In his photographic works, Arne Schmitt (born 1984 in Mayen, Federal Republic of Germany) deals with architecture and urban development. Central to his observations are the historical and societal entanglements of these spheres. Schmitt dissects both urban spaces and historical material, whether accidentally discovered or specifically sought out. His work is usually site-specific, as for example in Winterthur, where he looked at the symbolic economy of the Sulzer industrial park, which has become a much more creative and mixed-use space. In his 2015 book The New Inequality he took numerous walks through Cologne, looking for flashes of evidence of its neoliberal reconstruction. Schmitt’s exacting photography crystallizes the political in each structure and the spaces between structures.
One of his most important publications is When Attitudes Become Form (2012), a collection of photographic essays on the post-war architecture of the Federal Republic of Germany. The Hannover Sprengel Museum dedicated an exhibition to the work in the same year that it appeared. In 2018 he published Basalt: Origin Usage Exaltation, a photographic examination of this very specifically German natural and building material, dealing with its use and the mythology that surrounds it.
In 2013 he was a recipient of the Wüstenrot Foundation’s award for documentary photography, one of the most important awards of this kind in Germany. He was a Karl Schmidt-Rottluff fellow in 2016, and in 2018 he received the Prize of the Böttcherstraße in Bremen. Film has been playing an increasingly important role in his work since 2016. With Stadt – Gegenstadt (2018), he created a film essay on the relationship between the traditional city of Mannheim and the industrial, workers’ city of Ludwigshafen. In it, he used intertitles that feature extracts from a text Ernst Bloch published in Die Weltbühne in 1928. His film Sur les pavés l’asphalte debuted in Autumn 2020. It deals with the historico-economical development of Bordeaux’s university zone. Arne Schmitt lives and works in Cologne and Zurich.
Frank or at least emphatic
Es grüßt die Nachbarschaft. Ein Nachwort zum Hellersdorfer Gedichtstreit
Wenn Gesinnung Form wird/Philfak
Zeichen der Zeit
Abbruch aller Beziehungen
In neuer Pracht
So viel wie nötig, so wenig wie möglich
Die neue Ungleichheit
Die autogerechte Stadt
Geräusch einer fernen Brandung
Glossar. Urformen der Städtebaukunst
Versagen der Normalsprache
Kunst nach 45
Manche Dinge ändern sich nie
In “The Rhetoric of the Image” (1964), Roland Barthes developed one of his most prominent theories on photography by analysing an advertisement for Italian pasta. He explained that he chose the field of advertising because its message (and, more specifically, its use of photography) was intended to be “frank, or at least emphatic”, thus suggesting a distinct and transparent meaning.
I always found this assumption somewhat surprising, given the rich layers of moral, social, political, historical (the list goes on) premises and values that all advertisement uses as carriers for its clear-cut imperative “Buy me!” A few episodes of the TV series Mad Men taught me that, most strikingly. Yet, what I took from Barthes’ text is the foundational insight that photography tends to naturalize cultural artefacts, or to make what is connoted seem to be given, unalterable, self-evident.
As with all theory, its real-life application complicates the situation by adding (multiple layers of) context to it: Barthes never told us where he took the ad from, what was placed next to it, in which situation he came across it.
The on-going series of photographs on www.frank-or-at-least-emphatic.ch is meant to provide visual material for all those interested in the entangled semiotic spheres of contemporary advertisement and the city. Specifically, it shows outdoor advertisement in Switzerland, primarily in Zurich: Here, it seems to me, the premises and values cited earlier tend to present a slightly more pointed version of the status quo of neoliberal capitalism. On the other hand, this rather general contemporary system of values is constantly marked by two factors: first, the specificity and distinction of Swiss culture, history, and mentality and, secondly, by the national referendum which is a constantly advertised reminder of the intersection of politics and economic interests.
You may take this slideshow as a growing archive of semiotic study material – as a window on a part of the world you rarely visit – as a window on a part of the world you visit every day – as a mirror of an artist’s ambiguous fascination with the business of advertisement. Or take it as an attempt to resolve the following contradiction: When Peggy Olson refuses to tailor to the simplistic wishes of a retrograde client, Don Draper replies: “You are not an artist, Peggy. You solve problems”.
From a conversation between Arne Schmitt
and Peter Steffens from the media agency OMD
What are the reasons for doing out-of-home advertising today, e.g. in relation to online advertising? Some people consider the web to be the new public space - where people spend much more time than on the street.
On the contrary: compared to print, for example, out-of-home has benefited massively from the expansion of the online sector!
There has been an increasing fragmentation in media use in recent years: not all of Germany watches "Wetten, dass...?" on Saturday night anymore (the recent reboot of that show might have been an exception here), younger people don't watch TV at all. That is why out-of-home is one of the few channels that can achieve a kind of general impact or presence. This has made out-of-home advertising massively important and is the main reason why it is a central component in so many campaigns today.
In your opinion, what are the specifics of out-of-home advertising and its psychological impact, also in contrast to other advertising channels?
