press release

In the picture of the ruinous… Instead of a preface

Disaster ruins everything And at the same time leaves everything In its state Maurice Blanchot

In the days of the classical period and particularly in the Age of Romanticism the ruin not only became a place of “present past” but also a place of “past future”. The “architecture” of the ruin developed into an aesthetic construction, in which past and future, as it were, collapsed into an eternal present and revealed the longing for the beautiful as a heavenly desire. The archaeological component of places and architecture is therefore also always layered, stored time – in short, an inscription of death.

Roland Barthes once wrote that photographers were “agents of death”, not just because the invention of photography implies a new, to date non-existent relation to death, but because photography is always placed in the area of conflict of transitoriness and eternity. Taking photographs means establishing an Archaeology of the Temporary as a kind of immediacy - both in visual and figurative respects.

The photographic work by Brian McKee shows archaeological traces of violence as something ruinous – literally speaking. The photographs show violently ruined buildings, mainly interior views as a sort of geography of the lack of location – we can hardly identify the exact locations of these photographic subjects. Following the photographic experiences of the American “New Topography” of the 1970s – Stephan Shore is an important teacher for McKee – this is no longer about the impetus of the “documentary”. Here the referential capacity of photography does not want to suggest any kind of truth, but the authenticity of the past.

Traces of devastation, of disastrous incidents and ruinous acts are the conspicuous elements in the pictures. Even though we have known – since Susan Sontag at the latest – that every photograph makes what is shown more aesthetic and brightens it, a feeling of oppressiveness, almost frightening, comes up when looking at the picture. Not being able to actually name it, it creates the impression that this is not about natural, architectural dilapidation. The impression (and the German idiomatic expression) that there is “violence in the air” is aesthetically condensed by the precise compositional photographic procedure. The concentration and the intensity “coming out” of the pictures create the impression of a deadly silence that is not tangible.

With his series “Detritus” Brian McKee presents himself to the Austrian and the international public not only as a subtle and fascinating photographer, but also as an artist who has learned the lessons of photography in an existential way. Not because he precisely plumbs the photo-technical possibilities for the creation of his pictures, and not just because he has grasped everything about the certificates of photography, but because he has understood photography as what makes it genuine as a medium of pictures: The first “picture of time” in the history of pictures. It is all about the “Chrono-centric” of the pictures shown. It is about the fact that we cannot simply get across and absorb truths with the help of photographic pictures but that they enable us to experience things that happened as a moment of truth in and through time. As Roland Barthes put it, “This is how photography becomes a bizarre medium for me, a new form of hallucination – wrong on the level of perception, right on the level of time…”

I am left with the pleasant task of expressing my acknowledgements: A big thank you to Brian McKee for his wonderful co-operation, many thanks also to Stephan Schmift-Wulffen, Ernst Hilger, Ines Gebetsroither, Maria Schindelegger, Leonie Hodkevitch, Sigrid Katzböck, Maria Jecel and, above all, Inge Nevole - her dedication and commitment made it possible to produce the ninth EIKON-special edition.

Carl Aigner


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Brian McKee