Karl-Heinz Klopf


O.K Center for Contemporary Art, Linz


This exhibition featuring Polish and Austrian artists, curated by Adam Budak, was preceded by a 10-day working stay in Krakow. The Japanese cultural institute there, designed by Arata Isozaki, in on the Vistula River, just opposite the Wawel, a national symbol and the most important castle in Poland. While the artist was staying in Krakow, the cultural institute put on an exhibition about Japanese mangas and animations. Many of these fairy-tale-like illustrated stories had close correspondences with the Polish castle and its legends. This provided the point of departure for the project Wawel. The main picture was supplemented by interviews with three residents of the city. A Japanese woman living in Krakow speaks Polish, and two young Polish women talk in German and English. In the interviews, they reflect on their own positions and talk about the cultural, ideological and national value of the Wawel castle.

(Wawel, 2001; 4-channel video installation, 3 monitors, 1 projector, 3 headphones, cardboard packaging, PVC film on glass, 45 x 85 cm; exhibition Re-Location, O.K Centrum für Gegenwartskunst, Linz; April 7–July 15, 2001


Adam Budak on the four channel video installation Wawel, O.K Center for Contemporary Art, Linz, 2001

Karl-Heinz Klopf's video installation Wawel was realized during the artist's stay in Krakow. lt clearly refers to the rich history and Tradition of Krakow, a city of a particular importance for the Polish national identity, former capital of the whole country, still regarded as its intellectual and cultural center. Klopf's work aims at confronting the past with a present as well as the local with the cosmopolitan, and finally the inside (of a Tradition and a history) with the outside (the presence of the cultural Other) by a strategy of overlapping three images: the first one which is the most precious for the national aspect, the identity mark (logo) the royal castle called “Wawel” of medieval and renaissance architectural flavour with the second one - very unique and exceptional: the Manggha Center for Japanese Culture and Technology (surprisingly, a part of the National Museum), the only example of postmodern contemporary architecture in such conservative city, attached to the past and national cultural heritage as Krakow, designed by Arata Isozaki.

The friction (or complementarity) of these two architectural sites is enhanced by an additional image: a stripe-like flow of people walking down the path along the castle and the Vistula river, another national symbol, a river running through the whole country. The crowd of strollers seems to be dominated by the monumentality of symbols, and the layered construction of images distorts the scale and turns the crowd into a mosaic-like ornament. The surface of the river reflects these two images, melting them at the same time. lt connects and simultaneously borders both space and time. The image becomes even more condensed: it gets a double framing. lt is not only architecture which functions as a very important sign, but there is still another more contemporary reference which is charged with an additional set of cultural difference tools, namely the current exhibition at the Manggha Center which focuses on the very popular phenomenon of Japanese culture, the manga cartoons.

In Klopf's frame, manga colorful stills are “almost” or “as if” projected on the surface of the Manggha Center glass wall. Transparency has been disturbed, as if again, volume has been added to the depth-less surface. Juxtapositions of dynamic animation images with the solidity of the Wawel historical importance create a surface tension of unusual quality.

The main image is complemented by the Interviews with three girls, linked to the city of Krakow. A Japanese girl who lives permanently in Krakow and tells her story about the literaly significance of a castle using fluent Polish, and two Polish girls who, interviewed in German and English, confront the role and cultural, ideological and national value of the Wawel castle in a process of constructing the individual and the group identity with their own personal experience. Such is an another example of taming the space and making it familiar through the personal stories and intimate impressions, however it is an atmosphere of temporariness one's and transit which governs here, intensified by cardboard boxes spread around the images, filling up the space which is marked by emptiness and void.

Klopf is literaly “on the move” (with his project) and you can yourself inscribe a destination as well as names of a sender and receiver into “where” - “to”- “from” pattern figuring on each box, pattern which reminds us more of virtual reality communication panel than of a conventional travel equipment set. Primarily Klopf's work deals with a relocation subject in terms of an approaching one's tradition and national identity. lt tests identity components and confines, creating at the same time the platform for a cultural “exchange” and circulation of national vocabulary sets. lt is an other/or next Klopf's destination of a biographical and very intimate individual local coloration, where space and its cultural mapping become a point of departure for a memory work challenge and a reflection upon representational tactics. But beyond that, Karl-Heinz Klopf's preoccupations with architecture(s) and space(s) as elaborated through the lens of particular and personal experience depict a complex relation between bodies and cities with their urbanism. Elizabeth Grosz suggests a model where the body is considered active in the production and transformation of the city as well as isomorphic with it (1).

Refiguring the subject (nomads moving freely in an element of exteriorly) in a cityscape environment, a two-way linkage is being established, the one that could be defined as an interface. Bodies and cities are perceived as assemblages or collections of parts that are able to cross the thresholds between substances to form linkages, provisional and often temporary sub-groupings. Covering and exposing, transforming and inscribing these are the main objectives of Karl-Heinz's project. City becomes a site for the body's cultural saturation, its captivation and transformation by images, representational systems and mass media. On the other hand, the body itself re-inscribes the urban landscape, transforms it and extends its limits beyond its social, cultural and geographical construction. Wawel seems to continue Karl-Heinz Klopf's pursuit of an imagined city, one of these “invisible” cities as breathtakingly depicted by ltalo Calvino through an experience of Marco Polo, including his dreams and desires, strategies and tactics: “at times all I need is a brief glimpse, an opening in the midst of an incongruous landscape, a glint of lights in the fog, the dialogue of two passersby meeting in the crowd, and I think that, setting out from there, I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city, made of fragments mixed with the rest, of instants separated by intervals, of signals one sends out, not knowing who receives them. lf I tell you that the city toward which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop. Perhaps while we speak, it is rising, scattered, within the confines of your empire; you can hunt for it, but only in the way I have said” (2).

1) Grosz, Elizabeth. Bodies-Cities in Sexuality and Space. edited by Beatriz Colomina, op. cit.
2) Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Vinage Classics, 1997.

(This text has been published in Dialog 3/ Re: Location/Poland O.K Center for Contemporary Art, Linz, 2001)

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