On Anna & Bernhard Blume
Neoclassical art saw the popularity of large artists studios, where one master would appoint assistants to a variety of tasks – mixing paint, attending to specific areas of the painting and arranging the observed objects. When the hands of the populous were finally granted access to the dusty tradition of image making, it was not only the art itself that changed, but also the collaborative process.
Anna and Bernhard Blume are just such a pair. Born in Germany (1937), the pair met at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Blumes studied art at the Kunstakademie, a subject for which the school was renown. They started their artistic collaboration and family when they moved to Cologne, creating elaborate instillations for the sake of photographing their intensely composed work. They had a spark in common with the Pictorialists in their approach to staging and deliberation, seeking to elevate photography to the level of its austere sibling, painting. In lieu of this, Anna Blume once said ‘We paint with our camera, and this painterly work continues in the lab, too’ .
Perhaps the most striking thing about their work to the modern eye is their surreal inventiveness without use of digital manipulation. The foundation of their work is the solid authority of photography, with which the observer is comfortable in their obedience. Having comforted us with our practiced eyes, the Blumes weave a tendril of uncertainty with a menagerie of darkroom techniques that leave the eyes unsettled and the soul uneasy.
The Blumes are not artists of serendipity; every aspect of their creative process is meticulously thought out and executed, from set construction to costume design, they worked together without the presence of assistants or technicians. In their series Reine Vernuft, Bernhard Blume is featured as the only organic shape amongst a tangle of geometry. Neither the angular props nor his body appears to be supporting or ‘wearing’ the other, rather they function as a visual mass that pulls our presuppositions of negative space.
It is prudent to note that while the abstract shapes in this series are effective, it is not abstraction that affords the Blumes their fluency. Indeed, they are celebrated for their ability to enliven the most mundane of objects. In their series Vasenekstasen, they take use vases to express motion and strange spaces – in a perfect blend of pale domesticity and calculated surrealism.