotenlieder set to music by Mahler, Schnackenberg, as an artist, becomes detached from the world to bear witness. He leads himself in the work "Ulis," processes portraits, distorts, utilizes new media, computers, scanners, and printers to showcase a different visual reality.

Behind all these actions is a significant and sincere attempt to locate and position oneself. The artist is perpetually in search of themselves, not others, not in pursuit of representing others' desires. Schnackenberg navigates between themes, understanding he isn't a niche saint and doesn't seek niche support. He moves socially, freely, and upright in society, like Giovanni da Bologna's figura serpentinata.

He doesn't conceal but publishes; he doesn't deny but points out; he doesn't lie but seeks truth, understanding the strong artistic context needed. The artist enjoys narrating small stories, where these moments shine like flashes. This literary element, not textually bound for illustration but developed as an optical aphorism, expands vision through cycles and repetition, presenting a constantly changing representation as if the metamorphosis of the found is the true goal of representation.

Even in challenging times, a symbiotic relationship develops, transforming landscapes into visuals, faces into abstract landscapes, forming anonymities, even reaching baconesque statements with portraits with dogs. The portrait of a person, their sacred image, becomes increasingly encoded. Moments of personal experience are recounted, evolving into stories or large-scale representations, heightening the narratable by operating with redundant images. The viewer, facing the image anew, is led through repetitions, fostering a dialogic nature with repeated viewings.

"In brief, Schnackenberg's stories and moments, his virtual visual narratives, can be described as: Virtual objectivity without mimesis despite significant realism, understood as a critical method. These narratives delve into experiences and observations, capturing the essence of fleeting moments and transforming them into visual representations that challenge traditional artistic norms."

Gerhard van der Grinten: Moments

If I am fantasy, I am also flesh. Am I less real than my own anguish? Whether my feelings be false or true, how can I say till I see what I do? What is a unicorn? And is that I? I am the unicorn. But who I am?

Robert Broughton: When do we recognize ourselves? And when do others appear as unique beings, unmistakable? The essence through the individual features that set it apart from all the others—yet, aren't there cultures where the individual means nothing, and the community means everything? The individuals there would, therefore, be no less unique. We see the features once. And we must recall them in comparison to all others we saw, to present them as those unique entities, to distinguish them. People whose one hemisphere of the brain had been injured sometimes lose not the ability to perceive the eye, nose, ears, chin, and mouth. But rather, to assemble them into a person. The Other, as familiar as they might be, remains foreign to them. They now recognize them more by the voice. Distance also creates a gap: beyond eight hundred meters, we are no longer able to identify others. A little closer, and shape and gesture are enough, even if the face is just a tiny spot. This mimicry, features, glances define us to the counterpart, whether favorably or unfavorably. Deformation terrifies us because it always reminds us of the fear of losing our own face, where features derail, become erased. More unsettling: to experience our own photographic countenance or that of another half-reflected, uniting just two left or right halves into a new face that reveals character traits one would prefer to protect or conceal. And how assured are we, able to derive from an old figure, whether it had a living model or if its story were merely the superficial imitation of a general ideal countenance: so intensely personal the presence of much of ancient Egyptian sculpture, like affect-deprived masks of the heads of classical Greece, so diverse much of the medieval, almost physically palpable presence of the Naumburg donor figures. It seems one can capture the essence of a person sometimes by alienating their characteristics and even exaggerating them. Today, one can clone them. The old dream of the homunculus is shattered, the sleeper is awakened and breeds eagerly; although artists have always created figures in their own image, the consequences were never more catastrophic than they are now. In the fantasies of utopian novels, in Hollywood's moving pictures, there abound modern Prometheans, duplicated beings, virtual goddesses, creatures that, according to all daily experience, are entirely impossible, yet could convincingly exist. The question of what is individually conceivable is now emerging anew. Indigenous peoples still have horror at becoming counterfeits, as if making an image would mean gaining power over that soul. How might they react to the idea that it is possible to generate one's own living likeness? If the individual ceased to be individual, would the portrait be the mass of the same? Against this backdrop, not born in an ivory tower but with eyes for the surrounding world and its voyages, Ulrich Schnackenberg's figure paintings arise, which are portrait-like, seen mostly based on identifiable images, illustrations - and their sublimation. If the individuals present are still in the shadowy shade, in the rasterized coarse grain of the print, in the reformatting that stretches and compresses the figures like a funhouse mirror, entirely according to the taste and pictorial necessity. If they take on mis-colorations, this too is a loss of durable reality, brought into unexpected assemblies and conjunctions, or doubled and multiplied into groups: then, the ever-same girl's face, sometimes turned to the left, sometimes to the right - and how much character change does this reflection seem to bring to all! - each time almost different, new, and unique. Blends occur, where the viewer's eye can no longer determine which contour, whose silhouette is the actual one, which is a kind of dark astral body. Don't we all combine different possibilities, essences within us?

