Zentrum für zeitgenössiche Kunst
Videoinstallation von Philipp Geist
Water and time are the constants of Philipp Geist’s oeuvre. The artist, autodidact and Berliner by choice works on an international level in a range of media, including video-installation, audio-visual performance, painting and photography. Much of his work deals with the integration of space, sound and the moving image.
The room-sized video-installation Riverine Zones takes the viewer on a discovery through international rivers. Geist’s work allows us to encounter a familiar world from which we are simultaneously removed. Using an underwater camera he explores the various parts of the river: its surface, the riverbed and the deep and shallow waters. With a view from the water he also includes the riverside or „riverine“, which lends its name to the project.
Rivers are part of our environment. We see them from cars, experience them on pleasure boats or sit on their banks. We have an idea of what they look like beneath the surface. Documentaries on fish and underwater plants supply us with the images. But who knows what really happens in their depths, when no one is collecting data, recording documentaries – when the camera’s viewfinder is not hunting rare species and geological formations. Riverine does not focus on photorealist imagery or on capturing nature in real time; it only follows a partly documentary approach. Whoever encounters the Riverine Zones’ video installation is captivated by an alternative place and time with its own laws and movements.
Nevertheless, Geist’s films do not show random details of life in a river or fortuitous recordings. Philipp Geist stands by the riverside or on a bridge and guides the camera. It goes down a long rope and floats in the waves of the river. Currents and eddies have a strong influence on the camera’s activity, so pan shots and movements that are regularly used on land are not possible in this situation. However, the artist views the camera’s take on a monitor that stands next to him and can therefore decide on how long and how to film.
Used in this way, the camera encounters many creatures, stones and debris, or simply looks into the void. We see floating particles, bubbles or just impenetrable grey. To a certain extent, these images have a documentary aesthetic and are rather alien, crude, pixelated, blurred, colour intensive, but also monochrome. The camera takes us into an underwater world we never knew, a world that is created by the camera itself. Besides the particular recording and operating methods, it is also the use of diverse underwater cameras, which with their rather simple design and occasional use of light emitters portray the underwater world in an alienated way. Geist’s cameras achieve an entirely novel colouration and overexposure of the created images.
We feel cut of from life above the water, plunged and submerged into an immediate parallel world. Even when Geist films the riverside with his camera submerged halfway, the otherwise known environment becomes estranged through this change of perspective and since the familiar sounds from the outside world are missing. The artist adds a monotonous underwater sound to his images. While viewing his work the viewer feels like a swimmer, resurfacing repeatedly, still disoriented due to unfamiliar sounds and a diagonally upwards perspective.
Through this perspective the well-known cityscapes are experienced anew. From the recordings of 19 rivers to date, which are part of this long-term project, some films show capital cities or major cities in Europe and North America. Streams, rivers and small creeks get treated equally within the installation project that is to be extended with rivers from other continents, notably Asia and Africa.
Philipp Geist contrasts underwater worlds from different cities and places: the clear water of a river contrasts with a canal full of discarded objects, including cans, street signs and even bikes. Like a searcher, Geist traces creatures and plant life with his underwater cameras. His films bring to the fore aspects of how humans handle the precious water resources in different regions of the world. The timeliness of environmental issues and the impact of environmental protection are not being told with a wagging finger, since this has already even caused some people to stop trying. Geist shows in an unfamiliar and subtle way how nice, puzzling and worth protecting the environment is, which we are poisoning.
Apart form the confusion created through unfamiliar combinations of movements and perspectives, the viewer’s orientation is being complicated further by the way how the video recordings and stills are presented. Geist’s exhibition concepts make it possible to plunge into the visual world of various streams and rivers simultaneously. Especially, the wall encompassing projections with several video projections create this scenario. The familiar bodily connection to a place is disturbed and the partly realistic impression of the image gives the viewer the sensation of being in two places at once.
The project is always perceived anew for each exhibition space. Therefore even in smaller spaces the films can be shown on monitors, which are placed on top of each other or next to one another. This way a new spatiality is created. The geometrical, fixed and technical format of the monitors gives the river, respectively the water with its typical traits of naturalness, fluidity and intangibility, a frame and a shape.
Other modes of presentation make it possible to integrate video stills as photographic works. They can support the space in various ways. For example video stills can be strung together in such a way, they create wallpaper made of river images, presenting in its density a kaleidoscope of snapshots of the river. Again the organic motifs are contrasted with a structure that allows complete immersion and creates simultaneity. Time is frozen and the water has come to stagnation. In this way we can quietly observe what the eye cannot perceive normally. Structures and formations of movements, but also play of light and random forms emerge that would not have been discovered without the camera. Once again photography has captured the ephemeral in a wider sense and not only time, but also the water.
Another component of the project is the use of Google Earth satellite images. They mark the place where the camera was let into the water. A relatively precise localisation of the underwater films is being made, with the area close to the river also shown from a bird eye’s perspective. The shots are presented in a meandering formation on the wall. This way Philipp Geist illustrates the idea of a network he follows when he is collecting his rivers. One river literally flows into the other, as the cuttings of the respective rivers are joined together. Monitors are placed in-between – in sizes no bigger than the photographs – to complement the macro perspective of the satellite imagery with a micro perspective from the underwater pictures.
The video stills are published as editions. For further information please view:
Text by Viola Fissek
Viola Fissek studied European Ethnology and English language and literature in Berlin and London. She works as an author, travel writer and translator in Berlin. Her main interests lie in the history of cities, fashion and everyday life and in biographical studies.
Besides working for a Berlin advertising agency and for an art book publisher she writes project- and press texts about Philipp Geist’s works since 2003 and supports his installation projects in terms of content and concepts.