Focus: Daniel Gustav Cramer, “Time Travels”

A pale, closed book lies on a walnut table,its tattered page edges facing the viewer. The table is set low in the frame, leaving a vacuous space above. This still life photograph, Untitled (Eusebius – Jerome) (2009) by Berlin-based artist Daniel Gustav Cramer, takes as its subject one of mankind’s earliest attempts at a universal chronicle of its history. Based on the Greek chronicle of Eusebius, the tome pictured is a Latin translation and update by St. Jerome, constructed of multiple parallel timelines starting with the story of Creation, through Greek mythology up until CE 379. Recording history as a series of events (not necessarily all factual or accurate), this work exemplifies Cramer’s attempts at achieving coherence from the fragmentation of past experience.

Using diaristic prose, photography and minimalist sculpture, Cramer engineers quiet, evocative journeys through his exhibitions. Works are placed as guiding devices, like a trail of breadcrumbs, linked by formal likeness or allegorical content. Through an unravelling of narrative, Cramer creates an experience of time ever-expanding. For his recent exhibition at Sies + Höke, Dusseldorf, tucked away on a mezzanine in the first room a white book lay closed, camouflaged on a white plinth – the title Earth Impact Database (2014) stamped into the leather cover. Inside was a dry, indexical catalogue of meteorite impact sites listed by ascending size. Themes of universal connection and amplification are repeated in Cramer’s sculptures.

One such instance was in “The End of Summer”, the exhibition he developed in collaboration with Haris Epaminonda for dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel. The exhibition, spread through a network of rooms, culminated in the work, V (2012) – iron spheres of varying sizes placed in the shadows of an otherwise empty attic like discarded planetary models. Likewise, in the final room of the exhibition at Sies + Höke, the photograph Untitled (Spiderweb) (2009) shows the barely visible rings of a spider web the artist found whilst walking in a forest. Almost perfectly formed, the bullseye of woven rings is shot with a shallow depth of field so that the background disappears into a deep smoky haze, bringing to mind the orbiting paths of astral bodies floating in space.

As with this work, there is a purposeful mystique to many of Cramer’s photographs. Begun in 2003, the ongoing woodland and underwater series Trilogy suggest reference to romantic painters such as Caspar David Friedrich. But this would be a superficial reading of his moody atmospherics. His works can look romantic, but harbour a scientific attention to detail – studies in how forces of nature and human interactions act and impress upon each another; the push and pull of place and memory and how these impressions collide and depart again on altered trajectories.

Though static and limited by the edges of their own frame, something occurs in Cramer’s photographs that reach beyond this restriction. Through his methods of production and editing, he has found a way to channel continuity using still images. In his series Tales (2000–ongoing) Cramer shows polyptychs of events in specific locations. Shot hand-held on 35mm film, the images show incremental shifts in time: reflections on ocean waves in Tales (Alassa, Cyprus, November 2012) (2014), the appearance and disappearance of a pensive figure on a balcony in Tales 44 (Stresa, Italy, September 2012) (2013) or the slight movements of a solitary figure at the edge of a pier in Tales (Ericeira, Portugal, October 2011) (2014). Time is not ‘captured’ by the artist here but put on pause.

For Cramer what happens around his images and how they take form in their environments is just as important as what happens in them. For his recent exhibition at SALTS in Basel he presented 72 photographs of the Mediterranean sea that he took in the 18 minutes before sunrise, the last shot documenting the moment the sun appeared at the horizon. Each image from the series was placed in a different room of the 72 that make up the building that houses SALTS, from the basement to the attic. On view were 72 stacked copies of the letter he wrote to the residents of the building requesting their help to complete the exhibition, one image and an index of the locations of the rest of the series. In this project, it is through letters that Cramer looks to make direct connection with the viewer – as with Letter to Javier IV (2013), a typed missive to a partly fictionalized friend, pinned to the wall as the opener to Cramer’s Sies + Höke exhibition. In a studio visit, the artist recently explained that for him, letters are significant because of a curious paradox: their focus is usually the past, they arrive in the future but they persist over time with their recipient. It is this paradoxical, fragmentary passage of time that Cramer tries to make sense of.

First published in Frieze d/e, Issue 14, May 2014.
http://www.frieze.com/issues/frieze-de/issue-14?lang=en

arielle bier