Der Sturm


 

“Art has always oscillated between reflectivity and illusion.”

 

The form, style and characteristics of the construction of a city are intrinsically related to its history. If we observe closely the architecture of a city it will tell us a great deal about the culture and way of life of its inhabitants.

In 2008 I recorded the first photographs of the architecture of New York pertaining to this project, which was only concluded in 2013, always opting to develop these pictures in black and white.

Later on I noticed that the contrasting shades in this black and white treatment were somewhat reminiscent of the dramatic qualities of Cinema Noir lighting, a film genre which always impressed me, because of both the contrasting lighting effects in the filming and the theatricality of the various themes.

As a branch of my study I immediately started research, above and beyond film, into German Expressionism, the precursor of Cinema Noir, including its influence on painting and xylography. I returned several times to New York. At this point my work was already focussed on and aimed at this theme. The capture of each detail in the architecture was thought out with the Noir theme in mind. It would not be my intention to repeat integrally what was expressed in cinema, only what was essential for the composition of my new work. According to James Monaco in ‘American Film Now’, Film Noir is not in itself a genre, but a visual style, and it was precisely this characteristic that served as the basis for my project.

 

Lucia Adverse

*Stam, Robert – O Espetáculo Interrompido: literatura e cinema de desmistificação. Rio de Janeiro: Paz e Terra, 1981, p.19

 

The Rediscovery of the Aura in Photos of Berlin. Photography by Lucia Adverse.

 

An enormous light grey edifice with hundreds of darkened windows, its emphatic weight diminishing amid a sombre sky, dismisses the background in continuous gradations, like a powerful ship parting the waves, its curved bow and its other extremity proudly surging forward at an oblique angle.  The building has about fifteen floors and hundreds of rectangular apertures, dark cavities all arrayed in straight lines. Here and there lighter defacements appear as if reflecting another building whose apertures let through the rays of the sun.

This is the flagship photo that Lucia Adverse chose for the Der Sturm exhibition in which she presents her vision of the city of Berlin in twenty-three architectonic photographs in an ambitious undertaking that will challenge any art historian!

Der Sturm (The Storm) is nothing more than an explicit reference to the great cultural magazine of Berlin, which from 1910 to 1932 was the true vanguard springboard and artistic point of reference throughout Europe.

For more than twenty years, in its critical articles or exhibitions in the gallery of the same name in Berlin, Der Sturm presented all that was new or provocative in visual arts, architecture, literature, theatre, music and cinema. So from 1911 it was the Der Sturm magazine that launched the very term ‘Expressionism’ to describe the aesthetic developed by the two most revolutionary artistic movements in Germany at that time: ‘Die Brücke’ (The Bridge) and ‘Blaue Reiter’ (Blue Rider).

In a reaction against Impressionism and Symbolism, artists insisted on a new form of expression, often aggressive or violent, in which the representation of reality would really be favoured, banishing realism in order to express subjectivity, the state of the soul, and above all a revolt against social problems, in this way having no hesitation in restoring the myth of the savage in order to unleash more primitive impulses.

Borrowing expressly from a hundred year old movement in the History of European Art, the young Brazilian photographer Lucia Adverse immediately shows the same desire to subvert prejudice, impose the expressive power of photography and its power to transform reality. Her vision of the city of Berlin, inspired by the periodical ‘Der Sturm’, offers us twenty-three genuine architectonic ‘photographic tableaux’, composed according to the criteria of the most authentic German Expressionism, which we rarely see.

The Trajectory of a Young Brazilian Photographer.

What was the path followed by this artist which led to this achievement? Her development is significant.

Lucia Adverse initially studied Interior Design, but to create within confined spaces wasn’t enough for her. She quickly tore down the walls to arrive at the other side of design, opting for outdoor work, for photography that bears witness to, interpellates and displays the singularity of cities. Cities… What a vast field to explore! Especially for a native of Belo Horizonte, the great capital of the state of Minas Gerais, with buildings as high those in as São Paulo or New York, but surrounded by mountains, embraced by hills that provide tremendous panoramic views.

Having roamed around Europe, the United States and the Middle East, the artist understands that to capture the spirit of a city, its style, its history and also its future potential evolution, we have to know how to look and, more importantly, camera in hand, we have to capture signs, atmospheres, lights, the impulse of an urban photographic examination, the indications of a culture and the lifestyle of the inhabitants.

Six years ago, Lucia Adverse shot her first images of a series of photographs of the architecture of New York. Black and white imposes itself as the only way to be able to play with the contrasts of light and to express oneself in dramatic form, with a view to recreate in this manner the climate of Cinema Noir which she relishes, and the atmosphere of German Expressionism, imbued with images of great films whose frame of reference is the 1920s, black and white silent films like ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ (1920), or Fritz Lang’s celebrated science fiction film ‘The Metropolis’ (1927), filmed in Berlin.

Lucia Adverse and the film ‘Metropolis’.

