If we understand photography as a way of ﬁxing movement, then the print making practice of the Swiss-American artist G.Küng expands this notion by using the hand as a camera to ﬁx objects that are primarily associated with the body performing daily routines. Prior to being developed in dark room, the ﬁve prints Car Door Handle 1 (all works, 2020), Car Door Handle 2, Little Door Closed, Little Door Opening and Agila Red 1, presented at Kantine, Brussels, take the form of impressions created by rubbing graphite over fabrics and a mylar substrate placed on objects throughout the urban landscape. Here, the hand performs a printing technique that operates like a camera. There’s an element of unpredictability in the process of developing a negative and a graphite relief – an impulse in photography and "this manual process of capture" – and an immediacy between object and image making that "collapses the photographic concept" into a material process of print making used in the Victorian era.
G.Küng’s preference for craft like materials such as graphite, mylar, light and fabric over technical lenses and enlargers is most evident in Big Hand, a rosy coloured clay sculpture ﬁxing a gesture of the artist’s hand: ﬂat and pressing into a surface. Here, the hand as camera becomes the subject and the sculpting of clay, the process to capture it staging a routine. Akin to the spontaneity of taking a picture, there’s an immediacy to clay modelling that is congruent to performing a daily gesture. Big Hand not only represents the motion of rubbing but also refers to acts of pulling, lifting or turning in relation to car and door handles.
Where this request for motion is made audible by hanging Little Door Opening above Little Door Closed, we imagine its void is limited to hand sized manoeuvres, disparate to Car Door Handle 1 and Car Door Handle 2 depicting an appendage of a larger entity that is engineered to mobilise the entire body. If there’s a correlation between the repeated notion to touch car door handles with the routine of the hand engaging with materials to record these surfaces, then the car might symbolise the performed ritual of the artist navigating the city to apprehend such objects.
The mass production of handles, the printing techniques forming their gelatine impressions, analogous to the sculpting of clay, determine the series as products of handy work deﬁned by a difference which is synonymous to a photograph being unique. Where the prints depict the same little door in differing positions and car door handles of differing design, whose distinctions are further accentuated by arbitrary flecks of accidental chemical residue, the synthetic packaging prototypes of Werner Küng (1932-1987) are designed to hold dissimilar objects in a way the plastic of a photograph is conceived to hold different images. Formed by the susceptible material of acetate, that’s yellowed with age, having recorded forensic identities by capturing and holding the images of finger prints, it’s not the hand that performs the technique of a camera but the prototypes themselves.
The collection of objects is deﬁant and technical in form and like varying camera models, each hand sized vessel is uniquely deﬁned by shape, style and precision, requiring the hand to take careful but diﬀering approaches to hold and interact with them. Where plastic protects the technological mechanism of a camera, the acetate of Werner Küng (1932-1987) conserves the memory of its inventor; delicately scored by hand, the containers have been meticulously crafted by the artist’s uncle, whose life story is as mysterious as the contents the prototypes once protected.
Inherent to the notion of mystery is the necessity of restriction, possessing the quality to seduce and allure the imagination into agency. Denial gifts us the potential to fantasise what the prototypes once contained and where the car door handles might belong to. The little door is open to curiosity and the impulse to imagine is as immediate as taking a photo and making a rubbing as it is to leave fingerprints or perform a gesture. Agila, the title of both the exhibition and a car model by Opel built for agility, manifests in Agila Red 1 as peculiar, psychically alluring and gnostic.
If we consider the Victorian method to record impressions as primitive, the technique to devise the prototypes a skill, then the repetition of gestures the hand makes to create graphite reliefs and open doors are simply routines. If we regard the movement of the body seeking objects throughout the city as performance and deﬁne the unique of the handmade as different, ‘Agila’ could be imagined as a ritual performed by the body. Technical by way of skill that requires practice, but unique in the way that individuals perform routines in varying ways. ‘Agila’ is versatility in motion; for the act to clench a door handle differs to the precise ways our hands interact with a camera, to how our bodies move through doorways and climb into cars differs to how we perform the gesture, to hold the hand of another.
[1 & 2] G.Küng, Agila talk, hosted by Kantine on 20.12.20