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The Truth of the Archive
Armin Linke's Photography: Between Document and Fiction

Armin Linke's artist's talk
at the Deutsche Guggenheim, March 2008
Photo Mathias Schormann

Whether he uses his camera to record the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Carlo Mollino's Teatro Regio, or the monumental streets of North Korea's Pyongyang—the photographic works of the Milan-based artist Armin Linke constitute a steadily growing visual atlas of the globalized world. His monumental C-print "Tokyo Ski Dome" is currently on view in the exhibition "True North" at the Deutsche Guggenheim. Brigitte Werneburg on Armin Linke's conceptual art photography.

Armin Linke's artist's talk
at the Deutsche Guggenheim, March 2008
Photo: Mathias Schormann

In mathematical terms, Armin Linke's slide show in the lecture hall of the Deutsche Guggenheim lasted precisely 26.666 minutes. During this span of time, the Milan-based photographer showed 800 images each of which remained on the screen for exactly two seconds. Armin Linke, who came to Berlin for an artist's talk in the framework of the True North exhibition, delivered a serious version of what we like to call a "flood of images." Not in the sense of the banal criticism we know all too well concerning the satiety of the senses that we feel subjected to nowadays; after all, maybe we merely believe that we're supposed to have this feeling. But perhaps we can put up with far more than we'd ordinarily suspect; in any case, visitors' thoughtful questions following this 26.666-minute storm of images demonstrated that the audience was an equal match. Armin Linke's performance provided an example of our presence of mind—and it also pinpointed an essential aspect of the photographic discourse: the archive.

Armin Linke, Three Gorges Dam,
construction of a lift for ships Yichang (Hupeh) China
Courtesy Klosterfelde, Berlin, © Armin Linke

In practice, the Milan-based artist seeks to show his images not as individual photographs, but rather within a clear system of references. He stresses the comparison and not the stylization of the individual photograph as an iconic work of art, as he said in 2003 in a conversation published in his book Transient. In keeping with this, Armin Linke likes to adhere to the model of the archive while presenting his photographs. He leaves it up to the viewer to discover a particular image or sequence of images in the mass of photographs, making him or her a temporary curator of sorts.

Armin Linke, Huis Ten Bosch Resort, Nagasaki Japan
Courtesy Klosterfelde, Berlin, © Armin Linke

Whether it's at the Venice Biennial or, more recently, for his installation in the exhibition You_ser: The Century of the Consumer, which has been on view since October 2007 at the ZKM Karlsruhe (where Armin Linke has a guest professorship) – he always allows the viewer to create his or her own personal set of photographs, thanks to an electronic scanner and small printer that otherwise spit out flight tickets.

Armin Linke, Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas, 1999,
Deutsche Bank Collection

Armin Linke's slide show mixed pictures taken at a flower auction in Amsterdam with images of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China and the G-8 summit meeting in Genoa in 2001. A photograph of the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, which is part of the Deutsche Bank Collection, was followed by the Khomeini Mausoleum in Teheran and Thongil Street in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. Then, all of a sudden, there was the Teatro Regio by Carlo Mollino in Turin and a portrait of two police officers in the Nigerian megacity Lagos, to name only a few of the motifs.

Armin Linke, Carlo Mollino, Teatro Regio, Torino, Italy
Courtesy Klosterfelde, Berlin, © Armin Linke

The greatest conceivable antipode to this ambitious image atlas of today's world, which by nature strives for completion, is the huge print of the Tokyo Ski Dome (1998), of course, which can be admired in the exhibition hall of the Deutsche Guggenheim. One could easily attribute this panoramic view of an artificially created ski slope beneath the huge dome of an industrial-sized space to the new Italian landscape photography associated with names like Walter Niedermayr, Massimo Vitali, and even Gabriele Basilico. The work also mirrors the topography of a global consumerist world, which Armin Linke documents as a paradoxical space existing in a real-life science fiction scenario.

Armin Linke, Ski Dome, Tokyo, Japan
(from the Global Box series, 1998-2000), 1998
Foto: Courtesy Galleria Marabini,
©Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
©Armin Linke

Yet it's not the sober sensitivity he brings to bear in dissolving the boundaries between document and fiction that defines Armin Linke's work as artistic in essence, but rather his conscious intellectual investigation of the archive. It's a given that he formulates his arguments within the photographic discourse in a distinctly individual manner—just like the great photographers do. In contrast with them, however, he always addresses the foundations, rules, and institutions of this discourse within his work, making them transparent as he does so. With this strategy, Armin Linke underscores a basic concept of contemporary art.

Armin Linke, Oscar Niemeyer, Underground Mobile Walkway, Brasilia, 1999,
Deutsche Bank Collection

Yet it's the special aesthetic quality of Armin Linke's works that provides the conceptual background for his exploration of the idea of the archive. The fact that he stages the techno-architectures of the 20th and 21st centuries as spaces possessing a nearly immaterial sublimity leads the viewer to lose touch with a sense of scale and proportion, a perceptual experience that is both fascinating and disturbing. It's no contradiction that the artist is concerned with the greatest possible degree of authenticity in the production of his images. Even the chronicler he characterizes himself as being only gains access to one segment of reality and hence one construction of the world—an inescapable dilemma that Linke addresses in his work in two different ways.

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