Every Shade an Image – Katharina Gruzei


MAERZ Gallery Linz

23.2. – 9.4.2021



With the words "a city reduced to ash", a neon light installation shines from the facade of the gallery into the silent city. Already during the Lockdown weeks, the text, as a percursor of Katharina Gruzei's solo show at Galerie Maerz, made contact with passers-by and placed an apocalyptic message in the city space. Conceived as a lucid text work that stimulates images of war and catastrophic scenarios in the minds of the viewers, the light installation questions our everyday life in the city, which has changed significantly in the wake of the crisis situation, on the basis of current events. The battlefield cited in the text has moved closer in time and place.


A subtle trail of light also runs through the exhibition inside the artists association. Katharina Gruzei surprises her audience in the main room with a cinephile installation. Behind a light lock, visitors find themselves in a cinema-like setting in which the video work YAW is presented as a large-scale projection. In the cinematic work, the artist deals with the concept of the “Goldhaube”, uniting in it the supposedly distant worlds of folk headdress and military airspace surveillance, which bear the same name. With meditative, decelerated images and haunting sound, the artist transports her audience into a dystopian world. She combines aerial shots and images of radar installations with those of two protagonists interacting in a circling stage setting. She formally couples her dramaturgy to a circular movement that hints at the "in-itself-closedness" of the two worlds associated with the notion of the golden hood. Gruzei bases the exterior shots on the aesthetics of the bird's-eye view, which we are familiar with from war reporting, among other things, and transfers this view from above to the process of disassembling a folk gold hood. With meticulous precision, it is disassembled down to its basic structure. Gruzei thus allows the many hours of manual labor that go into making a gold hood to literally run backwards, thus making visible the work that has been performed and passed on by women for generations.


The artist's interest in the pictorial conventions of surveillance is also evident in her work "Reprise" in the second part of the main room. In the course of researching portraits of criminals, she discovered photographic images from American police archives in a book*. The so-called "mugshots" (front and profile portraits) are, in addition to the collection of fingerprints, part of the physical identification measures of the police and serve to determine the identity and archive the bodies of criminals. What is unusual about the archival images is that all of the portrayed persons shoulder a mirror. In this way, the two perspectives are united in one photographic image - presumably in order to be economical with the film material, which was expensive at the time. The artist takes up this motif and transfers it into the room as a mirror object, which in turn doubles the photographs on the wall. The police glass in the wooden frame, also called a spy mirror, can be seen through from one side and is closed off from the other. Depending on the perspective, the visitors reflect themselves or look through the object. The rounded cutout refers to the bodies of the criminals who shoulder the mirror and at the same time reminds us of the counters that we know from administrative authorities.


* Steven Kasher, Mark Michaelson (Hg.), Least Wanted: A Century of American Mugshots, New York und Göttingen: Steven Kasher Gallery, Steidl Verlag, 2006, S. 30-33.


The artist ties in with the theme of identity in her 14-part analog photo series, which is also the title of the solo show. Based on the concept of the third space according to Homi K. Bhabha, who uses it to describe a place of negotiation for the diversity, dynamics, and incompleteness of identity, she developed photographs that function as surfaces for association and projection. For this, Katharina Gruzei takes up motifs that are explicitly related to identity and yet leave voids. On the one hand, there are faces, scars or tattoos as identity features in the series. On the other hand, there are also animals, plants, landscapes, or images of clouds, which are charged with meaning in the process of viewing and - brought into connection with one's own life experience and socialization - can also be identity-forming. In her series, Gruzei visualizes linguistic motifs, such as uprooting or being uprooted, and thus refers to philosophical and cultural-scientific theories that make use of this symbolism. (Rhizome, Deleuze/Guattari/Glissant)

Gruzei also addresses contested territories such as airspace, the moon, or the landscape, which are closely intertwined with culture and identity, and playfully poses utopias that question the existing. One photograph shows the artist's supposedly weightless legs in the night sky, her feet seemingly attempting to walk on the moon. She immerses an alpine panorama in dystopian red light by means of color gradient filters and alienates it into a volcanic landscape.

Katharina Gruzei uses photography to transfer the "real" into the "symbolic" and at the same time creates a series in which she addresses the medium of photography itself. Thus her title "Every Shade an Image" refers both to the imaging light that creates the shadow in the first place, and to the imaginary space that lies hidden in the shadow; the invisible, the darkness as a blank space, as a place of interpretation and imagination. In her imagery she plays with "showing" and "not showing", thus blurring the boundary between seeing and imagining and initiating an interaction between image and viewer.


Based on her interest in the impact of visual media and inspired by the experimental psychological phenomenon of the "Stroop effect", Katharina Gruzei develops the neon light installation FIRE / WATER. The Stroop effect describes a mental processing conflict that occurs when external stimuli provoke an unfamiliar action and thus cause elaborate mental processing. In psychological experiments, so-called "color words" have been used for this purpose, which some artists have already dealt with. The word yellow, for example, is depicted in green color. In the color-word interference test, subjects are asked to name the color of the word. A conflict is triggered, which is expressed in a delayed reaction time and a high error rate. The artist is interested in the moment of processing conflict in which visual perception and naming create interference. In her neon installation, she extends this complex problematic to include the pair of opposites "fire" and "water." She reverses their clear color assignment (water = blue, fire = red) and thus questions the mutual relationship in which the two elements stand to each other. The color reversal causes an irritation that is also sensually based, especially since the colors and elements are also assigned properties such as "hot" and "cold". As a neon object, FIRE and WATER stand with their backs to each other, flooding the floor of the exhibition space with light reflections. In their blending as primary colors, they also build a bridge to the color photographs placed all around, especially since the color wheel - also based on pairs of opposites - is the basis for filtering color photographs.


