Sophie Thun, Ulay “the uncontrolled aspect of rushing into position” at Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna

By Last Updated: June 12, 2024Views: 63

“the uncontrolled facet of speeding into place” brings collectively for the primary time the performative-photographic practices of Sophie Thun (b. 1985) and Ulay (1943–2020). It additionally marks the primary ever presentation of Ulay’s work in Vienna.

Sophie Thun and Ulay by no means met in individual. 1 Whereas Ulay was unlikely to have recognized about Sophie Thun, Thun was conscious of Ulay’s existence. Nevertheless, she by no means engaged along with his work extensively. Given the proximity of type and content material between each creative practices, it appears as if they may have been in dialogue. Artists as lovers, artists as family, utilizing a corresponding vocabulary, typically even a kindred grammar. (Once we began engaged on this exhibition along with the Ulay Basis, we joked that Ulay might have been Sophie’s grandfather).

Solitary enterprise

Sophie Thun makes use of the large-format wood area digital camera (with both 8 x 10-inch or 4 x 5-inch negatives), utilising methods of analogue pictures, working with the chemistry inherent within the image-making course of. Ulay, then again, labored primarily with Polaroid, the so-called “on the spot pictures” (the strategy of the photogram as an inventive medium seems in his work in the beginning of the Nineties). If Polaroid arrests time, Thun’s photograms mark its passage; for a picture to be revealed, extracted, mounted, and expressed, Thun, typically surrounded by liquids, wants the motion of sunshine—and of time. Her working course of is subsequently sluggish, and she or he spends hours creating photos in a darkroom; her images are chronicles of gradual actions. Thun additionally works extensively on-site, site-specifically, as a part of her exhibitions. She prompts the areas in order that they’re in movement, concurrently websites of picture manufacturing, momentary archives, and factors of contact with the general public (in lots of her current initiatives, she has been current within the exhibition area for his or her whole period). 2 This social facet of her work, which isn’t merely an exhibition presentation however a vital a part of her observe on location, brings forth a complementary distinction to the solitary image-making within the darkroom.

Ulay, as a part of the industrial photographic laboratory he established in 1966 in Neuwied, spent two years in darkrooms, mastering all facets of the analogue course of (“These have been moist locations!”). 3 After relocating to Amsterdam in 1968, he got here in touch with Polaroid; it remained one in all his central mediums all through his oeuvre. Within the Seventies, he labored with small-format Polaroid movies (107, 108, and SX-70) and on the finish of the Nineteen Eighties moved to the bigger Polaroid codecs (the 20 x 24-inch digital camera and the largest—the 40 x 80-inch digital camera), exploring the boundaries of the medium in addition to different types of (analogue) pictures.

Within the early Seventies, earlier than he turned the digital camera on himself, Ulay was fascinated by what he referred to as the “social nature” of the Polaroid digital camera, fostering a neighborhood round him. 4

Later, the enjoyment of rapid image-becoming supplied him with an in depth alternative for intimate, profound self-exploration, culminating in a whole lot of Polaroid self-portraits. In these fleeting, intimate performances with out an viewers, each indoors or outdoor, Ulay explored the foreignness in a single personal’s physique, his masculine and female sides, and socially constructed problems with gender. He, an autodidact, so keen on the phrase “auto” (and all of the connotations the phrase has [in German] in relation to self-determination, autonomy, and automatism), referred to as them solely Auto-Polaroids.

In 2015, following her delicate photographic interventions in architectural settings, Sophie Thun turned the digital camera on herself for the primary time. Since then—extra extensively from 2017 onwards—the method of self-depiction has been an ongoing one. No matter her physique place, Thun has constantly carried out for the digital camera alone, sustaining a daring gaze and a agency grip on the shutter launch (not as if possessing it, however possessing it, and with this act self-determining herself). Related to the photographic equipment, she is an extension of it; or quite, the equipment is her prosthesis. Her physique—like Ulay’s—is her very important instrument.

