Our House

(with Katja Stuke)

Our House« by Florian Ebner

Who are you this time?
This line from a song by Tom Waits is quoted in an interview with the American photographer Ted Partin which appears in one of the more than 550 entries of the Böhm/Kobayashi Encyclopedia.

No other question could be more fittingly posed 
to the editors of this publication, as behind Böhm/Kobayashi 
lurk the duo Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber, who together cover 
an extensive range of personas: photographers and artists,
curators and exhibition organizers, designers and art book
editors. Yet as they move through their photographic cosmos,
it is not always so easy to determine where one identity ends
 and the other begins.

Regardless, in their works and activities 
as artists and art facilitators they have long since become 
moderators of a very specific photographic culture.
Who are you this time? – This question could also be 
posed to the protagonists of Sieber’s and Stuke’s works. As
 different as their approaches might be, each formulates the
 classic question of the photographic portrait:
Who are you as
 an individual and as a social subject? Or to put it in other
words: Which Image of yourself would you like to put forward?

For many years Oliver Sieber has been asking young people to appear in front of his camera, people whose clothing is associated with a specific subculture, be it punk, skin, teddy boy, rockabilly, goth, etc.
Many are extravagantly styled, yet while sometimes the look is an elaborate act, other times an individual figure’s appearance strikes the artist’s interest. Despite the narrow frame and the precision of the photographic depiction, the form of Sieber’s portraits lends the models a certain freedom.

Seemingly lost in their thoughts, staring into the distance, they exude an autonomy, a presence within themselves at the moment when the image is made. This freedom also corresponds to the manner in which Sieber displays the pictures in the most recent presentation of hiswork.
In Imaginary Club the figures are not arranged accordingto types, instead the photographer combines the images of different color series with black and white shots of streetscenes or concerts. In these juxtapositions of different styles and locations he creates an “imaginary club”, a co-existence of diverse styles that define themselves by the way in which they diverge from mainstream society.

The fact that the portraits were created in Europe, the U.S. and Japan indicates how the shadowy apparitions of sub-cultures propagate themselves and are modified in the globalized pop underground. When one day these movements have become extinct ,Sieber’s collection of portraits, the form of which evokes associations with the photographs of Native Americans taken in the 19th century, will assume the importance of an urban ethnographic document.

Katja Stuke’s hybrid mixtures of video and photography also
 explore specific types and characters, but they represent the
 continuation of a different kind of tradition – that of the anonymous 
street portrait. For her series Suits she films passersby 
in London, Tokyo, Osaka and New York, as they scurry here 
and there. She further edits the material in front of her computer
screen, capturing the exact moment on the monitor
 when an individual emerges from the masses.
While in 1946
 Walker Evans documented the figure of the modern worker on 
the streets of downtown Detroit in his series Labor Anonymous,
 Stuke focuses on another professional group – men in 
suits. Yet this dress code is not exclusively reserved for bankers 
and businessmen. Sometimes all it takes is a glimpse of 
the bright red hair of a Japanese adolescent to subversively
 reinterpret this uniform.

The photographic figures from the 
street are supplemented by Stuke’s use of such found material
 as printed film stills of classic movie stars in business attire,
 as these individuals embody a very different kind of sovereignty 
from that of the globalized “homo oeconomicus” of our age.
 An early series by Katja Stuke bears the title CCTV, the 
term for surveillance cameras in public areas. The artistic 
analysis of public space in her works is signaled by the clearly
 visible structure of the television monitor tubes in the largeformat
prints as well as by the grid on the color offset prints.
These elements become the signatures of public images.

In the exhibition Our House, the works Imaginary Club and
Suits are shown on walls in separate rooms, yet they also exist
in the form of artist’s books or appear as dialogues on the pages
of a magazine, which has contributed in no small way to the
international reputation of Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber. The
individual issues of their fanzines, which they have been issuing
since 1999 in small print runs, bear the titles Frau Böhm,
Die Böhm or simply Böhm.

Under the cover of this pseudonym
 Sieber and Stuke have developed their own publishing platform,
an experimental forum for their work on the printed
page, where their new series reference one another and explore
narrative forms based entirely on images.
The artists have long since turned this label (now supplemented
with the Japanese name “Kobayashi”, which is as
common as the German name “Böhm”) into a stage for the
duo’s diverse activities, such as the Böhm Handelszentrum
 (Böhm TradeCenter), a virtual, online exhibition space.
two years, under the provocative title of Antifoto the two
have been presenting – at the moment in the real space of the
 Kunstraum in Düsseldorf – aspects of a photographic technique
that is characterized by a unique, media-reflected

Who are you this time? Katja Stuke and Oliver Sieber have become international traveling salesmen in the field of photography,who feel more at home on the road than they do intheir atelier in Düsseldorf. Like no other German artists of their generation, they have portrayed the everyday culture of Japan in their works or turned the mythic locations of film intoa subject of photography. With their works – which illustrate towhat a tremendous extent the “poor media” of popular culture shape our imaginations – they have turned the Museum für Photographie into “their house”, as the exhibition’s title indicates. Not least of all, they reveal the many faces and the evermigrating image forms and pre-sentation methods of photographyas a medium. Florian Ebner