Berlin photographer Sabine Wild has been producing studies of architecture for a long time. The starting point for her pieces, which are on display at the Leica Gallery Vienna until September 9, 2023, is made up of urban landscape details, such as the facades of skyscrapers. The artist develops her prints using a technique that manually weaves together two identical motifs. This approach results in multi-faceted, one-of-a-kind pieces with a 3D structure, in which the use of analogue elements enriches her digital photography in a unique manner. Wild spoke with us about the ideas behind her pictures, and to what extent her images represent a fallback to the beginnings of digital photography.
You are known for your studies of architecture, in particular involving megacities.
I’ve always been fascinated by megacities. Cities I’ve visited like New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo and Chicago both appal and fascinate me, because of their gigantic dimensions. At the same time, I find their skyscrapers and skylines very appealing.
How did this theme emerge?
While I was studying I had lots of jobs in architectural offices, and after that I worked for the Federal Chamber of Architects for five years. Of course, that all led to an intense connection with buildings. Sustainable and ecological construction, the humane design of urban landscapes, deconstruction, vacancy, traffic flows, parasitic architecture, temporary architecture – these were always themes that accompanied me throughout my work. The significance of dealing with life there in social, urban planning and ecological terms, can be understood if you look at the fact that, in the foreseeable future, a large part of the global population will live in megacities.
Your pictures are generally defined by a contrast between sharp and blurry. Please explain about this visual approach.
In my earlier, abstract digital work, I broke up the building tectonics, fragmented the structures of the façades, and stirred up the urban spaces. The foreground and background lose their perspective hierarchy, and everything dissolves. I try to convey this impression to the viewers so that they can feel the shimmering of the megacities, their movement and dynamism, but also their fragility and instability. The sharp parts do not hold the picture (or the tectonics of the buildings) together at all, but are themselves porous. In the out-of-focus parts of my photographs, everything seems to melt and dissolve. This results in something like a reality shift, with a slightly dystopian character.
In your current images you are concentrating less on skylines and panoramas, and more on details – and predominantly facades. What’s behind this?
It’s true that I concentrated my vision; I don’t try so much to capture the whole urban landscape. This may also be due to the weaving technique. Because I print a photograph twice, then cut the scene once in horizontal strips and once in vertical ones, I’m automatically dealing with the details of the photographs. I often cut along the plunging lines of a facade, which I deliberately don’t correct with photoshop, because when I weave them a stronger dynamic emerges. By concentrating, for example, on the details of a facade, I try to discover something “behind it”.
Please explain a little about how you process the images.
With the cutting, weaving and putting together, I dissolve the architectural structures and perspective hierarchies, as I did before with my abstract digital motifs. By inserting the strips of one print into another, an offset of a few millimetres is created in each case. The woven strips repeat the image, but in a different place, as though you’re looking at a picture with enormous pixels, where the section is so enlarged that the viewer no longer recognises anything. Or, it’s like two identical musical notes being incorrectly synchronised, so that the second note always lags behind, producing an unharmonious, aggressive, staccato-like rhythm.
Unsharpness is also a central element of the pictures on display in Vienna. (In this case a different word to unsharpness would be better, because the image isn’t really unsharp, but rather parts of the image are repeated and shifted). Maybe you could say: “You also work with the method of abstraction in the pictures at the Vienna exhibitions.” I think that the weaving technique follows a similar idea to my digital, alienated photographs, namely to subvert the mimetic character of photography and achieve a certain degree of abstraction. With the weaving, however, I remain closer to the original motif; the abstraction is more subtle.
Your pictures almost look “pixelated”.
This effect emerges if I cut very regular strips and then weave them together, so that it looks as though you have made a print of a digital photo that is much too large. In fact however, the parts of the picture that seem like individual pixels are not blurry, yet the viewer still has the feeling that the image can only be recognised by taking a certain distance from the motif.
What decision do you have to make when weaving your pictures?
I find it very appealing to subvert what is actually the very regular procedure of weaving, and to break the rules. What should I reveal, what should I cover up? Which direction should the woven image shift into? Upwards, to the left, or to the right? Do I bring a strip from the back of the photo to the front? Or do I weave it in upside down? Or do I just weave in a short piece so that the strips lie loosely over the lower motif?
Born in Padua, Italy, in 1962, Sabine Wild has been living and working in Berlin since 1985. She studied German, Linguistics and Spanish in Bielefeld, Münster, Cologne and Berlin. She has been working as a freelance photographer since 2003. She attended the Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie from 2007 to 2008, and was trained by Jonas Maron. In 2005 she co-founded the en passant gallery, which became ep.contemporary in 2016. In 2008 she initiated the Südwestpassage Cultural Tour in Friedenau. From 2009 to 2014, she was a member of the jury of the Kunstfonds Foundation in Bonn. Her work has been exhibited many times nationally and internationally. Find out more about her photography on her website and Instagram page.
Sabine Wild: Gewebe: exhibition at the Leica Gallery Vienna, from June 16 to September 9, 2023, within the framework of the Changing Perspectives exhibition (alongside Electric Downtown by Jon Ball and Powerlines by Fred Mortagne)