Within the scope of the anniversary exhibition FAVORITE THINGS on the occasion of the foundation of the BBK Oberfranken 70 years ago Thomas Michel presents his exhibition concept DOUBLETHINK at the Stadtgalerie Bamberg Villa Dessauer. Thomas Michel exhibits large-size paintings which explore the tension-filled area between subjective perception and objective reality in the era of alternative facts.
The works by Thomas Michel are painted in inverted colors which turn them into negatives that challenge the viewer’s habits of seeing, thus encouraging him to deal with the medium of painting. The viewer is forced to inspect the subject matter closely and to question and reinterpret its apparent colors. Through the inversion of the visible and the invisible a displacement of meanings takes place which encrypts the context of the images. If the viewer wants to decipher them, he has to look at them through the manipulative filter of digital media.
By interacting the audience experiences a completely new way of seeing
Part of the presentation is a notice with the invitation to use the own smartphone and to take pictures of the paintings in order to invert the colors on the display and to be able to look at them the right way. In order to satisfy his familiar viewing habits by interacting respectively deciphering the images the viewer has to make himself dependent on technical devices. Thus the audience becomes involved in a manipulative game which blurs the borders between the seen and the perceived and evokes distorted truths that are passed on as a result.
The at first glance unusual colors of the images which conceal their messages offer the viewer who is willing to get involved in the interaction an extraordinary visual experience, a surprise effect which will also result in discussions among the visitors. This way the paintings become objectively real, whereas the environment and the viewers become unreal who roam through the exhibition like ghostly shadows of a photographic negative. The relationship between sender and receiver is turned upside down, the works of art are looking at the viewer.
DOUBLETHINK in the era of image manipulation
From a photographical history point of view the visualization of an image by the digital inversion of colors and contrast refers to the analog reprographic technique which exposes photographic paper by means of a photographic negative. The negative of an analog image used to be a proof of authenticity and credibility, in the digital era, however, truth is being misused for political purposes, propaganda and commercial messages by the manipulation of images.
The disintegration of certainties is one of the existential fundamental experiences of modern society. The exhibition title FAVORITE THINGS after the original song by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II conjures an idyllic world that is about to fall apart before our eyes at an accelerated pace. The post-war order is disintegrating, western democracies are attacked by populists, politics have become incalculable. Since the inauguration of the new US American government the world witnesses a fall back into the dark period of the McCarthy era with the persecution of dissenting people and the suspension of the freedom of the press. The borderline between truth and lie is blurred deliberately and social media are misused to manipulate the public opinion through fake news and “alternative facts”.
The renaissance of DOUBLETHINK and George Orwell’s novel 1984
Here another parallel becomes obvious: the dystopian novel 1984 by George Orwell, whose Newspeak term DOUBLETHINK serves Thomas Michel as subtitle for his exhibition concept. DOUBLETHINK corresponds to a schizophrenic way of thinking which is used by the government in power to suspend logic through contradictory or mutually rejecting convictions. This also includes the deliberate distribution of lies and the denial of an objective reality in order to achieve a totalitarian mental control over the people.
On an artistic level the exhibition concept by Thomas Michel also is an examination of the role of painting in a barrage of digitally manipulated images, as well as the relation between painting and photography. The images by Thomas Michel put the human individual in the conflicting area between humanitarian crisis, religious extremism and the global perception of media. The paintings are characterized by the fact that the idyllic world of the overarching exhibition theme FAVORITE THINGS is explicitly missing. While a small minority benefits from the globalized capitalism, the majority of mankind is in an existential struggle for life without the opportunity ever to achieve their “favorite things”, instead they are menaced by violence, terror and death.