Shifted Realities – Illusions of Possible Worlds, Photographs as Allies of the Imagination
In Michael Baumgarten's staged imagery, it seems as if things have escaped the sameness of their usual everyday life, to play their own theatre in more imaginative scenarios; in the interiors of castles, on country estates and in pleasure gardens (Lustgarten?), sometimes also in simpler dwellings or in the fields and at sea; to immersing themselves in enchanted worlds.
For many years, the pictorial illusionary spaces presented in this Shifted Realities publication have been created in the photographer's work, published in magazines or shown in exhibitions. Their elaborate productions transpose a bathtub into the middle of a castle’s dining room, plant landscaped gardens with bobbin lace, or enliven elegant interiors with worlds of oversized pop-up books like those we always loved in our childhood days. Elsewhere, books dance unexpectedly acrobatically, growing into a reading tree, bending as moving columns or propping up tables and beds to dynamically transform into inspiring libraries.
In a Lisbon pleasure garden, the famous blue and white azuleijos with their narratives and ornaments not only cover walls but shape a variety of things such as furniture, musical instruments or the sail of a stone boat in the fountain of an inner courtyard, which also appears to be furnished with them in other places. Just as the picture tiles became ceramic wallpaper, wallpaper repeatedly shapes the pictorial fantasy spaces of Michael Baumgarten's photographs in other pictures as well, to cover the simplicity of the familiar walls with a special life of its own. As camouflage, they envelop - or perhaps even deceive us about - backgrounds and substrates. At any rate, this could be the case with the picture-covered cloths with which furniture and objects in the Trompe L'Oeil series appear covered in a castle-like interior. The motifs depicted on them play with our imagination and curiosity, leaving us uncertain as to whether what is depicted is actually under the cover.
Colourful and full of stubborn self-assertion, against the possible fate of ending up as a discarded object of dreams in a technology or aviation museum; a yellow propeller plane appears in the photograph Magic Plane, an early pictorial staging by Michael Baumgarten. It seems to come from the early days of the wish to be able to fly. Wrapped in a red velvet blanket with yellow tassels, it is reminiscent of an opera diva with her stole, who, rolled onto a field, might want to take to the skies once more to gain an overview and, singing her aria with the sounds of the propeller, to look at the world with different eyes. An intention that also appears in the later photographs by Michael Baumgarten presented here, realised with poetic and pictorial inventiveness.
------------------------Barbara Hofmann-Johnson is an art historian and curator of contemporary art and photography who lives in Germany.
She is director at the Museum für Photographie Braunschweig, Lower Saxony.