We talked about impact measurement or accountability earlier. It might be possible to predict roughly how many contacts my TV commercial, my poster, etc. will produce - but the actual effect of these contacts is difficult to determine. One could assume that a large, illuminated advertising poster has a greater impact than a small banner on a random website - or that an eye-catching TV or cinema commercial has a greater impact than a static advertising poster. Different media certainly do have their own specific characteristics with regards to how people respond to them.
But again: in out-of-home advertising, the main objective is spreading the word, making a product known to people. There is, for example, the term awareness which is used very frequently in the industry and originates from a certain school of communication theory. Out-of-home advertising is particularly effective here - and sometimes problematic.
I have to briefly elaborate on this: there are certain memory techniques, for example: Here are 10 terms, link them to certain parts of your body. Or, closer to our subject: Link them to your daily way to work. Meaning: One of the things that makes out-of-home advertising so effective is that it is closely linked to people's daily paths and perceptions. Thus, it produces a different presence of the product in the case of a pending purchase decision.
The open conflict fought out between students and the state in the stone centre of the European city, a conflict that intermittently activated large sections of the population, had its beginnings on the outskirts of Paris, on the modern university campus at Nanterre. In Bordeaux, too, the first student protests took place in the halls of residence on the extensive suburban university campus that had been built since the 1950s. In 1968, only the humanities were still in the city centre, becoming the headquarters of the student movement. After the end of the unrest, the responsible prefect called for the faculty to be relocated to the periphery as quickly as possible.
There is a wealth of links here between centralism and marginalisation, between urban planning and technocratic control of society. Active minorities often intervene from the margins – but the path to the centre must be taken if lasting change is to be achieved. The same applies for the more recently contested terrain that opens up between language, thought and action.
Students in Berlin-Hellersdorf publicly criticized a poem that had been applied to one of the façades of their university on the orders of its directors. The students demanded to be con- sulted, proceeding democratically through all of university’s
administrative committees – and achieved change. A majority within politics and society, characterized above all by superior power, was so outraged by this as to call for an authoritarian inter- vention – often with reference to their own values as members of 1968 generation. Their complaint: the students were only speaking for a minority.
In the context of this debate, what does it mean that this outraged majority had hardly ever seen the façade in question close up, nor the part of Berlin where it stands? And how does the non-university neighbourhood see the façade - as its most frequent group of viewers?
Arne Schmitt, leflet to Zum Gedanken der aktiven Minderheit, ngbk, Berlin, 2021
Signs of the Times
On the history of an ahistorical area named Parkstadt Schwabing
Arne Schmitt’s new photo book is devoted to a single material: basalt, a volcanic rock that has been mined for thousands of years in the Osteifel quarries of Mayen and Mendig. Its hardness coupled with its porous structure made it an ideal raw material for millstones, and it thus became a commodity that was traded far and wide. In the Osteifel region local houses were built from basalt. In the boom years that began midway through the nineteenth century, an entire building culture developed around the material, with the result that on many streets the houses still have a matt dark-grey appearance. Schmitt’s numerous black-and-white photographs juxtapose the different states, treatment processes, and applications of the rock. The constant features of the natural material help bring into focus its transformation into a cultural product. Basalt: Origin Usage Exaltation was published in conjunction with a solo exhibition at the Bielefelder Kunstverein in April 2018.
Severance of all relations
In New Splendor
As much as required, as little as possible
The New Inequality
The automotive city
Sound of a far-off surge
Glossary. Primary forms in urban development
This series of photographs puts on display various modes of urban construction as found miniatures.
Mannesmannufer Regierungsviertel Medienhafen
The failure of normal language
Art after 45
In Arne Schmitt’s series of photographs titled Kunst nach 45, he captures various constructions: garage entrances, underpasses, office buildings, art in public spaces. These constructions are usually, in a broad sense, attributed to the period of post-war modernism in Germany.
“Art after 45” is a rather fuzzy term for art that was made in the period after the war. Both art informel and conceptual painting are included, as well as the art group ZERO or the work of Joseph Beuys. Certain auctions and galleries specialize in “art after 45” – although the term does not describe a specific style. And yet it attempts to stand for a new and innocent German art, which has nothing to do with either “before 45” or “before 33”. It represents a kind of historical amnesia, which operates in a similar manner in architectural discourse. The cropped views of structures in Schmitt’s works remind the viewer of indeterminate works of West German post-war art.