Another aspect revealed by the titles themselves: "Kindertotenlieder," didn't they already appear as haunted to us before? Others lift individuals out of the masses as if they were lost in them. Faces of idols, heathens of mass culture, notorious, omnipresent in their images, have become vulnerable in their recognizability. A stout man with a dog. The artist himself, absent, present but in the streets of his hometown. Even the portrait in times of its endangerment. Adequate to the passage of time, he employs the latest technological advancements: computers and printers, scanners and optical printers, feeding in what can be found in images in the meshes of the world-encompassing network, assembling, adding, creating hybrids, chimeras, interferences that would otherwise be scarcely achievable. Yet afterward, covering them with the patina and materiality of waxes, so that they might not be fleeting but tangible. Credible. So that we might recognize ourselves in them...

Gerhard van der Grinten, 14. 12.2003. Gerhard van der Grinten, Esq., is a painter, graphic artist, and publicist.

Unstable Equilibriums

"Short Stories" - Schnackenberg's new works are a surprise in their intimacy and privacy, and a small revelation in their artistic approach. Despite the title "Short Stories," what Schnackenberg presents in these elaborately digitally processed images, assembled from various image materials and coated with colored waxes, are not really coherent stories. They are actually "Messages to Friends," reflections carried by moods and emotions, diary-like confessions, fleeting notes, pictorial reminiscences, and intuitions that Schnackenberg has condensed into symbols of high poetic conciseness from a personal perspective and personal involvement.

The paintings primarily deal with love, homeland, and death. Death appears multiple times: as the catastrophic death of September 11 but also as the lonely death of a man lying flat under a clothesline.

Love and the longing for it are the main themes of these scenes. Encounters and "attempted closeness" occur between man and woman, but more frequently there are failures, detachments, ruptures. A woman of advanced age reappears as a leitmotif on several panels; she is a woman, lover, mother, rival, and abandoned: a symbol of transience, missed opportunity, and farewell.

Death is inevitable, encounters are fleeting, only the nature of the mountain world, which points to Schnackenberg's Berchtesgaden heritage, remains constant. Yet, almost always, the scenes characterized by horror, melancholy, and longing, sometimes even by laughter, revolve around unstable equilibriums.

Schnackenberg's paintings are not discursive treatises; they are visual poems. The themes interlock, impressions blend with other impressions, with memories, emotions, intuitions. To make this complexity of reality levels perceptible and to show how fragile perception is and how private the public and how public the private are, Schnackenberg brings together heterogeneous image material: older and new photos by him, postcards, and often photos he extracts from the daily newspaper.

If the form of montage is the adequate expression of the content, the singular visual brilliance also stems from Schnackenberg's original technique. He artistically processes the photos through an elaborate digital procedure on the computer. In another step, he coats the printed images with wax and goes further by applying the wax-coated handmade paper to canvas and reworking it with wax.

Ultimately, the medium, the artistic genre, does not play a decisive role when it comes to realizing ideas of "image today." Because whether photo, digital image, drawing, painting, or all together: what matters are good images, images that delve deep, emerge from peeling and layering, and thus convey a complex foresight. This is precisely what Schnackenberg's "Short Stories" do.

Martin Seidel Dr. Martin Seidel works as an independent art historian and publicist in Bonn.

Wisse das Bild

"Wisse das Bild" is the title of Lars Ulrich Schackenberg's latest project, presented in 2013 at the Kunstverein Linz am Rhein. The work from 2013 is a multipart cycle, mixed media as digital print on acrylic. It's structured so that all images are seen twice: once in the version treated by the artist and a second time mirrored through the window, captured by Thilo Beu's photography. This premise already promises an invitation to a deeper and comparative viewing. Indeed, the imperative character of these images is very strong, far removed from the artist's earlier works.

Additionally, the artist incorporates literary texts crucial for interpreting the images. The work is very complex. Friedrich Rückert's poem "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" rhymes the connection between the world and the individual, who has already wasted so much time with it—a hint at the artist's thinking, formulating his current position regarding society, his field of work, and, most importantly, in relation to himself. He has withdrawn from socio-political and utopian struggles, no longer reading socio-political books, art histories, or other scholarly dissertations; instead, he reads science fiction novels, searching for another world, embracing the truth of fairy tales because while they may not change realities, their truths can certainly influence the thoughts and feelings of individuals.

These works have emerged from this meditative path, now entering public discussion, necessitating not just the observer's participation but also their introspection. The cycle's title is found in Rainer Maria Rilke's 'Sonnets to Orpheus,' written in 1922 as a memorial for Wera Ouckama Knoop in Chateau de Muzot in the Swiss Rhône Valley. The ninth sonnet reads: "Even when the reflection in the pond/often blurs for us:/Know the image." With this guideline, Schnackenberg follows his image tracks, connecting them with the past of his previous pictures and exhibitions. An infinitely large reservoir of memories, both personal and stored in his computer files and treasures of television archives, serves him. For each personal memory, he finds the fitting image, manipulating it towards the right memory, now 'obscured' and slightly distorted by the reflection, starting a new dialogic life that, in the rational and emotional conversation of the two partners, elucidates the actual mental statements.

