Aram Tanis' black-&-white photographs present high-rises from angles reminiscent of the aesthetics of "New Seeing" and "New Objectivity" - constructivist in design, these are compositions that foreground the material properties and the size of the respective edifice. The subject of his series Ji Hyun Song is the horizontal concentration of urban space, multi-lane motorways, huge parking lots, and office and residential high-rises in Korea's capital, Seoul. The photographs are in part taken from a bird's eye perspective and focus on the formal grid of the architecture, characterized by a distanced view that becomes dynamic solely owing to the radical coordinates of the gaze, instead of people, we see automobiles. If we take Bertolt Brecht's famous adage of "a reality that has slipped into the functional", according to which in the photographs of New Objectivity there is nothing to see of the reification of human relationships, as the critical background foil for an interpretative approach to these works, then Tanis' photographic view of the metropolis that relies on growth and progress reveals itself to be an aesthetic method that is aware of this critique and uses it for its own ends. For all the sober distance of the shots, the images retain a subtext that correlates to the autobiographical, distancing view and in fact attempts to express something like alienation in visual terms. Tanis was actually born in Korea, but grew up in The Netherlands. When he visited Korea for the first time he did not know the language, and was quite overwhelmed by the vast city of Seoul.
Tanis articulates this ambivalence between fascination and the feeling of being foreign with his view of contemporary Seoul, as he focuses on the surface of things. The immense size of the city, with its 16 million inhabitants and buildings that largely seem Asian, not to mention urban development in Korea in general - these are the topic and horizon of his approach to what is an unknown country to which he is nevertheless biographically linked, one that in part bears the seal of a non-location and of the resulting loss of the social.
Between the poles of fascination and critique, Tanis thus unravels a contemporary panorama of that "beautiful world" as was already celebrated by the photographs of New Objectivity. The latter's purportedly objectivist pictorial idiom and de-subjectivizing approach to the object to be photographed amounted to a celebration of both progress and technology as well as of the superficial structure of things. Tanis' photographs of Seoul compositionally present the dynamism of the large city. His photographs address not only the far-reaching absence of inhabitants in this city as well as the metropolis in which people remain anonymous and lead anonymous lives. What arises is a portrait of the entire body of a city, which in terms of precise observation includes not only the topography but also the structural elements of the social and the economic, and be it only as the empty space in the web of functionally differentiated urban space.
Vanessa Joan Müller