Some things never change
Architektur. Made in Düsseldorf #4 (with Frauke Dannert, Irmel Kamp and Isa Melsheimer), NRW Kulturforum, Düsseldorf
Zum Gedanken der aktiven Minderheit, station urbaner kulturen (nGbK), Berlin
Zeichen der Zeit, Galerie Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main
Räson, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen
Zeichen der Zeit: Zur Geschichte eines geschichtslosen Gebiets genannt Parkstadt Schwabing, Kunstraum München, Munich
die insel (with Fari Shams), Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten, Marl
Basalt: Origin Usage Exaltation, Bielefelder Kunstverein, Bielefeld
Persönlichkeit und System, Münchener Stadtmuseum, Munich
Some Places to Read, Richas Digest, Cologne
In neuer Pracht, Galerie Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main
Alleinanspruch (with Nico Joana Weber), Temporary Gallery, Cologne
Zwei Arbeiten, Galerie K', Bremen
Inseln der Differenz, kjubh Kunstverein, Cologne
Einer unter Vielen, Galerie Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main
Die autogerechte Stadt: Ein Weg aus dem Begriffs-Chaos, Galerie K', Bremen
Bunker-Erfahrung, kjubh Kunstverein, Cologne
Wenn Gesinnung Form wird / Verflechtungen, Sprengel Museum Hannover
Spot-Specific (with Stef Renard), Galerie 52, Folkwang UdK, Essen
UN City, Vienna
Projektraum Mikro, Düsseldorf
It was the streets that raised me, streets that paid me, streets that made me a product of my environment (with Andrzej Steinbach), Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig
Vierten Grades (with Daniel Niggemann), Fotofolgen / HFBK Gallery, Hamburg
Group Exhibitions (selection)
Remix. Einblicke in die Sammlung zeitgenössischer Kunst, Kunsthalle Bremen
Abbruch aller Moderne, Galerie K', Bremen
Vom Leben in Industrielandschaften – Eine fotografische Bestandsaufnahme, Leopold Hoesch Museum, Düren
Historiker*innen, Galerie K', Bremen
Historiker*innen, Haus1, Berlin
Karl Schmidt-Rottluff Fellowship: Die Ausstellung 2019, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
Kunstpreis der Böttcherstraße in Bremen, Kunsthalle Bremen
1938. Geburtstagsfest mit Gästen, Sprengel Museum Hannover
Arbeiten gehen: Eine Ausstellung der Galerie BRD, Galerie Jahn und Jahn, Munich
The Photographic I – Other Pictures, S.M.A.K., Ghent
Global Players, Biennale für aktuelle Fotografie, Kunstverein Ludwigshafen
Asymmetrische Architexturen, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf
New Positions, Förderkoje with Galerie Jacky Strenz, Art Cologne
In Deutschland reloaded (II), Kicken Berlin
Von den Strömen der Stadt, Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach
Wüstenrot Foundation Award for Documentary Photography, Museum für Photographie Braunschweig
ein öffentlicher Text, Spector Books, Leipzig
Zeichen der Zeit: Zur Geschichte eines geschichtslosen Gebiets genannt Parkstadt Schwabing, Spector Books, Leipzig
Basalt: Origin Usage Exaltation, Spector Books, Leipzig
Lob der Peitschenlampe, published by the artist
Die neue Ungleichheit: Ein Bildband entlang neoliberaler Architekturen (with Thorsten Krämer), Spector Books, Leipzig
Geräusch einer fernen Brandung, Spector Books, Leipzig
Wenn Gesinnung Form wird: Eine Essaysammlung zur Nachkriegsarchitektur der BRD, Spector Books, Leipzig
Concrete Philosophy: On the specifics of a universal exhibition, published by the artist
It was the streets that raised me, streets that paid me, streets that made me a product of my environment (with Andrzej Steinbach), Spector Books, Leipzig
FUTURE TOGETHER NOW, book project by Enrico Grunert, Aglaia Konrad, Ina Kwon, Tobias Neumann, Willem Oorebeek, Arne Schmitt, Andrzej Steinbach et al., Institut für Buchkunst, Leipzig
Rebuild to Destroy, 18.5 x 27 cm, black-and-white laser print, SC paper, edition: 30
Manche Dinge ändern sich nie, 26 x 39 cm, black-and-white laser print, HC paper, edition:: 10
Nationalgalerie, 14 x 13 cm, black-and-white laser print, booklet, edition: 50
Untitled (Zeitgenössische Deutsche Fotografie), 17.3 x 23 cm, black-and-white and colour laser print, booklet with poster in slipcase, edition: 20
Untitled (Zeitgenössische Deutsche Fotografie), 17.3 x 23 cm, black-and-white and colour laser print, booklet with poster in slipcase, edition: 20
Pankow, 35 x 24 cm, black-and-white laser print, HC paper, edition: 15
Das höchste Gebot, 18 x 24 cm, colour laser print, booklet, edition: 15
Resort, 12 x 16 cm, black-and-white laser print, booklet, edition: 25
Die Herren, 16 x 24 cm, colour laser print, HC paper, edition: 8
Geräusch einer fernen Brandung, 18.5 x 25 cm, colour laser print, HC paper, edition: 5
2006™, 25 x 19 cm, C-Prints in ring binder, edition: 3
Wohnbedarf: Zum Verhältnis von kuturellem und ökonomischem Kapital (Eine Miniatur) (12m 35s)
Sur les pavés l’asphalte (29m 35s)
die insel (mit Fari Shams) (68m)
Stadt – Gegenstadt (15m 45s)
Der Preis des Aufstiegs (6m 40s)
Mit weniger mehr schaffen: Die zeitlose Wissenschaft der Rationalisierung (26m 12s)
Museum Folkwang, Essen
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
Niedersächsische Sparkassenstiftung, Hannover
Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen, Frankfurt am Main
Sprengel Museum Hannover
Studienzentrum für Künstlerpublikationen / Weserburg Museum für moderne Kunst, Bremen