The half

In German die Hälfte and in Dutch Helft, in English “a half” (noun) is “one in all two equal elements of something.” “Half” (adjective) means “consisting of two issues in equal elements” or “not full or full.” 5 Ulay’s fixation on the notion of the “half / halves” and “duality” (in German he makes use of the phrase Zweifalt, “zerspalten; in zwei Teile geteilt”) might be traced again to the late sixties, when the genesis of his subsequent works (probably the most well-known of which might be the intensive sequence of S’he Polaroid transformations) was underway. Previous to Auto-Polaroids, Ulay used the phrase and visible poetry to method the unstable states of in-betweenness. He referred to the quick expressions that he wrote on his typewriter, first in German and afterward partly in Dutch, “aphorisms.” 6

A sequence of Polaroid collages with typewritten aphorisms on their floor, Renais sense Aphorisms (1972–75), through which Ulay mixed Polaroid close-ups of varied elements of his physique with elements of different individuals’s our bodies, presenting himself as an incoherent and discontinuous gendered being, resonates notably with Thun’s methodology of chopping and collage. She cuts by way of the negatives with a cutter earlier than publicity, then holds them collectively together with her arms composing fragmented settings, highlighting the development of photographic processes.

Seduction, eroticism, and auto-eroticism are essential dynamics in each Thun’s and Ulay’s self-portraits. They each want and carry out their (personal) acts of want for the digital camera, which is a recurring protagonist of their auto-portraits, particularly in Thun’s work. Relating to the subject-object relationship (photographer-model), each artists embody the exhibitionist and the voyeur without delay. Whereas Thun seeks (sexual) encounter with herself, on the similar time dominating and being dominated, Ulay makes an attempt to unite his female and male traits (S’he). In another works, which he indicators with the amalgam Pa-Ula-y, he anticipates the communion of the pair that turns into one: a unity. Two people, two halves, fused into one being—not a state of 1, however a state of two in symbiosis. When one (Paula) of the 2 leaves, this will result in a complete dissolution of the self; the private struggling triggers in Ulay a want to sever a part of his foot, rescale it, to suit into Paula’s sneakers (Bene Agere (In Her Footwear), 1974). The complete potential of a symbiotic state is later materialised within the twelve-year relationship (1976–88) with Marina Abramović. The clear symmetry between the female and male precept as a part of their early creative interval, Relation works (1976–1981), results in a start of “a 3rd existence that carries very important power,” which Ulay/Abramović name “that self.” 7 Echoes of their relationship are in Unharmed (2015), a sequence of graphic prints made by Ulay as a part of his late “pink interval.” 8 The start line for Unharmed have been the seminal photographic documentation of their varied Relation works performances. 9

Of their collaboration, Ulay was the one to place the digital camera, and with it, body the gaze of what we immediately take into account iconic photos. The destructive area between two our bodies performing collectively—the in-between area of absence, the charged coexistence between the female and male precept—is now given type; the destructive area turns into the main character of Unharmed.

Whereas there—at the least visually—seems “one Ulay” (even when his face is minimize in half) in every of his Auto-Polaroids, Thun, in her performative black-and-white self-stagings, captures the uncanny, unattainable encounter of her fragmented selves; there are a number of Sophie Thuns in a single {photograph}. Her fragmentation, replication, and multiplication of the self has much less to do with a sure deep discomfort (in Ulay’s phrases) with one’s physique or the expression of feelings—even when her work stems from private expertise—than with our “methods of seeing,” her profound exploration of the boundaries of the photographic medium (by way of gradual processes, superimpositions, and the usage of mise-en-abîme methods, she additionally replicates area) and its ontology; the slippery identification between the true and the illusory, all the time already previously. Does “to breed” imply to vanish and dissolve, or to be reborn, every time anew?  Renais sense is the overarching identify Ulay gave to his early physique of labor (1970–75). This neologism refers partly to rebirth (renaissance) and partly to a type of countersense, nonsense. All of the bodily transformations and multiplications lead Ulay to really feel like Sisyphus—“it was mindless, ineffective” 10 —to absolutely the depletion of himself (diptych Soliloquy (Taking pictures-Self), 1975). The thought of a complete disintegration by way of multiplication (a sure auto-aggression sensed in each Thun’s and Ulay’s auto-portraits) is related with the exhaustion of the Self that may solely keep on the (photographic) floor. With a demise announcement within the type of a funeral postcard, Ulay bids farewell to himself as a singular individual; a metaphorical act marking the top of the obsessive seek for identification, asserting the symbiotic relationship with Abramović in artwork and life.

