Ground Zero (New York, Sept 16 2001), 2005
Acrylic Paint-Jet print on jigsaw puzzle w/ 8000 pcs, 136 x 192 cm
PHOTO CREDIT: Viviane Moos / SIPA PRESS
Private collection, New York
The Most Beautiful Disasters in the World
In his ongoing series, "The most beautiful disasters in the world", Christoph Draeger transfers digitally reprocessed press images of great destruction onto large format jigsaw puzzles (with up to 8000 pieces). From the flood of media images, which we keep consuming in ever accelerating speed, and which tend to annihilate each other through their sheer number, Draeger carefully chooses his subjects, turning them into icons. They appear enlarged on jigsaw puzzles, a support that usually is associated with idyllic landscapes and the slow and painstaking process of its construction. It's the paradox of constructing destruction, and the slowness of this symbolic reconstruction that is fascinating the artist. Catastrophes receive short-lived attention, like snapshots, but the supposed immediacy of communication, so-called live coverage - puts an equally immediate end to the discourse.
For some, Draeger's treatment of those images might read as merely redoubling the cynicism his choice of images suggests. Instead, it gives form to the complexities of our response to these media-borne pictures that might never come to consciousness otherwise.
In "TWA 800#6 (Calverton, Long Island, NY, 1998)" (2005), the assembled puzzle rhymes directly with the contents of the image: the fuselage of the destroyed 747 sitting in a hangar, partially reassembled from recovered debris. The work also expresses the wish to understand what went wrong and the impossible dream of seeing the accident's harm repaired. At the end of the exacting and exasperating process all that is revealed is the image — a doppelganger — of the original object. As with news-media images, Draeger asks whether this reconstructed image can be trusted.
The jigsaw treatment objectifies the power of mediation to fabricate responses for us, perhaps postponing or precluding us from knowing what, if anything, we actually do feel in reaction to catastrophes we take in from a distance in space or time. Can we -- or do we unknowingly -- fabricate emotions we deem appropriate to horrific events, if we happen not to feel them? How could we make such an uncomfortable discovery? These and related discomfiting questions underlie Draeger's seemingly flippant use of painful material.
In his use of the puzzle format, Draeger no doubt makes conscious reference to the early '90s puzzle prints of the influential American conceptualist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996). But Gonzalez-Torres used the puzzle as a metaphor for the desire to know the whole story behind a fragment of public information or private expression. Draeger sets the triviality of the picture puzzle against images of dreadful events to evoke the pull between cold curiosity and instinctive recoil that such events trigger.
(This text was compiled with excerpts from "Apocalypse, Now?" by Christoph Doswald, for the catalogue of "Cinema, Cinema", Van Abbe museum Eindhoven Feb 1999/ "Destroy & Reclaim: Artists and Disaster Sites" by Jeffrey Hughes for the New Art Examiner 2002/ “Christoph Draeger’s jigsawed photos of tragedies give viewer lots to puzzle over,” Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle, 2004/ and a undated text by Vanessa Joan Mueller, found on the web)