ALBUM/TRACKS B may refer to a photo album which, empty at first, tells a (hi)story only once it is filled with pictures, a story to look at, read, and interpret from ever new points of view. The work of Ana Torfs (born in 1963, lives in Brussels) could also be understood as a tribute to certain personalities and events from history, literature, and film whose tracks hence the titleand traces the artist pursues and endows with new life. Thus, Torfs frequently explores literary and historical material such as the Inquisitions files on Joan of Arc (Du mentir-faux, 2000), the court records from the trial for the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht (Anatomy, 2006), or Ludwig van Beethovens conversation books (Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten, 1998). The media that serve to convey these subjects are multifaceted reproductive techniques, ranging from film, video, slide installation, and photographic series to xerography and silkscreen. In 1998, after her hitherto only feature film Zyklus von Kleinigkeiten, the artist turned to and developed the more contemplative and focused form of slide installations besides her photographic work. The slide installation ideally lends itself to the emphasis and contemplation of a figure or historical event. It allows avoiding the static quality of photography while retaining its accuracy and benefitting from the monumentality of large film images and the use of sound. With bravura and precision, Torfs arranges imagemostly large close-ups of faces and places, restrained and hence paradoxically suggestiveand soundsparse yet impressive text and musicinto visually powerful, psychologically impregnated tableaux.
ALBUM/TRACKS A and B offer the first comprehensive survey of Torfs work, with the exhibitions at K21 in Düsseldorf and the Generali Foundation
in Vienna complementing each other. While both venues present a selection of earlier works, though with a slightly different emphasis, the artists new photographic series Family Plot #1 and #2 as well as Legend are shown for the first time. Family Plot centers on the subject of Carl Linnaeus botanic nomenclature and explores the ramifications of the history of botany and colonization. Torfs understands Linnaeus elitist system of naming the globes flora as an instance of linguistic imperialism, which she traces by means of found portraits, historical maps, and other archival material. Legend links the meanings of the word legend as myth and caption with mythological narratives, historical facts of colonization, and contemporary refugee issues on the Canary Island of La Gomera.
The new slide installation Displacement will be presented at both venues for the first time. The Swedish island of Gotland, which Ana Torfs first came to for a residency in 2007, inspired the artist to embark on a photographic remake of Roberto Rossellinis Viaggio in Italia from 1954. Black-and-white photographs of the barren island scenery, which still reveals clear traces of its military use during World War II, as well as pictures of charged places of memory are confronted with the protagonists portraits; the dialogues of a couple becoming estranged during a journey are to be heard via headphones. Torfs interweaves the spoken word and the static photographic image to unfold an imaginary space that conveys internal and external experience, projection and introspection.
The relationship and interplay of text and image constitute a central aspect of Ana Torfs oeuvre, which is particularly evident in the two-part installation Elective Affinities/The Truth of Masks & Tables of Affinities (2002). The artists notes, working and archival materials are spread out on 14 tables, literary fragments and motifs of thought, associatively arranged. The two slide projections show portraits of a man and a woman presenting themselves in changing costumes, but always the same postures. The seemingly endless masquerade of the two models in the slide projectionsthey never show their true facescan be read ad libitum in connection with the texts, but it can also be regarded as a playful interrogation of concepts such as truth and identity. Yet in light of the, often radical, resistance on the part of individuals to intolerance, alienation, and extremisma central issue in the texts and images the artist has selectedthese questions acquire new weight.