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Jules Spinatsch
Opernball In The Street

Jules Spinatsch
Opernball In The Street

Right now, as I am writing these lines in Belo Horizonte so that this text can be in London by tomorrow, Jules Spinatsch’s greatest work, Vienna MMIX, is being unveiled. It is drizzling in Vienna, as I can see from the city tourist board’s webcam. The thirty-two-metre photographic panorama, arranged in a circle on the Karlsplatz, consists of 17,352 individual pictures taken by a camera which made two rotations on its own axis over a period of eight and a half hours during the Vienna Opera Ball in 2009.

This is Spinatsch’s largest photo-panorama to date. The artist first used a webcam in January 2002 to transmit a panoramic view of the Davos World Economic Forum directly to the Kunstraum Walcheturm in Zurich, the respective hinterlands of the bosses of the international corporations and their alter-globalist opponents. Spinatsch’s perspective is inspired by the fast-moving and spectacular but also at times sterile images of advertising and the mass media.

He uses a surveillance-style approach similar to that of the tourism industry, the police or public transport companies. Yet his aim is not to monitor people, but rather to wake them up in a light-hearted way. In Bern he documented the World Cup qualification match between Switzerland and France (3,003 photos), and in Toulouse he captured a session of the city council in summer 2006 (3,960 photos). What is recorded by the camera is determined by a computer program, not the photographer, which means that we end up seeing details that are overlooked by the mass media, at whom these events are principally aimed.

In the Wankdorf stadium (under the title Heisenbergs Offside) we peer over a journalist’s shoulder at his computer screen or into the driver’s cabin of a fire engine, yet the footballers are hardly to be seen, and glimpses of the ball are even rarer. In Toulouse we can read the time on a delegate’s watch, or a possibly confidential note held by a politician on the right-hand side: ‘Fabre n’est pas venu’ – the sentence has also been used as the title of the panorama. This is one of several kinds of displacement common to Spinatsch’s work: in an age when there is a never-ending stream of images, he slows down an event with a sequence of thousands of pictures that, from a distance, look like a grid of pixels.

On the other hand, he also modifies the concept of ‘authorial photography’. The still much-vaunted instant décisif identified by the godfather of humanistic photography is now determined by machines according to mathematical rules, so that the artist is now closer to Andy ‘I want to be a machine’ Warhol than Cartier-Bresson. Yet the documentary approach is deeply engrained in all three of these panoramas, down to the very last pixel. This documentary aspect comes out in his latest work, Vienna MMIX, especially in the distilled edition of thirty-six prints of individual shots.

Since time immemorial the Viennese Opera Ball has been one of the most prestigious society events in Europe. All the women appear in long evening dresses and the men in tails, as though they’ve just walked out of a Hollywood film. Yet this unreal effect is also a result of the broken-up linearity and isolation of the individual images in the collection.

In any event, Spinatsch’s work can no longer be explained in terms of current photography genres. He crosses both aesthetic and technical boundaries so that new criteria must be created in order to describe his novel imagery.

Artist: Jules Spinatsch is a photo-artist who lives and works in Zurich and Vienna. He has become known for his large-scale surveillance panoramas and for his long-term project Snow Management. He has published five monographs to date, of which Temporary Discomfort (design Winfried Heininger) was named by Martin Parr as one of the most important photography books of the last decade. His works have been shown at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, the Tate Modern, London, the SFMOMA, San Francisco, the Kunsthaus Zurich, and the Haus der Kunst, Munich.

Writer: Joerg Bader is the director of Centre de la photographie Genève (CPG) since 2001 and professor at HEART (Haute école d’art Perpignan) since 2003. He is also an art critic for art press, Paris and Lapiz, Madrid.