Entirely covered in a camouflage suit and green rubber boots, a four-legged being stands with one pair of legs next to the other. The speckled pattern of grey-green-brown colours merges with the background of a dishevelled bush still carrying some leaves from the past year. Although equipped with the perfect disguise, this creature does not appear to make a special effort to be inconspicuous. On the contrary, the curious scenario looks like it has been staged entirely for the benefit of the camera.
The Great Unreal is the title of the photographic record of Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs’s journeys to the US between 2005 and 2008. With an equipment based on negative film, they mapped a trip through seemingly endless landscapes. Sometimes the line of the horizon is interrupted by landmarks of commercial or religious advertisements. Although dazzling cars, billboards, crosses and never-ending roads belong to the standard image of an American road trip. But the scenes depicted in this collection are obviously staged with the help of provisional scenery and dramatic light effects – the result is a photography of the improbable that masks its unreality with a superficial resemblance to documentary image-making. Thus the unreal seems not only to be plausible, but also part of a documented event.
However, the work of the two collaborating artists is not always pitched at this humorous, surreal level. In fact, sometimes the camera appears to be the witness of a spectacular incident, such as a coastal highway suddenly interrupted by a landslide just a few metres before a picnic area. This black-and-white photograph could belong to the tradition of documentary photography, were it not for the fact that it is to be found alongside the kind of uncanny, staged images that make an event such as this seem an illusion.
The Whole Shebang – a solo show at New York’s Swiss Institute in 2008 – includes thirty-six small sculptures placed on wooden pedestals and made from handicraft materials just some weeks before the opening. In Skull Ship, the broken-planked walls of an old sailing vessel reveal the ship’s the construction. Evidently, the two-master appears to have been the victim of a heavy storm. Where the walls of the hull are almost completely lacking, an animal scull with an impressive set of teeth looms from the body of the ship. Since the exhibition in the indoor sculpture garden at the Swiss Institute, Onorato and Krebs have often worked on sculptures or installations alongside their photographs. But sometimes the final result takes the form of photography again: a black-and-white catalogue of the objects produced for New York was published on the occasion of the show.
It is not only about a comprehensive documentation of the project, but also about the impression of an academic collection. At the end of 2009 Onorato and Krebs exhibited the photographic documents of some further sculptural research. The interspaces of a pear cut across have been obviously fixed by a construction that seems now like an architectural model (Untitled (Pear), 2009). Probably, this experiment will – besides showing the interior of the fruit – lead to fast drying. The pear, still recognizable in its outlines, has now become an almost schematic image.