Roxy Brennan, Arnolfini steward, writer and musician, explores the relationship between Susanne Kriemann’s extended series of photographs titled A silent crazy jungle under glass and the book it takes its name from, The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers.
Susanne Kriemann’s extended series of photographs titled A silent crazy jungle under glass takes its name from the book The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. I want to look at why this title has been used and at the dialogue Kriemann creates by drawing this literary element into her work.
Within the book these words describe a summer in the life of 12 year old protagonist Frankie. We find them on the very first page providing the ‘set-up’, or status quo , a monotonous, hot, boring expanse of time which the action of the novel will interrupt.
“At last the summer was like a green sick dream, or like a silent crazy jungle under glass. And then, on the last Friday of August, all this was changed.”
Primarily, Kriemann uses this quote as an evocative description of what a photograph on display in a gallery is – a quiet and strange world captured under the glass of the photo frame. By removing the words from their context they are used well, reapplied to the visual, providing a formative reading of all the photos for the viewer. The “silent crazy jungle” emphasises the strangeness of the rocks and trees and other objects pictured. In the same way that some of these photos have been taken out of the context of the archives, or books they originate from, these words, taken out of context, reveal their strangeness and perhaps their beauty.
However, its not simply the aptness of this phrase to describe photographs that makes this an effective title for this series of works. Carson McCullers novel is an atmospheric and intimate portrayal of a young girl’s feelings about growing up and being at once part of, and isolated, from her society. It is interesting to think about these themes in the context of Kriemann’s work on archives which touch on the anxiety surrounding context and belonging.
“The meaning of images in this instance is co-produced by the circumstances in which we seem them in a gallery space, in relation to other photographs (or texts).” (Arnolfini gallery guide)
Like Frankie in The Member of the Wedding, Kriemann’s photos simultaneously crave and resist definition from context. For Frankie it is the wedding of her older brother that highlights the difficulty of being part of something. She wants to tell the bride and groom “you are the we of me”, a repeated phrase in the novel. In this exhibition it is the wall, the room, the structure, the frame that make the” we” of each photograph. Kriemann controls these contexts to highlight the difficulty of belonging.
In A crazy silent jungle under glass (rocks) Kriemann actively searches for context, in her quest to photograph the exact same image of the quarry as the one depicted in the original source photo by Albert Renger-Patzsch. This hunt for images to match and accompany the original serves to highlight the difference between new and old, between Renger-Patzsch and Kriemann. The original picture is scanned from a book and consequently the quality is significantly worse than the new photos taken by Kriemann. The search for a belonging - ” a we of me”- is seemingly achieved but upon closer inspection is unsuccessful.
This similarity between Frankie and the image and their search for belonging is also interesting within the theme of archives that Kriemann consistently returns to. The archive is a structure or network of information that insists on belonging. Objects, texts, photos etc must meet a certain criteria to belong to the archive. By showing the difficulty in belonging Kriemann is questioning the work of the archive in defining its objects correctly.
In A silent Crazy Jungle under glass (277568) and Repetition there is a more stylistic connection between visual and literary art. The aerial images portrayed in the format of a slide projector show the “jungle” of the title, but also have a saturated yet faded, nostalgic feel that echoes the prose style of McCullers. Her books are firmly rooted in a time that is past, and Kriemann’s slides and projector are also firm signals of the past. Furthermore the author’s use of colour and light is akin to that of the photographer, with descriptions of “purple and dark” twilights, and a midday that is “hard and yellow and bright”. “The geranium glow had faded from the sky”. McCullers writing evokes the image of a colour infused photograph much like the light pink, pale green cold war images that Kriemann displays on the sculpture. This, probably coincidental, visual echo of McCullers text provides another level on which to think about image. Within this exhibition Kriemann is asking us to look at these images in contexts she’s provided, encouraging us to think about the difference between subject and format and if/how context changes our view. By adding the literary reference to our understanding we can see how novel and photo both do the work of capturing and projecting back to us replicas of the world we live in. This process is part of our way of understanding the world, of archiving and making sense of it.
By drawing McCullers text into her discussion on archive and photography Kriemann roots her investigation of meaning in image and context, of photo and archive, within a narrative discussion of identity, providing useful threads between text and image that transcend across time and form but also highlight the space between then and now, between word and image.