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Aargauer Kunsthaus opens monographic exhibition featuring Swiss artist Roman Signer
Roman Signer, Gelbes Band, 1982. Super-8-Filmstill© Roman Signer.

AARAU.- The Aargauer Kunsthaus kicks off the new year with a large one man exhibition of internationally renowned Swiss artist Roman Signer. The idea for this monographic exhibition at the Aargauer Kunsthaus arose from a desire to introduce a wider public to the artist’s photo series Street Views, which was acquired in 2011. The photographs of this series are juxtaposed with thirty-six projections of super 8 films that Roman Signer made between 1975 and 1989 to document actions, in most cases quite spectacular ones.

The exhibition stands out for the way in which the projections of the thirty-six super 8 films are orchestrated: following traditional ways of mounting pictures in museums, the projected films are shown side by side. In order to allow this expansive mode of presentation, almost all movable exhibition walls on the ground floor of the museum’s extension building were removed. The parallel arrangement of the projections in a single large exhibition gallery with over 600 m2 floor space provides visitors with an opportunity for a comprehensive and comparative viewing of Signer’s super 8 films.

Roman Signer’s actions – the artist himself refers to them as “events” – are ephemeral in nature, virtually demanding to be captured on film. Early on, before the video camera and before digital recording, the artist therefore started using super 8 technology. Among the most important documents that make his performative work accessible, the super 8 films encapsulate Signer’s early work. Although short and focused on the main events, the films do not simply cater to viewer’s media-conditioned curiosity for the moment of shock or surprise. Rather, the individual shots and subtle stagings emphasize the situational nature of the performative act. If the artist himself appears in a film – as happens quite often - , he is shown not as a protagonist, but as a mere facilitator of the events conceived. Recorded without sound, the films convey only the visual aspect of the events, thus pointing to their potential as ephemeral sculptures. Ever since the 1970s, Signer’s artistic oeuvre has been informed by a concept of sculpture as process-like and de-materialized. Close collaboration with Roman Signer has resulted in an impressive array of film projections at the Aargauer Kunsthaus, in which the super 8 films transcend their documentary character, becoming works of art in their own right.

Constituting a counterpoint to the filmic works is the 47-part photo series Strassenbilder (Street Views), likewise shown on the ground floor. Being more self-contained, the galleries devoted to the Strassenbilder photographs reinforce the sense of compactness that characterises the presentation of the super 8 films. While taking up the scenographical approach of the film projections, the numerous photographs point to yet another aspect of Signer’s work: analytical observation and its presentation in a coherent sequence. The work Strassenbilder consists of two series of 23 and 24 photographs that each present familiar sights encountered when driving through rural regions of Eastern Europe: makeshift stalls selling fruit and vegetables on the one hand and memorials commemorating road casualties on the other. Signer took these serial images of similar subjects during travels through the Carpathians, the Ukraine and Romania. In both series, the needs of individuals either to market the produce from their own garden or to express the pain suffered through the loss of a loved one take on a physical shape. In spite of their unspectacular look and random nature, Signer’s photographs – particularly in their serial form – render these everyday arrangements as installations of high aesthetic quality.

In devoting an exhibition to Roman Signer, the Aargauer Kunsthaus honors a renowned Swiss artist, paying tribute to his work on a national level. The unexpected presentation of Signer’s super 8 films allows for a focused look at his performative work. At the same time, as a result of their juxtaposition with the photos series Strassenbilder, the super 8 films present themselves within the expanded framework of Roman Signer’s artistic oeuvre, opening up new levels of meaning and bringing home to the visiting public the status of the films as works of art in their own right, rather than mere documents of actions.

Following an apprenticeship as an architectural draughtsman, Roman Signer (b. in Appenzell in 1938) attended the Schule für Gestaltung (School of Design) in Zurich in 1966 and, from 1969 until 1971, the Schule für Gestaltung in Lucerne (School of Design), topping off his art education with a year abroad in Warsaw, where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts. Since 1971, Roman Signer has been living and working as a freelance artist in St. Gallen. From 1974 until 1995 he taught at the Lucerne School of Design. Starting in 1972, Signer participated in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad. Selected solo exhibitions in recent years: Roman Signer –Acht Stühle (Ocho sillas), Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros (SAPS), Mexico City, 2011; Roman Signer - Four Rooms, One Artist, Swiss Institute, New York, 2010; Roman Signer. Projections, Helmhaus Zurich, Zurich, 2008; Roman Signer - Reisefotos, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, 2006.

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