Astrid Proll with Peter Brosch (center) and Thorwald Proll (left), Paris, Nov 1969
Astrid Proll: Pictures on the Run
Sep 16 – Oct 14, 2023
Erfurt, Germany

EXILE is pleased to invite you to the opening of the solo exhibition Pictures on the Run at the gallery’s Erfurt location. The exhibition will present Astrid Proll’s widely-known photographs taken in November 1969 in Paris and is accompanied by a text from Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe.

Photographed in black and white, mouth open, Astrid Proll laughs. Two hands appear from the edge of the frame pressing teaspoons to her closed eyes, feeding them, or threatening to scoop them out. Taken in a Paris Café in November 1969, the snapshot teeters on the edge of absurdity and violence. The boundary of pleasure and horror that in The Story of the Eye Georges Bataille defined as seductiveness. In this photograph and others taken of and by Proll in Paris, she and her companions including Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin are shown lying languidly or in animated conversation, they’re young and beautiful. These are not photos of the Red Army Faction; they are images of people who went on to form the RAF. Here, they still just about belong to the world of radical counterculture, and are not yet the property of the Federal Republic of Germany’s carceral system or the political imaginary of would-be revolutionaries.

The photographs have the appearance of casually snapped pictures, taken by Proll, who had studied photography at Lette-Verein in Berlin, using a Canon Dial 35-2 – an unusual camera which shoots 18mm x 24mm half-frame images on regular 35mm film, producing a total of 72 images from a full-frame 36 negative film. However, the negatives that show the dynamic of these images are no longer in Proll’s possession. In the exhibition, the singular images are stilled, cut out from the dialectic motion of the two exposures, making each image, in its singularity, falsely iconic. But even when framed and behind glass on a gallery wall, looking at Proll in this photograph, you can almost hear the chatter of the café, the laughter of her peers, or the plop of an eye gouged from its socket.

[ . . . ]

In his 1972 essay The Metaphor of the Eye, Roland Barthes described Bataille’s metaphorical erotic vocabulary as such: “…the cycle of the avatars it passes through, far removed from its original being, down the path of a particular imagination that distorts but never drops it.”7 Returning to the ambivalent and ambiguous image of Proll and the spoons, the spoons becomes an avatar which stand in place for – even anticipates – two forms of violence. The symbolic or allegorical violence of the potential scoop of the eye, but also the political violence that the photographs precede; the crimes of the RAF and the disciplinary force applied to the perpetrators of these crimes. The Paris photos are amputations or biopsies; cut from the roll of film, slices of a moment of history that occurred just after and just before significant world events, from which violence would unfurl. The task of the historian is to mark out the patterns left by everything that escapes and everything that returns to these images. Which are themselves separated by the missing half-frame negatives, irrevocably split, and cleaved open.

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