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Arnaud De Wolf, series "Heim", inkjet print, 2014, 60 x 40 cm

Anachronistic vanities

Arnaud De Wolf is a modern anachronism or an anachronistic modernist. Or perhaps we should at
once be more precise, and talk of Uchronism rather than of anachronism?

An anachronism is a false relationship in time, a tear in the fabric of time, a false note. Thus, just as Utopia (literally “the place that is nowhere”) cannot really be depicted in any representation, Uchronism (literally “the time that is at no time”) is an illusory fusion and reconciliation of times,
and can only be conceived as an imaginary view, incapable of expressing itself in the long term.

On first seeing De Wolf’s work, we feel giddy and experience an unending paradox which, however, only applies to the concrete visual forms and their most recent past. And he is also a modernist because his references at first sight appear to be very dated and – yes – even anachronistic: from Weimar to the traumas of the twentieth century, from the Bechers to the systematic photos of their ancestors, and his preference for architectural structures rather than the intangible fluidity of current images, whose virtual value has replaced their commercial value (which itself had already, long ago, replaced their print value). It is much harder to attribute a date to Arnaud De Wolf’s photos than
a – difficult and illusory – place.

His creative process, however, is very contemporary, even post-modern in a way. It is this that allows him to blend immediate fascination and critical distance, this flexible incarnation of the paradox of time, within his images, that appear at first sight to be very simple, refined but rudimentary, inexhaustible but obvious. This coming-and-going, this extreme lucidity, allows Arnaud De Wolf to create images that go against the current predominant trend towards hyper-realism: they are more questions than answers. Like enigmas, or, perhaps, enigmas about strangers: a small number of images (usually his series contain between one and three images, very occasionally more, and less than fifteen in the Heim series) suffice to feed his indefatigable questioning and doubting of landmarks.

In his work, one form always calls or evokes another. A statement never has any value in itself, but must be taken like a metaphor. For everything — in particular materials: stone, ice, snow and dust — brings us back to the spiral of time, the haunting fixed nature of a fly trapped in amber, or of the Egyptians’ “mummy complex” which André Bazin and other pioneers made the founding principle of photography. For what other material can better preserve things from the ravages of time than ice? This also stresses the derisory ephemeral nature of human ambitions, constructions and elaborations.

Our gaze stumbles over the incalculable detail of head-on images of stone walls — just as Talbot counted needles in haystacks. De Wolf photographs fossils, or more-or-less temporary constructions — as did Bayard and Daguerre. Just like the first scientists who seized upon photography, he brings the infinitely small closer to the infinitely large, the far away nearer to the very close, the eternal closer to the transitory. A face is also a landscape — or, more precisely, only has value as a face when alternated with a landscape. A concrete form (a piece of ochre stone, is it small or large?) seems to emerge from the void, which, however, is merely a mass of translucent snow. But the narrow windows of standardised, dehumanised architecture send the presences that inhabit it in a reverse trajectory towards the same void.

We live in a funny old world, where it is rare to find photographers who can, as we were saying, hold themselves back and simplify its complex forms and who, on the contrary, invite us to discover the complexity of simple forms. In this sense, the Heim series shows us his historic, Germanic roots and speaks to us clearly, with a clarity and a whiteness too blinding to be perceived at once, of a quest, a secret, a mystery, blending together questions about endings and beginnings. It pushes us towards the hypothesis that perhaps our only home is the universe: for behind the idea of emptiness you will always find, in every language, in the depths of ourselves or somewhere in the image, the fear of the void.

Emmanuel d’Autreppe

Translation: Chris Bourne

Web Site:

Arnaud De Wolf won the “Propositions d’artistes 2015” competition organised by Contretype.


Arnaud De Wolf, "Heim"
Self-published by the author, 2016
Words in English by Steven Humblet
Size: 29,7 x 21,5 cm
Soft cover in linen – 28 pages
ISBN 9789082493108 – Price: 27 €
175 copies