I watched this masterpiece again. To my surprise Lucia Adverse’s  ‘Der Sturm’ series seems to be the urban universe of ‘Metropolis’ incarnate, as if, in modern Berlin, she really had found the buildings of the city designed by Fritz Lang nearly a century ago, as in a future visitation of those chosen for 2026, constructed day and night by robotic and completely servile workers. In Lucia Adverse’s photographs there also arise these enormous buildings with rectangular cavities, side by side, totally dark, sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal. It’s as if the science fiction city had taken modern concrete form in Berlin, exactly as Fritz Lang imagined it.

However,  on closer observation of the photography, ‘Metropolis’ appears more as a reference, a point of departure for her exploratory work, different from what Lucia Adverse presents to us, which is not really a vertical urban area where twin-engine planes fly around, but rather, isolated edifices or fragments of architecture, photographed one by one.

The twenty-three photographs of ‘Der Sturm’ really reveal a sampling of the urban history of Berlin in all its moments of local architecture, especially because the artist shows us not the prestigious architecture of the city’s most well-known buildings, but the everyday buildings, offices, ordinary houses or simple dwellings. A small ancient house with walls covered in ivy and a tree in the yard, a large façade with post baroque details, a popular construction in the modernist Bauhaus 1930’s style with its architectural entrance, an erstwhile town hall or Jewish commune featuring a gateway with four small lateral domes, a series of modern concrete facades, factories or office buildings typical of the last decades of the 20th century, and of course the above mentioned building of fifteen floors and its spectacular immensity.

Berlin, scene of the crime?

Furthermore, in the photos among the buildings of the German capital, we never see a single human being. Berlin, the capital of Germany is empty. In a famous analysis the philosopher Walter Benjamin commented on the apparent lack of humans in the photographic work of Eugène Atget in Paris around 1900 in districts threatened with extinction. We see the deserted streets of Paris and Benjamin describes them thus: “We rightly say that Eugène Atget photographed the streets in the way we photograph a crime scene, because the crime scene is also deserted. The objective of the photos is to offer up clues. In Atget’s work the photos start to become evidence for the judgement of history. This is the place where its political significance is found, its secrets…. And the photos leave the onlookers disturbed”. (1)

In Lucia Adverse’s work in the city of Berlin, which contains buildings, as in the film ‘Metropolis’, could this be a disturbing crime scene?  Could the photographer be taking us into a trial of contemporary history in which the conditions of the great cities we live in put the evolution of nature at risk? The overall atmosphere of these twenty three photographs could convince us of this.

Fritz Lang said that he designed the scenes of the future along the lines of the skyscrapers he saw in New York in 1924, which struck him as “vertical sailing boats of sumptuous decoration suspended in a dark sky to dazzle, entertain and fascinate” – this sombre sky that fascinates also appears in Lucia Adverse’s photos. In her turn she accentuates to the utmost these contrasts in her black and white, cutting in houses and buildings under the grades of black or grey sky, immersing us in an urban context in which even the photographing of daylight seems to have been done in the shadow of night. However, the photographer banishes the night, yet powerful lights illuminate the facades of buildings often scarred by the branches of naked trees displaying their winter skeletons, reproducing the American night effect (technically speaking) which extends along Berlin, as if the whole city was living under a permanent solar eclipse, as if the sun had lost its power of radiation and had become eternally black.

Lucia Adverse is certainly a fan of Film Noir. In her photographs, among the houses abandoned by their inhabitants, the bare trees and an almost extinct sun, the city of Berlin seems on the very edge of living through the darkest drama, perhaps even its own annihilation.

The Rediscovery of the Aura.

However, in the final analysis, it is not this that we will remember from the ‘Der Sturm’ series. Its luminous and disturbing weirdness emphasises the impression that we are in front of a slightly unreal décor, where we retain harmony, power and extreme artistic beauty. With her expressionist aspect Lucia Adverse made designs with the utmost rigour and originates facades and blocks whose retreating lines are oblique, truncated in close-ups on the floors of the buildings, or a pyramid of high, translucent metal tubes, or long vertical takes, or two long lines of old cobblestones implanted into the asphalt, covered obliquely with the more recent scarring of pedestrians’ footprints, where the road disappears from our sight.

Just as she did in a prior series of photos of inspired curves in the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer, the great architect so much in evidence in Belo Horizonte, Lucia Adverse has pictorial models directly inspired by the abstract. This new series in the form of expressionist photos of Berlin show her great mastery of the spatial composition of image and places her talent among already famous contemporary photographers like Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky and Jean-Marc Bustamente , who have evolved  in their work an artistic concept in photography.

In the era of technical reproduction of photography, Walter Benjamin complained that the cost of an exhibition greatly exceeded its worth as far as erudition is concerned and led to the disappearance of the aura, which made each photo a unique object, especially when Man was absent. (1) Certainly Man is absent in the photographs of Lucia Adverse, but by capturing through architecture the spirit of the city of Berlin in the aesthetic aspect of the ‘Der Sturm’ series, she managed to deliver an intensely erudite worth.

In her expressionist, eclipsing black and white lights she fully restores, completely and in a vibrant manner, all her aura.

Pascale Lismonde
Jornalist, Art critic, Membro da Associação Internacional de Críticos de Arte A.I.C.A., França
(1) Walter Benjamin, A Obra de Arte na Era da sua Reprodutibilidade Técnica.