After I take into consideration Thun’s and Ulay’s practices, I take into consideration what occurs after I, the phrase my medium of alternative, repeat a phrase out loud so typically that it loses its standard that means—does it develop into a murmured buzz or music? Thun’s and Ulay’s performative photographic works are executed with precision and care, however likelihood stays a defining aspect of each their practices. Slipping from management means letting likelihood—life—in. There may be an “uncontrolled facet of speeding into place” 11 simply earlier than you “shoot.” The liberating potential inherent within the unplanned and the unknown is especially current in image-production; there isn’t a means again, no likelihood of correction.


Each Ulay and Thun have developed not solely an intimate and emotional but in addition a bodily relationship with pictures. It’s as in the event that they have been enacting what Susan Sontag acknowledged: “There may be the floor. Now assume—or quite really feel, intuit—what’s past it, what the truth have to be like if it seems to be this fashion.” 12 Within the family tree of chopping and eradicating his pores and skin—human pores and skin and photographic movie are each protecting layers of the lively chemical substance beneath—Ulay peeled off the protecting outer layer of the Polaroid picture (diptych Soliloquy, 1975). Wanting straight into the digital camera, he, for the digital camera, eliminated an emulsion-like layer from his face and, shortly after, additionally from the Polaroid picture—the Polaroid turned a fragile artefact, so weak (just like the Self) that Ulay didn’t enable to exhibit or body it till 2020, storing it within the darkest nook of his archive. 13 In Ulay’s storage, Thun takes images—a number of months later, the small-format, Polaroid-sized work emerges (Skins, 2024). 

Each artists have additionally labored extensively with the strategy of photogram, a 1:1, life-size methodology based mostly on bodily contact. In the dead of night, they press their arms and our bodies onto light-sensitive paper in the course of the publicity; after the publicity, the sheets are developed, fastened, and rinsed. What we see are white silhouettes, traces of a bodily presence that’s absent from the photographic picture. On this means, Thun’s arms, by now her unmistakable characteristic, additionally maintain, contact, body, and carry Ulay’s presence in Ljubljana, Vienna, and Berlin (Damaging to optimistic to destructive to optimistic, Amsterdam to Resljeva to Vienna to Blücherstrasse, 2024).

Within the Nineties, after the break with Abramović, Ulay experimented with a brand new approach he referred to as “polagram,” a mixture of a Polaroid and the basic photogram. Standing inside a life-size Polaroid digital camera (working inside Flusser’s black field), he created photos by transferring a beam of sunshine with color filters straight on the destructive, regarding it along with his personal physique in a 1:1 ratio—physique and picture, similar to with Thun, coinciding. Within the untitled polagram from 1993 that’s on view, Ulay sketched 4 arms and a vessel onto the destructive. A vessel as an alternative choice to a physique, but in addition, for Ulay, “vase is a pores and skin [ . . . ] hole inside and hole round.” 14 The vase is a recurring motif in Ulay’s work from the eighties onwards, a testomony to his sustained curiosity within the notion of destructive area (because the area between two or extra objects or two or extra our bodies), which was central to his performances with Abramović. Damaging area as an area of stability, a fragile in-between situation, additionally resonates with the bodily imprints Thun leaves in her photograms. 

The archive

Over the previous few years, Thun has created her personal archive of photos, mapping not solely the assorted websites and architectures she has inhabited all through her work and exhibitions, but in addition all of the completely different gestures and positions of her personal physique, to which she regularly returns, reusing them in new analogue photographic compositions. Evidently virtually each one in all her exhibitions accommodates at the least a part of the earlier one—her performative-photographic work normally is in a continuing technique of revival and reconstruction. 