Rilke's subsequent text states: "Only in the realm of duality/do voices/become eternal and mild." This duality is always a representational event for artists not adhering to a rigid concept; it's the 'parallel action' of which Robert Musil speaks in 'The Man Without Qualities' in 1930. A parallel action to life, aiming to enable insights and changes as a legitimate guiding principle. It's the quest for the 'alter ego' as the most crucial conversation partner in life. But it also signifies a retreat to oneself. Today, we must learn to distinguish reality from virtual worlds; we, who no longer know who influences us more, reality or the virtual realities that undoubtedly influence younger generations more than older guardians, who have an obligation to make their children flexible and imaginative for the future.

The cycle speaks of this as well, the artist breaking out of his hoped-for fairy-tale world to take the forward-looking path, albeit without any pedagogical finger-pointing. The playful nature in dealing with the images always remains. "You can leave your hat on," sings Joe Cocker in a TV clip, also subjected to reflection. "The Rolling Stones' Worldview" shows how the fever for new music has conquered the world and the heart of the young visual artist. Each individual work with its reflection reveals the artist's thoughts, also integrating very early sketches by the searching artist into the new imagery, as in "Worldview Theater," where, as in "Worldview Vision," earlier representations are interwoven with today's. The cycle displays a progression, a chronological but illogical journey through life. Yet, the framework is set in a way that never allows an illustration to emerge, but rather maintains free play and allows stimulating imagination to act. The opening image titled after Rückert's first sentence, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen," unfolds a broad panorama of the journey through life. A figure with a coat hanging over their shoulders enters the picture from the left and right. Both are bordered by reflecting architecture, and in the middle, we see image fields with women's faces. Above this, a world of architecture and nature, of built and fleeting cloud formations, metaphorical indications of the artist's portrayal of our world, which, as "Worldview Extinction," can also reveal the fragility of female heads and blurred architectural relationships: the uncertainty of our self-built spaces. The first image is also the resumption and alteration of a work from 2003, "Virtual Stories 4," paper and wax on canvas, in five parts, where the individual motifs are much more realistically elaborated (L.-U.Schnackenberg: Moments, Gallery Acht P! Pravato, Bonn, 2004, Cat. P.21). With the world images, the artist also discusses his previous work and exhibitions as a work in progress. In this catalog, I write about "Realism as a Critical Method" (p. 6). Martin Seidel explains, "Schnackenberg's images are not discursive treatises; they are visual poems" (ibid., p. 26). The circumstances shift. Therefore, it is not surprising that in "Worldview Theater," the world map is not a Eurocentric representation but shows North and South America in the middle axis, accompanied by obscure, quirky airborne devices that carry something animalistic yet encourage travel into the realms of fantasy. The background of all world images is a world map, more or less visible, protruding forward as if from marbling, offering the viewer many additional orientation options through the possible assignment of places, countries, continents. It represents (know the image!), the image of places with their respective circumstances, through which the artist addresses the various questions of cultural context, societal, and political conditions.

The artist, who studied and taught sculpture, now no longer forms individual pieces but consistently continues his path, which began well over a decade and a half ago, into the media adventures. Visitors enter a truly multilayered world. The images are perfectly composed in montage technique after a long, searching process. They are arrangements that immediately captivate the viewer, especially as they see themselves in the reflective surfaces of the images, thus being immediately involved. The principle of reflection is an infinite realization that plays with the idea that an image determines and is determined by spaces, that an image can take in additional information through reflections, not just through reflections but also through the conversations it leads. An image is never finished but is only of high quality when it can initiate dialogues, of which the artist, before presenting the image to the public, can know nothing. Schnackenberg's images fulfill this charge through these extra-pictorial processes to a great extent. This demonstrates that the imperative character is an elemental part of the images, ultimately reflecting the artist himself.

Reflection always extends both space and perspective. It allows for a different distancing. In his philosophical contemplations on art in the Berlin Simmel Lectures, philosopher Dieter Henrich reflects on this distancing: "The distance built up through aesthetic contemplation is to be explained as a transformation of this world relationship." (D. Henrich, Essay on Art and Life, Edition Akzente, Munich 2001, p.211) and "The shift in perspective on the world and the ambivalence that can develop between several such perspectives always affects the subject as such. Its origin is withdrawn from it. And the significance of its life can only be revealed to it through a specific occupation of the interpretive space open to it." (ibid., p. 213). The method of critical realism automatically opens up a distance to what is presented, much like Bertolt Brecht's dialectical theater (1898 – 1950), involving the theatergoer in thought.

'Wisse das Bild' is in good company, yet it's so new and different because the artist, in a mental abstracting process, refrains from every illustrative character of his image findings. This pursuit of virtual life edges shows the "Delpasse Effect." The Delpasse Effect refers to neurological investigations into the incomprehensible, the theory of existence at the threshold of death. Schnackenberg does not narrate a scientific mapping of the world, its inventory, or surveying but rather a world where people, in their finiteness, must share reality with their dreams and fairy tales.

Dieter Ronte Bonn, June 2014