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Sebastian Utzni (Germany)


Utzni
Cour des Miracles: Sports grounds of the TSV Landsberg, Germany
Series of 13 photo-text pairs, 2007- 2008

Johnny Cash served as soldier in the US Air Force and was stationed in the Bavarian town Landsberg am Lech in 1951. He founded a band there, the „Landsberg Barbarians“, but also played in the local football club „FC Landsberg/Lech of 1909“ on the left-side, midfield. His partners liked to call out to him „Johnny, lauf Linie“ before passing him the ball – a term well known among football players when playing a steep pass. Johnny, however, could not understand this German sentence and therefore asked the coach: “What does “Lauf Linie“ mean, coach?“ The coach, who did not speak English very well either, and gave him the rather clumsy translation „You walk the line!” The football club later called itself „TSV Landsberg“ and plays in the Oberliga Swabia at present.
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“Have you ever reflected on everything contained in the term “flanerie,”[1] this most enchanting word which is revered by the poets…? Going on infinite investigations through the streets and promenades; drifting along, with your nose in the wind, with both hands in your pockets, and with an umbrella under your arm, as befits any open-minded spirit; walking along, with serendipity, without pondering where to and without urging to hurry… stopping in front of stores to regard their images, at street corners to read their signs, by the bouquinistes[2] stands to touch their old books…giving yourself over, captivated and enraptured, with all your senses and all your mind, to the spectacle.”[3]

Sebastian Utzni’s detached observations and street photography are a modern extension of the urban observer described by the nineteenth century journalist Victor Fournel before the advent of the hand-held camera.

Utzni’s photographic work is something “…that preserves the least traces, and on which are reproduced, with their changing reflections, the course of things…”.[4] Incorporating photography within installation and book format structures, he explores the space between image, place and text and how the interpretation of imagery shifts according to changes in time, location and context.

“I consider myself a “collector”. To me, this means being both someone who tells stories (with words and images) and someone who finds stories and pictures. Both are connected. Something found acquires new meaning by passing through my hands, or through those of the observer, and thus something new, something to be told, comes into being all over again. In so doing, I depend to a certain extent, on coincidence; for example, of things I find and observe while walking. From this slow wandering, as a flâneur, the photographic series Benches has evolved.”[5]

Based on the philosophical idea of the inside and outside, the insight and outlook, this series of paired photographs shows a bench with the corresponding view. The spectator’s field of vision becomes that of the imagined observer sitting on the bench. The captured view from the bench, a seemingly arbitrary snapshot of space and time, is nevertheless very much determined as it is at just this spot that the bench has been consciously placed. At times, the reasoning behind the bench’s location is obvious – somewhere to rest half way up a hill, or a spectacular view, but often it remains ambiguous why that particular spot has been chosen. Perhaps, when the bench was installed, the bench afforded a beautiful vista since obscured by a hedge…

Cour des Miracles[6] is also concerned with how the interpretation of images alters according to shifts in space and information. The work consists of a series of photographs of particular places which have become significant or meaningful through outside influences - sometimes important, sometimes unimportant, sometimes the meanings are true and sometimes a myth or superstition has developed concerning the place. Bland photographs representing these locations only acquire meaning through their accompanying texts. Therefore, not only space and time are questioned, but also the observer’s trust in image and text as a medium for carrying information. The observer only grasps the meaning by actively interpreting the space between text and picture. In effect, the meaning of Cour de Miracles is generated by the proactive interpretation of the viewer; the meaning sits in the imaginative space between text and image.

“The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitring, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world 'picturesque.' “[7]

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[1]
The term flanerie or flâneur comes from the French verb flâner, which means "to stroll". A flâneur is thus a person who walks the city in order to experience it. Because of the term's usage and theorization by Charles Baudelaire and numerous thinkers in economic, cultural, literary and historical fields, the idea o f the flâneur has accumulated significant meaning as a referent for understanding urban phenomena and modernity.

[2]
The used-book sellers (bouquinistes) along the River Seine at Notre-Dame are a Parisian fixture.

[3]
Victor Fournel, Ce qu’on voit dans les rues de Paris, quoted in Anke Gleber, The Art of Taking a Walk: Flanerie, Literature and Film in Weimar Culture, Pirinceton University Press, 1999

[4]
ibid

[5]
Sebastian Utzni, notes for this exhibition, 2008

[6]
In medieval Paris there was a deserted courtyard known as the “miracle court”. According to legend, the blind were able to see again here, the paralysed to move, the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. The courtyard was a popular meeting place for thieves and other crooks, who took advantage of a pretended deafness to discover from overheard conversations where there might be something worth stealing, or, feigning blindness, begged alms from passers-by.

[7]
Susan Sontag, On Photography, Penguin, 1977, 55

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Sebastian Utzni born in Augsburg / Germany. Lives and works in Zurich / Switzerland

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