Ulay’s life and work have been marked by a sure fleeing—operating away from his origins (solely to return to himself repeatedly) and, at a sure level, withdrawing from the artwork world. Iconicised and overshadowed by his relationship and collaboration with Marina Abramović, his solo work stays largely unknown and considerably untheorised; “the most-known unknown artist,” as he appreciated to name himself, was an organised and exact conservator, a cautious archiver of his personal previous. “I’m a hideaway artist. I’ve accomplished so many issues that folks don’t learn about—they’ll’t know as a result of they don’t have entry to my archive,” he acknowledged in his final printed interview in 2019. 15 Ulay was snug alone, however he was additionally comfortable if individuals got here trying (for him). With Sophie Tappeiner and Sophie Thun, we visited his storage in Amsterdam and in Ljubljana, getting into the areas he referred to as residence. The preliminary concept was to create a dialogue between the present works of each artists. Nevertheless, in an act of unplanned spontaneity, Thun additionally created new works. Within the context of this exhibition and the posthumous engagement with a previous creative legacy, it appears important to level out that the oblique, considerably one-way trade between Thun and Ulay just isn’t a singularity in her observe, however quite an impulse that ought to be learn as a part of the continuing, intimate, in-depth dialogues that Thun has already established with two different “archives”: that of Irène Codréano (1896–85), a Romanian sculpture, and Zenta Dzividzinska (1944–2011), a Latvian photographer. On this respect, her art-making can be a means of constructing neighborhood by way of acts and gestures of care, by way of her lively engagement with the hidden or marginalised histories of artwork. Whereas addressing the moral points that underpin her revisiting of previous narratives by way of a type of appropriation, she builds kinships: be it with native areas (whether or not Ljubljana or Riga), there-based establishments, the place she spends weeks, typically months, with the individuals, hidden behind and within the archives, or with uncared for creative legacies per se. Her actions don’t stay solely on the floor however have profound results within the now.

Es regnete

Hana in mattress (Vienna, 2024) awake, paralysed with nervousness, unsure how you can begin this textual content.

Ulay in mattress (Ljubljana, 2019), the chemotherapy was a month in the past, Hana sitting on the chair subsequent to him. Ulay dictating the e-mail, Hana’s fingers retracing his phrases on the keyboard. Lena cooking lunch. The three of us, engaged on one in all his exhibition initiatives.

Ulay in a lodge mattress (London, 2019), throughout an interview, says: “I’ve no worry.” 16
Ulay was fearless. Or at the least he tried to look as such. How else might he have carried out acts of self-harm, minimize his pores and skin, sew up his mouth, or steal what was stated to be Hitler’s favorite portray from the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, solely to relocate it to the house of a Turkish immigrant household residing in Kreuzberg? He titled what was to develop into one in all artwork historical past’s most seminal actions in public area Irritation – There’s a Prison Contact to Artwork (1975).

Sophie in mattress (Vienna, 2021), immobile ((KJ MF MS AG FW LM AS EW) Portrait recropped, 2022). Her head tucked beneath the sheet, her hand clutching the shutter, a darkish slide from her large-format digital camera in her different hand. “A spot of destruction, of complete melancholy, but in addition of enjoyment, of intercourse and sleep,” she says. To be in mattress is to be many selves; one in all them is the self of tried disappearance.

Sophie in mattress (Vienna, 2022), with Sophie, each bare (Bei M+P im Schweinestall, 2023).

Sophie tells me a narrative that Daniel Spoerri instructed her concerning the lack of ability to begin working. It ends with the sentence “Es regnete,” which can be the primary sentence of one other, completely different story.

Es regnete (Kettenbrueckengasse 23, Daniel’s door, bear in mind?), 2022, Thun’s digital camera mirrored within the mirror that was positioned on the door of Daniel Spoerri’s studio. The final photograph earlier than Spoerri strikes out of his Vienna studio, the area the place Thun, then with out a fastened office, has produced most of her small-format photographic works in recent times. After a protracted day, Sophie and Sophie T. and Hana in mattress (Amsterdam, 2024).

