No Man’s Factory
Elisabeth Czihak photography exhibition, Fermé au public, Galerie Jeune Création, 24 rue Berthe, 75018 Paris, September 9th to October 8th 2011
The only sound remaining is the echo of a gentle, constant throb: the wind sweeping through broken windows, whirling through the safety gates like a gymnast on a pole. On a lazy summer afternoon, this cool dampness would be like a sheet of rain. Every now and then, I am startled by a sound that was just a fragment of my imagination. I rest assured, even though the smell of rubber and metal lingers, carried on a trail of cold dust, reflecting the factory’s great emptiness. It seems as if two insoluble liquids were stirred by the sound of my steps. Bearing reverence, I quietly make my way through the rooms as if I were walking in a church.
The space seems to have been temporarily deserted for an annual or summer shutdown, lunch break or even retirement cocktail at the other end of the plant. However, with a closer glance at the photographs I begin to realize that I might be looking at an extended holiday. On one side a picture frame hangs crookedly and the fire extinguisher lies on the floor, unlike what basic safety requirements indicate. Further down, the drapes are pulled in a knot like a Punch and Judy puppet. Plaster peeling off the ceiling has fallen into a pile of gold dust on the linoleum, but Semele is nowhere to be found in this heap of dust. The faceplates on the wall stare out in astonishment, stupor and awe. On the upper story, someone took a plant out of its pot and left it lying in the middle of the room, with its faded palms wilting like fossilized catfish.
In the 1990’s, photographer Jocelyne Faroche’s work drew on the post-industrial esthetic; factories became wasteland, invaded by weed, devastated monuments and rusted carcasses. They somehow resembled the ruins depicted by the Classics and Romantics. The grandchildren of factory workers overtook these rundown temples for nights of Dionysian-like raves. In Detroit, walls were plastered with tags and floors covered with filth. A shady mix of junkies and rappers now haunted the very symbols of economic ruin, as if the buildings belonged to the victims rather than the criminals.
Elisabeth Czihak’s work draws on the postindustrial revolution: with the magic of relocation, one might think that factories do not really close and that their content was merely transferred elsewhere. In reality, they have been shut down and abandoned. These contradictions are at the heart of the Austrian photographer and artist’s work. The factories seem to have been deliberately emptied of every object that could be reused and transferred to a new production unit, its living double having been dropped and turned into a negative image. The images do not necessarily speak of emptiness and ruin, but rather of a restive, suspended reality. The offices are not completely deserted or abandoned, but stand on the cusp of slow and steady deterioration, or mummification. Elisabeth Czihak’s photographs seem to have been taken right before the tomb was shut. As if someone walked into it several years later.
The area is surprisingly serene and quite neat; the emptiness was perhaps injected with invisible amber to create confusion. No one seems to have lived or worked in it, even the photographer is absent, as if the factory were a cenotaph and empty tomb. Czihak’s No man’s factory series echo the no-man’s-land that she had portrayed in her work on remote railway stations in Poland. The light is beautiful both inside and outside, crisp without ever being cold, and clairvoyantly transfigures these desolate and soulless rooms. The result is brutal: without a trace of anger or defeat, the pieces suggest that submission to the new world order of globalization is inevitable. The relocated factory could very well face the same end, once a new and more competitive paradise is found.
To foreswear the conspiracy of emptiness and to stimulate a momentary presence, the artist invests the premises by drawing abstract, repetitive lines that are mutually attractive. It is not a question of expressing anger or imposing her signature by tagging the walls. Czihak does not deface, but draws attention to the surfaces. Some drawings shrivel up and outline a whole universe of animal-like pyrites; others soar like egrets on a wind of plaster, cement and white paint.
Sylvain Desmille, 2011