Exhibition Silent Transition brings together around 90 new photographs by Georg Aerni

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Exhibition Silent Transition brings together around 90 new photographs by Georg Aerni
Georg Aerni, Balma, 2021 © Georg Aerni.

ZURICH.- Georg Aerni has, in parallel to his work as an architectural photographer, produced a comprehensive artistic oeuvre. Although this has been exhibited sporadically, it is yet to receive any major recognition in a museum context. The exhibition at Fotostiftung Schweiz now focuses on the works he has produced since 2011 and shows Aerni’s oeuvre as a significant position within contemporary Swiss photography. In a consistent continuation of his earlier work, Georg Aerni sheds light on the interfaces between culture and nature, examines urban spaces’ language of signs, or devotes himself to the metamorphoses of landscapes and structures. His more recent works also revolve around issues regarding ecology and sustainability, for instance in impressive photographic essays on southern Spain’s gigantic stretches of land completely covered by greenhouses, or on wildly sprawling residential developments in Cairo. Discreetly, without pointing a moralising finger, and sometimes with an ironic undertone, Georg Aerni addresses the use of natural resources, land and topography, or the transience of structures built to last for eternity.

Buildings and structures constitute a fundamental theme in the work of Georg Aerni, who was born in 1959 in Winterthur and turned entirely to photography just a few years after completing his architecture studies. He soon made a name for himself in the field of traditional architectural photography, but also stood out as a tireless flâneur and observer. On his forays through city and countryside, Aerni discovered dwellings, constructions and objects of all kinds, which he translated into carefully composed images. Many of his independent artworks still show close links to the theme of architecture, but go far beyond what is commonly understood to be ‘architectural photography’. Aerni’s extensive award-winning 2011 monograph Sites & Signs already contained, alongside pictures of urban constellations, a number of works that are difficult to classify: surreal-looking interventions in the landscape; informal or unwitting buildings that show no indication of any plan; or geological formations that could be described as nature’s construction sites.

The exhibition Silent Transition brings together around 90 of these new photographs, produced since 2011 as single images or small series, but which can nevertheless be recombined in coherent groups. This results in densifications that are anything but momentary impressions. Associative juxtaposition reveals profound recurring reflection on the interplay (or division) between culture and nature, on landscapes’ slow transformation processes, on the temporal dimension of construction, or on the role of chance in our perception. The strength of Aerni’s pictures comes across in large format panels that not only captivate with their creative precision, but also invite the observer to pause and immerse themselves, enticing them to engage in silent meditative contemplation.

Georg Aerni always photographs objectively and calmly, without any pathos or activist intent. At most, a discreet hint of irony is discernible here and there, for instance when he shows gigantic dam walls or flights of stone-carved steps bearing signs of decay; when rust, moss or all kinds of discolouration almost incidentally tell of the ravages of time. Aerni’s approach is such that construction sites and ruins, the planned and the unplanned, are not far apart. He devotes himself to tangles of driftwood caught in bushes on a riverbank just as earnestly as to concrete walls and supports used in an attempt to defy a mighty rock face. His consistent sober style effortlessly combines images of structures conceived for the long term with photographs that show the temporary: intermediate storage facilities and installations that give the landscape a new face or become landscape themselves; constructions built for short-term use but then left standing as bizarre remnants; sculptures that were never intended to be sculptures.

Again and again, this photographer directs his gaze towards processes beyond human control, most clearly in works for which nature itself becomes the artist – such as those showing waterfalls temporarily frozen to ice. Even his photographs of imposing alpine cliff faces do not by any means show them to be timeless: Despite all their monumentality, they appear as vulnerable changeable ‘folds and layers’ (Falten und Schichten, the title of the series) marked by erosion, vegetation and the seasons. This photographer lets us peer through the surface and into the past – at time turned to stone.

The exhibition was curated by Peter Pfrunder, director of Fotostiftung Schweiz.

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