– Spring 2012

Image Leaks: Dierk Schmidt’s Critical Opening of a Permeable Medium

Christian Höller

Dierk Schmidt, Autoverwertung (Junk Yard), 1999/2004, oil, acrylic on PVC foil, garland, 250 × 450cm, from What You Buy Is Your Problem, 1999/2004. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Ursula Walbröl, Düsseldorf

Oil giant BP, electronics corporation Siemens or the German car industry: the ‘targets’ Dierk Schmidt chooses as the subjects of his paintings and painterly installations are never minor. In cycles of works that he often develops over the course of several years, Schmidt investigates the wheelings and dealings of major corporations. He does so through installations of paintings that are both investigative and analytical; that do not allow his rightful criticism (shared by many others) of these corporations to congeal into a solid image; and which do not reduce the anti-capitalist attitude common among the critical Left to a simplistic or manageable set of slogans. His approach is highly reflective; it constantly renews itself in relation to an extended context of institutional interconnections. His technical practice is, moreover, sceptical of its media, emphatically doubting the means of painting itself. The frame of reference his paintings trace, in repeated, often pronouncedly provisional approaches, ranges from extensive archival research to the overflowing visual pool of the internet.

As timely as Schmidt’s primary subjects are, he often extends his painterly investigations into the past — for instance, when he links the general well-being of the German economy to the call for restitution payments to forced labourers under the Nazi regime; or when he reminds his viewers of the suppressed colonial narrative of Germany. Die Teilung der Erde — Tableaux zu rechtlichen Synopsen der Berliner Afrika-Konferenz (The Division of the Earth (Tableaux on the legal synopses of the Berlin Africa Conference, 2005—10), his investigation of Germany’s colonial history, and SIEV—X: Zu einem Fall von verschärfter Flüchtlingspolitik (SIEV—X: On a case of intensified refugee politics, 2001—05), his analysis of a refugee drama that took place off Australia’s coast in 2001, both break through the boundaries of what is technically considered the medium of painting. Painted

  1. See Holger Kube Ventura, ‘Introduction’, in Dierk Schmidt: IMAGE LEAKS — Zur Bildpolitik der Ressource, exhibition leaflet for the Frankfurter Kunstverein, 11 March to 8 May 2011.

  2. See the Greenpeace website: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/files/tarsands/index.html (last accessed on 1 November 2011). 

  3. Clemens Krümmel, ‘The Raft of the Historical Image’, in Dierk Schmidt and C. Krümmel (ed.), SIEV—X: Zu einem Fall von verschärfter Flüchtlingspolitik / On a case of intensified refugee politics (Eng. trans. Karl Hoffmann), Berlin: b_books, 2005, p.83. 

  4. Ibid., p.84. 

  5. See Dierk Schmidt’s comments on the ‘possibilities of the history painting’ in his review of a Luc Tuymans exhibition: D. Schmidt, ‘Salon der schönen Paviane’, Texte zur Kunst, no.51, September 2003, p.140. 

  6. Roger M. Buergel, ‘Geschichte malen, heute', in Philippe Pirotte et al. (ed.), objectif [projects] 1999— 2001, Antwerp: Objectif, 2002, p.21.

  7. According to Schmidt, it was an article in the newspaper Jungle World that first caught his attention; he was also thinking of history painting after having visited the Louvre. See D. Schmidt in conversation with Carolin Emcke, ‘What I Am Theoretically Interested in Is the Connection Between Violence, Traumatization, and the Loss of Speech’, SIEV—X, op. cit., p.45. 

  8. C. Krümmel, ‘The Raft of the Historical Image’, op. cit., p.88.

  9.  For more information on this work see P. Pirotte et al. (ed.), objectif [projects] 1999—2001, op. cit., p.16.

  10. R.M. Buergel, Geschichte malen, heute, op. cit., p.37.

  11. Ibid.

  12. See Veronica Tello, ‘The Division of the Earth’, Afterall Online, 26 August 2010, http://www.afterall.org/online/4982#cite4985 (last accessed on 1 November 2011). See also Sven Beckstette, ‘Keine wertneutralen Bilder: Über The Division of the Earth’, Texte zur Kunst, no.80, December 2010, p.153. 

  13. See Susanne Leeb, ‘The World Was Becoming Numerical: Informational Graphics and Art in Dierk Schmidt, The Division of the Earth’, in Lotte Arndt et al. (ed.), The Division of the Earth: Tableaux on the Legal Synopses of the Berlin Africa Conference, Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2010, p.114. 

  14. Ibid., p.116. 

  15. Ibid., p.118.