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Thomas Ruff

In his latest series entitled Machines the Düsseldorf based artist Thomas Ruff (*1958 in Zell, near Harmersbach/Black Forest) has foraged through the picture archives of the toolmachinery factory „May“. He discovered glass negatives which had been used for a sales brochure. These he first scanned, then altered digitally, by for instance colouring the black and white photographs in iron oxide shades formerly used in industrial factories, then transforming the negative plates into large sized pictures.

Ruff’s series enable us to comprehend the steps of development undertaken in product photography, which lastly should result in the depiction of the toolmachines and the manufactured tools in the completed sales brochure. This is achieved by way of applying the graphic process of „Cutting and Pasting“ and by using a repetitive photocopying method. In this process the industrial devices and tools were increasingly freed from their context to the initial photographs until they could serve as models for the catalogue, in the highest graphic precision, now merely self-referring. Even in the initial photographs the attempt had been made to show the machines largely detached by setting up a white screen behind them. By this means the reference to the photographed representative machine is resolved in this very first phase of copying.

It becomes evident that the photographic image functions in itself beyond all references and may develop an individual existence regardless of its related starting point. In the book of models, for instance, the picture of a machine is not meant to advertise a specific machine, but stands exemplary for all machines of this type, thus gaining the character of a model or a prototype - if not in the constructive, then at least in the visual sense.

By freeing these pictures of their original context of function and processing them, Ruff grants them a pictorial autonomy. Now only do they reveal their inner reflexive nature, which is liable to adapt paradoxical traits. Should we strive to understand all their facets discursively, the pictures' misleading singleness of meaning would deny us this more complex perception and interpretation. In his new series Machines Ruff not only investigates the history of photography, but also ponders on the fundamental question of how something can appear in a picture, on how we perceive a picture and which role the suppositions of mediums of a pictorial technique play herewith.

In the exhibition the series Machines is shown together with a new sequel of Substrates. Here Ruff used copies of comics which he worked on digitally, overlapping them in numerous layers, multiplying them so often as to end up with a three-dimensional abstract space of colours, lacking all sense and meaning, created out of the flat two-dimensional comics. [Text Iris Wien, Translation Barbara Brechbühl]

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