Jill Luise Muessig »Stills«
14 January—25 February 2017

Magic and fascination of the still life
—By Jill Luise Muessig /Statement

All of my work focuses on collection, storage, exhibition and the corresponding presentation forms.

Still lives by renaissance and baroque Flemish and Dutch painters inspired me to create the »Stillleben /Still Lives« photo project. My photos, which at first glance appear traditional, reveal the multiple media breaks and reflections only when viewed more closely.

I combine three equally important image levels to form an overall composition, consisting of a photographed still life, a photograph of the frame, and the surrounding white image border. The design and compositional elements are particularly important to me. Each new project is triggered by my passion for collecting old and beautiful things. I don’t collect valuable or antique objects in a conventional sense. Rather, I am fascinated by everyday objects with visible signs of use. This also includes picture frames, some with flaking paint and other damage. To me, these wounds make them all the more valuable, perhaps because they are in danger of being thrown out due to the defects.

Still lives have always been sought-after collectors’ items, and first became luxury items in the 17th century. By the golden age of Dutch art at the latest, still lives had begun to reflect the economic lives and reality of the painters, collectors and customers. The same merchants and investors who had helped make the Netherlands a global trading power and imported exotic goods from Europe and around the world, also commissioned still lives to decorate their town and country houses, depicting the sources of their wealth, like exotic spices, Venetian glass or Chinese porcelain. Among other things, the painters’ aim was to record and depict the beauty of natural and everyday objects. Another message is the typically baroque attitude that all earthly splendour is transient.

The still lives I compose are reminiscent of the pomp of these baroque still lives, but do not reconstruct specific paintings. I primarily use historic utensils for my arrangements. It is not only the medium of digital colour photography that clearly shows them to be contemporary works of art, a closer look at the objects depicted also allows viewers to date them. For example, you can see the plastic identification tags in the ears of the ram’s head.

The still lives are created in different places, as new backgrounds must be found for each image. The lighting and camera angle are also different in every image. In painted still lives, artists often used specific subjects which they found attractive to them for various reasons over and over again. As a result, some images look as though individual elements are not positioned correctly. Many images appear over-full, which we interpret as baroque. By contrast, I tend to use a reduced imagery for my photographs. My compositions really took place as they are shown in the image.

The second level of the picture is the picture frame I find for the photographed images. The picture frame plays a key role in determining the impact of an image. I realised that when looking at images in exhibitions. A painting in a frame looks entirely different to a reproduction without a frame in a catalogue or a postcard. The size of the frame, the thickness of the sides, the profile, and the colour [gold - black or silver] are important. I do not arrange the final composition until I have found the right frame for the image in question. I digitally insert the photographed still life into the photographed picture frame. The size of the final image is dictated by the frame used, which is always depicted in life size.

The third element is the white border around the photographed picture frame. It heightens the presence of the colour motif, and avoids the impression of a mere reproduction or unintentional optical illusion.  —Translated by Brendan Bleheen
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