Generally “there isn’t a time left for worry,” says Sophie Thun about overcoming the doubts that accompany the beginnings (of her working course of). 17 Lock the door, enter the sentence, rush into the place. Or, as Ulay would say: “In case you should, you should.” 18

—Hana Ostan Ožbolt

at Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna
till July 6, 2024

1    Sophie Thun was born in 1985 in Frankfurt and grew up in Warsaw. She studied graphics on the Academy of Nice Arts in Krakow earlier than transferring to Vienna on the age of twenty-two to check portray on the Academy of Nice Arts. She got here to pictures “from a aspect”, the darkroom being the area on the academy the place she might focus and detach from the collective portray studio areas. Born Frank Uwe Laysiepen in 1943 in Solingen (then West Germany), Ulay studied mechanical engineering and in 1966 established a photographic color printing lab in Neuwied, specialising in industrial pictures. In 1968, on the age of 25, he moved to Amsterdam. From 1969 to 1971, he labored extensively as a guide for Polaroid. In 1970, he enrolled in portray and graphic arts at Kölner Werkschulen in Cologne however left his research quickly after. He lived a nomadic life with a base in Amsterdam till 2010 when he discovered his residence in Ljubljana. Ulay died in Ljubljana in 2020. In 2022, Thun made her first go to to Ljubljana the place she started to work on her solo exhibition, which opened there in 2023.
2    Right here I primarily confer with Thun’s exhibitions at Secession in Vienna (2020), Kim? Up to date Artwork Centre in Riga (2021), and Cukrarna in Ljubljana (2023).
3    Ulay in Whispers: Ulay on Ulay (ed. Maria Rus Bojan, Astrid Vorstermans), Valiz, Amsterdam 2014, p. 84.
4    Ibid, p. 124.
5    Cambridge Dictionary, (accessed April 29, 2024).
6    For instance, two of Ulay’s aphorisms from the early Seventies learn (formally, every phrase is by itself line, separated from the others): “Wenn ich nach draussen / draussen vor die Türe gehe / bin ich bang dass jemand gegen mich / durch mich / und ich in zwei Hälften / von oben bis unten / weiter läuft” or “seit dem Bewusstsein meiner späteren Zweifalt will ich rückwirkend bei meiner Geburt anfangend abrechen mit der Opalscheibe der infizierten Undurchsichtigkeit meine Väter Väter Verräter” Not exhibiting Ulay’s aphorisms on this context was a curatorial determination, as they (round seventy aphorisms, every on a single sheet of A4 paper) work greatest as an entire, as one work, permitting the viewer to get a way of Ulay’s recurring preoccupations, quite than deciphering every as particular person “poem.”
7    Marina Abramović, Jenes Selbst / Unser Selbst (ed. Nicole Fritz), Kunsthalle Tübingen, Buchhandlung Walter König, Cologne, 2021, p. 96.
8    Ulay himself referred to the years between 2014 and 2016 as his “Pink Interval.” He thought of pink as “the color of his soul” and “the color that accommodates probably the most gentle.” Pink was a reference to pores and skin color and his sense of vulnerability and anguish over the copyright points that arose between him and Marina Abramović, which have been later resolved.
9    These 5 graphic prints echo the next 5 Ulay/Abramović performances: Relation in area, Relation in Time, Gentle Darkish, Relaxation power, and Level of Contact.
10    Ulay in dialog with Dominic Johnson in The Artwork of Dwelling. An oral historical past of efficiency artwork, Palgrave, London, 2015, p. 25. 
11    Ulay in Whispers, p. 89.
12    Susan Sontag, On Pictures, Penguin, London 2008, p. 23.
13    Following Ulay’s retrospective exhibition “ULAY WAS HERE” at Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (2020–21), the diptych Soliloquy is exhibited right here for the second time ever.
14    Ulay in Whispers, p. 385.
15    Ulay in dialog with Dominic Johnson, “Not Reckless however Reckful,” Artwork Month-to-month, n. 423, 2019, p. 5.
16    Ibid.
17    Sophie Thun in dialog with Daniel Spoerri, Blok Journal (February 5, 2021), (accessed April 29, 2024).
18    Ulay typically repeats this phrase in several formulations. “The important motivations in my work have modified, but remained shut the unique impulse, the ‘should.’” Ulay in Whispers, p. 116.

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