Jürgen Klauke : »Antlitze«, 1972-2000
by Dörte Zbikowski
Viewers find themselves captivated by the 96 faces Klauke has brought together for the installation across a surface of seven by four meters. These are striking portraits, even if no actual faces are to be seen and only any manner of different variations of faces masked by disguises. The masked faces stand across from us as if they were people. To this end, Klauke selected only shots which show persons frontally, in other words the way which would normally most obviously trigger a dialog. All the more apparent is the refusal of these masked disguises to speak. Yet Klauke has called the series »Antlitze« [Faces], thus alluding to the fact that the masked faces can be just as telling as faces without masks.
In this series, Klauke shows very vividly how varied the face of masks can be and how much a mask, despite its function of eliminating the face behind it, actually expresses. The pictures reflect this variety: stockings, caps, scarves, bags, veils, fabric, and concealing drapes of all sorts. In some cases, the fabric alludes to the nationality of the masked person: an Arab, a Corsican, an Afghan, an Irishman. No one mask is the same as another. The wealth of self-created masks expresses the variety of personalities who thus display their »difference«.
Klauke makes creative and substantive use of the grainy grid derived form the newspaper images he has based the piece. Formally speaking, the grid links the individual images, and in terms of contents it emphasizes the dissolution of the face. In especially strong magnification, all the details get lost, the face and the mask both blur. What remains is some phantom image. As such, it serves as proof and as the basis for an arrest - referencing the original context of these photos.
The earliest of the newspaper photos Klauke has used for the series relate to the tragic events surrounding the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. In the Morning of Sept. 5, the 11th day of the Games, five Arab terrorists burst into the Israeli team quarters. They shot wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano and took nine Israeli sportspeople hostage. They then demanded the release of Arabs detained by the Israelis. The negotiations took place live in front of the TV cameras. That evening, the terrorists and hostages were taken to the airport, ostensibly to fly them out. The attempt to free the hostages on the apron by force went disastrously wrong and things took a bloody end. All nine Israeli hostages, the five Arabs and one German policeman were killed.
The pictures went round the world. One image that was particularly lasting was that of a masked man who had pulled a stocking, knotted at the top, over his head, and the foot of the stocking hung down on one side.
These events first drew Klauke's attention to the topic of masks as disguise. In the context of his focus on identity and identities he started to concern himself with the issue. The face is that part of the body which most strongly expressed the uniqueness of an individual. Moreover, by means of everyday masks people try and don a social identity. This includes protective and working masks, as well as the masks of self-presentation, such as make-up, and group-specific clothing. Face masks by way of disguise remain a special case.
Masking is a way of placing oneself on a stage, transforming or concealing the individual. External appearance reproduces a part of the person's image of himself as if carefully fine-tuned to the situation at hand. Each form of masking emphasizes specific aspects and conceals others, in other words, it deliberately does not present the latter. Masks as self-presentation always entail a denial of self and precisely this is what the masking function involves. The individual decides on a case by case basis which characteristics are to be presented to the outside world as constituting his identity and thus directs how he is perceived. The information which he conveys through his external appearance determine how others behave toward him.
Expressing empathy with the person opposite by facial expression is a key basis for keeping communication going. People thus find it very unpleasant if they can see no feelings or reactions in the other person's face. Masks of disguise not only conceal identity, they also hide any feelings the person might have. For this reason, they trigger notions of illegality and criminality. Masks of disguise protect against identification – and against communication. Masks of disguise are a form of eliding your face. On the other hand, they create mystery and prompt enhanced attention. They also decide in what way the perception of the respective person should be directed.
Ever since the terrorist attack in Munich, Jürgen Klauke has clipped newspapers for photos of masks, photographed the details of the heads and enlarged these. The series consists of 96 of these photos and went on show in 2000 as part of a retrospective of his photographic oeuvre shown at Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn. The photos were spread across two floors. Antlitze was the first piece confronting visitors to the exhibition. Faces masked in a wide variety of ways thus made visitors feel they should engage in dialogue, but yet the masks refused to speak. Since all of these masked faces had received sad fame in the press, some visitors might remember the one or other incident. However, as Klauke had taken the heads out of context, hardly anyone will now be able to assign all the faces to a specific event. They can thus only be recognized to a limited extent, and by contrast the encounter with the aesthetic stimuli of all manner of disguising masks is a new sensation. The beauty of these pictures, a product among other things of the cropping, tends to prevent us from recollecting the terror that was associated with the originals. After all, Klauke's series is a »typology of horror«, as he himself says.
Within Klauke's oeuvre there are clear references above all to the works from his Prosecuritas group. A seven-piece photographic series from this group is likewise entitled »Antlitze«. In these pictures, Klauke focuses on the eyes, nose and mouth. Here, too, recognizability recedes behind the dissolution of the face. The erasure of the face is achieved by technical means: Klauke makes use of x-rays, otherwise used by medicine to enhance diagnostic standards, because it offers a transformational medium. It enables him to present not the outer appearance but an inner layer that resides at a deeper level. Like the masked disguises this is another form of physical presence. In his oeuvre, the insights into the interior and the superimposition of another layer of masking tend to erase our usual way of seeing things.
Overall, Klauke makes use of the technical range of x-rays to present an "aesthetics of disappearance", as repeatedly emphasized by the titles of his works, such as the tripartite piece dating from 1982-3 at part of the Auf leisen Sohlen group or the 1992-3 triptych from the Prosecuritas group.
Moreover, there is another link to the Prosecuritas group, namely the technique of using second-hand photos for his own work – a rare occurrence otherwise in Klauke's art. The monkey misused for some animal test in the last picture in the seven-part sequence Kulturkoffer [1992-3] is montage, and a photo with the US security officer at the Mexican border wearing a night-vision device [Prosecuritas - Düsseldorfer Raum, 1987, 8th photo] is presented as a negative. Other pictures in this series show de-humanized heads, their faces elided again by x-ray, who are manipulated by invisible forces by means of strings.
By contrast, we quite frequently encounter face masks in Klauke's photos, be it as protective or as eye masks, or as make-up. These serve to place the individual person on a stage – and even without a mask being evident, Klauke sometimes refers quite overtly in the titles to his interest in the human face and the possible expressive powers it possesses: Physiognomien [1972/73], Ich + Ich [1970/2000], Das menschliche Antlitz im Spiegel soziologisch-nervöser Prozesse [1976/77]. As his basis he takes identity and the mutability of identity, not to mention the viewer's cliché-based dualistic expectations as regards »good« and »evil«. As in Das menschliche Antlitz, where Klauke allocated several sociological roles respectively to the two facial expressions »laughing« and »grim«, in Antlitze Klauke uses the title to ironically undermine the usual clichés.
It has often been pointed out that Klauke refers in his photographic work to settings such as define our identity in the mass media. The picture of people disguising themselves with masks is likewise determined by the media. It has negative connotations in the media as it is primarily associated there with criminals, expressing deviance that has got out of control. Such masking would thus be an expression for the attempt to render your identity unidentifiable and thus to ensure state surveillance systems cannot identify you. Klauke shows how individual the masks of disguise nevertheless are – and how strongly our perception is predicated by social norms.