Endor Project

In his on-going series, Benjamin A. Monn wishes to focus on both the ancient and the modern civil engineering works in Europe, Asia and America, which dominate their environment in the same way with their abstract, monumental architecture. In series such as “Candela”, Monns has already grappled with western functional building on several occasions. Here, he has frequently dealt with European museum buildings due to their special architecture. In Monns’ photography, the interior designs in these buildings evince abstract compositions which normally go unseen by the museum’s visitors and whose detailed precision has only been captured by Photo-Eye (Franz Roh). With respect to this process of perception, his latest photo project, Endor, shows a further progression: The impact, which the functional buildings portrayed has on the aesthetics of their natural environment seems quite incredible. The human eye would simply not be able to take in the discrepancy between architecture and nature at first glance. This is why Monns’ photography, full of rich contrasts, seems at first staged and unreal – but the shocking contrast between landscape and architecture is real. The ski jump in Innsbruck by the Persian architect Zaha Hadid – looking just as unreal as a space station on the forest planet of Endor – really is located in the middle of the mountains and a pine forest, which have been ravaged by the construction of the building. Just as real is the gigantic dish of a radio telescope which has been set up in the Bavarian uplands surrounded by green meadows and an old chapel.

Just as in the serial works of Bernd and Hilla Becher, Monns’ photography provides an objective inventory of these buildings. However, in contrast to the Bechers, Benjamin Monns does not filter out the context of these functional buildings – that is, their natural environment. His photography puts the building and the environment into the picture on equal terms. They document without making any value judgements. This is left to the observer. On the one hand, the observer can clearly see how devastatingly humans have attacked nature with their architecture, disregarded it and in the meantime destroyed it. On the other hand, these constructions also reflect at the same time the industrial and technical development of their times. In the sense of a historical document, they provide a record of the engineering techniques of their particular epoch. This means that dams tell the story of the early days of creating electrical current, surveillance posts and radio installations bring to mind the Cold War, solar installations look to the future of renewable energy.

The fact that technical history also always signifies cultural history had already been taken up by the Austrian art and photography historian Heinrich Schwarz before the Second World War. In his research on the “techniques of seeing” he looked at the influence of technological and scientific history on the development of art. In the aesthetics and art history of the thirties, the idea that artistic and technological works form a unit was a completely new theoretical approach. At that time, Heinrich Schwarz’s thesis that new technology is continually accompanied by social upheaval was revolutionary. In his argumentation, he directly included the medium of photography which, at that time, was only 100 years old. In doing this, he attributed to photography a historical mission: “no longer considered in isolation, but connected intimately with all the other contemporary expressions of the scientific and artistic, social and economic, technical and aesthetic kind, photography will be recognised as a characteristic symptom and unavoidable result of a general transformation of how we see things and a new positivistic foundation for our world view”. (Heinrich Schwarz: Zur Geschichte der Camera obscura – On the History of the Camera Obscura, 1934). Photography, therefore, acquired the mission of seeing each phenomenon in the light of its chronological conditionality. Transposed into the year 2010, Benjamin Monn follows the same approach in his Endor series. What motivates him is to comprehend architecture in relation to the social circumstances of each respective epoch. And, as a result, his photography documents much more than just industrial history – it relates the history of humankind.

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