Katharina Gruzei's exhibition is crisscrossed by a trail of light, by means of which the artist moves through different media with ease. The audience is carried through the solo show by a somber and at the same time gracefully touching mood that leaves associative voids open for the viewer.




Charim Gallery Vienna

22.3. – 11.5.2019



For her solo show in the Charim Galerie, Katharina Gruzei has created rooms with references, allusions and quotations that are distantly focussed on the term ‘work’. A photograph in which the depicted object is a piece of metal serves as the source for the entire show that follows. The photo shows a milled form, the shine of the material that has been worked and the metal shavings. It also conveys the amount of energy and power that is necessarily expended in order to work hard metals. The water – coolant, lubricant, rinse – in the photo might well be seen as the equivalent of workers’ sweat, the photo as a whole the abstract and iconic condensation of what, for a long time, dominated work as a subject – the glorification of physical activity and sweat. The physical counterpart to the photographed shavings can be found in the last room of the gallery as a ‘heavy metal’ assertion of reality, an artist’s gesture that already has its own art history. In this exhibition it is given an additional, consciously- chosen function. The film screened by Katharina Gruzei in the exhibition likewise bundles content, providing a framework for the show.


“Workers leaving the factory (again)”: women and men enter the long, curved factory corridor. Initially individually, but soon they begin to form loosely bunched groups stepping forward. Unhurried they head in the direction of an undefined destination, imperturbable despite the flickering light and occasional darkness. They must be intimately familiar with the location in order to simply continue without panic or any noticeable reaction. The sounds of the repetitive flickering, of the neon light and light fixtures, imparts rhythm to their movements as if we were watching an afterimage of the monotonous work operations that have been synchronised by the processes of industrial rationalisation. Furthermore, deeply resonating echoes fill the room, giving the scenes the dystopian distance science fiction blockbusters have vividly created for us to watch. These are breath-taking stories of faraway planets, gigantic technical projects and dehumanised work. The editing, sound and composition of the scenes in Katharina Gruzei’s film allow us to become a part of this going, and going further, up to the moment when the camera perspective changes and individual groups come to a standstill, looking straight into the camera. Individuals and their characteristics become recognisable; individuals and groups of workers. These momentary pauses are followed by silence, blackness and a scene which is a reference to the silent film that inspired Katharina Gruzei to the composition and substance of her own film, the Lumière brothers “La sortie des usines Lumière a Lyon”.


The short film from 1895 has a remarkable reception history and also throw light on the Lumière brothers concern to show what their invention, the new medium of “moving images”, was capable of: to create the illusion of movement by projecting light on a screen. Furthermore, the title is interesting, indicating as it does the industrial production of film as a product by the two commercially active entrepreneurs who certainly considered it to be a piece of advertising.


So the factory entrances/exits, used as a motif in the film, become a threshold beyond which the human body becomes subject to the principles of industrial order and production, while the passage out of the factory into everyday life, the living chaos of individual strivings,

is also rendered visible.


Visitors enter the exhibition: Photographs can be seen that Katharina Gruzei made of Austria’s last Danube shipyard (ÖSWAG) where she followed the building of a large ferry boat are to be seen, some grouped. In the exhibition this knowledge is conveyed little by little because it is also centred on the concept of a pathway. This includes the order and rhythm of the photographs themselves in their content thus the work of exhibition-making is also on display. The title, “Bodies of Work” intones a semantic double sound that firstly suggests people working, the history of photographic and filmic staged bodies in the midst of the unavoidable ideological noise of the surroundings. But “Bodies of Work” is also a complex of works. It comprises individual motifs intentionally recorded at different times and under different lighting conditions in order to be able to use them as elements in an interpretive schema that allows photography to become an experiential vehicle and the pathways of reception of an experiential process.


The dystopian currents of Katharina Gruzei’s film also flood the first room of the exhibition where photographs show people whose protective clothing turns them into the objects of workshops and workpieces. A machine, rust-coloured and flocked with clouds of dust stares into space through the eyes of metering dials; welding light illuminates the darkness and flying red sparks awaken associations with stars at the centre of a stellar cloud. A distant moon and diffuse floodlight illuminate a round object. It is only the human hand that displays a key ring in the form of an anchor that encourages the thought that space, too, has become navigable, after the oceans of the world. And it also appears to be a spacecraft that is being built in the workshop next door. The second room then has the function of an (air)lock – here faces are recognisable and the colourful headwear of one worker becomes a liberating anecdotal moment. The boat is a ferry for Lake Zurich and it is the workers that will build it together. In the final room of the show Katharina Gruzei varies the individual themes with further photographs and their configurations, placing the focus on workers and their workpieces. An ethos of creation by physical work becomes palpable including the authority of status that used to be associated with it.


And still is. The Linz shipyard is still building boats and producing large machine parts. A mound of heaped metal shavings bears witness to this: the work of milling, which creates forms that are standardised in their function, practicality and fit from heavy, amorphous blocks of metal, also produced the material for an artwork of heaped shavings.


Kurt Kladler

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