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Helmut Grill - Suspension of Belief

Category: Portrait 14. October 2009

In this hi-tech age, the relationship between artist and viewer is a complicated one. There has always been the tacit agreement of suspension of disbelief between them, that what is presented may be altered or manipulated, but that the intention of the artist is to reveal some kind of truth nonetheless. Digital technology provides the means to doctor photos in every context, be it in advertising, art, or even private use. We seem to have all come to the agreement that when it comes to visual media, there is always room for improvement.

The artist Helmut Grill worked for many years in the field of photographic manipulation. In the early years, the necessary equipment for this venture would take up an entire room. Now, Photoshop is a standard application on every computer—almost no photo goes unretouched. Those with advanced skills in this craft are among the highest-paid in the media industry. But despite our awareness of this sophisticated process, we still engage in the game of believing what we see, or at least enjoying the challenge of thinking we can still determine what’s real or what’s not.

As an artist, Helmut Grill likes to push this engagement to the limit. Instead of using the medium of digital alteration to render images more palatable and easier on the eye, Grill creates images that disturb, provoke, and call into question our complicity when it comes to visual mediation. In the “Alphapeople” series, portraits of faces assembled out of mismatched features question our presumptions about conventional beauty; the “Arstarte” series positions soft-porn shots against a backdrop of current war scenes, rupturing the seductive hard-sell of such quintessentially commercial images; “Relations” is an interactive series of visual comparisons in which typically modified proportions in photos can be physically displayed through a mouse click, demonstrating the arbitrary yet significant influence of slight alterations in dimensions—a technique used on a regular basis in advertising.

In his latest works, Grill has moved on from human figures to houses and landscapes. Like his human subjects, none of Grill’s residential subjects actually exist. Pasted together from various components, these dwellings are situated in a strange, surreal universe that attracts and repels the viewer simultaneously. Their facades are swathed with multifarious messages in the form of neon signs, posters, graffiti, etc., which suggest an intriguing, potentially dangerous world within. Helmut Grill was inspired to take this project one step further—moving for the first time into three-dimensional territory—by realizing these imaginary structures into actual models. As with the doctored photos, the imagination is stimulated—for better or for worse. (jn)

Thanks to the Gallery Suppan for permission to film at the exhibition "share your dreams - young art from the EU".

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