Tor Seidel’s Dubai photographs are largely uninhabited. It is possible to find the one or other person involved in some sort of activity on them, for example the preparatory work for posting placards on billboards or securing a race course. But the enormous efforts involved in constructing and maintaining this imperfect artificial world are not shown, and the Southeast Asian laborers who do a lion’s share of the work remain largely invisible. This curious absence turns Seidel’s pictures into photographs of crime scenes. While hardly any people are at hand in the photos, the traces they leave behind over the course of doing their work are most definitely present. Seidel’s pictures consequently invite the viewer to participate in a forensic reconstruction of the events as they might have occurred.
By restricting himself to the (re-)presentation of such urban situations, Seidel refrains from making a moral judgment. The individual photographs come together to form a complete picture that allows the viewer to take a look behind the scenes of the polished marble and glass surfaces. One group of pictures, however, does not obey the precept of omitting the presence of persons, namely, the series of “staged” photographs that represent a kind of counterpoint to Seidel’s urban and architectural pictures. All figures are shown from behind, more staffage than individual personalities who might otherwise serve as a kind of identificational figure for the viewer. The visual rhetoric in evidence here seems to be familiar from marketing brochures for luxury lofts. But Seidel subtly circumvents this advertising aesthetic in his photographs, generating in the process one of those situations of irritation discussed above. An elegant woman dressed in white depicted in a luxurious interior, for example, seems lost between a multitude of seating accommodations while looking out over an unreal world, instead of feeling comfortable within her own four walls. Once again Seidel photographically approaches the themes of homelessness and the uncanny from a different point of view.
Brave New World | On Tor Seidel’s Dubai Photographs | Martino Stierli is Philip Johnson Chief Curator for Architecture and Design at the MoMA, New York
In Caspar David Friedrich´s "Frau vor untergehender Sonne" ("Woman before the Setting Sun"), a young woman is depicted facing the setting sun, wich turns her almost completely, but not entirely, into a silhouette. Her arms are sightly raised, in awe of the grandeur of the moment, as the sunrise illuminates the sublime landscape before her.
A contemporary equivalent of such a Romantic moment is provided by plate 61 of Tor Seidel´s photography book The Dubai (Hatje Cantz 2014). Like Friedrich´s painting, the photograph shows a woman contemplating what is in front of her, her back facing the viewer, though, in the almost 200 years that separate Friedrich and Seidel, many things have changed.
Seidel´s woman wears a bikini, and she is standing motionless in a swimming pool. Her long hair falls over her shoulders, and only one arm, the right one, is raised, mirroring Friedrich´s woman, but it is lifted to hold on to the pool´s handrail. The scene in front of this modern woman is quite different as well. There is no sunrise to be admired. What natural landscape there might be is covered in haze, and the only things to be in awe of are three spick-and-span skyscrapers. From the camera´s perspective, the viewer must conclude that the pool is located on top of a fourth tower.
Thus The Dubai celebrates the city for what it is and what it stands for, the purest symbol of an economic system, traces of which can be found all over the world. To expect anything different, say, photos of the city´s countless foreign workers, would be akin to expecting to see overcrowded communal housing in Socialist realism.
The photographs in The Dubai fit into the contemporary tradition laid out by the likes of Andreas Gursky, Peter Bialobrzeski, or Robert Polidori.
Much like Socialist Realism, which set out to celebrate the successes of collectivism, which served a tiny fraction of the population, certainly not the masses, Capitalist Realism celebrates the beauty of an economic system that relies on a brutish, brutal political foundation that ultimately benefits the select few, while leaving out the rest.
Contemporary Photography`s Capitalist Realism by Jörg Colberg on March 21, 2015 in Hyperallergic
Tor Seidel has already illuminated the relationship between identity, space and meaning in his Tableaus, a series that the artist has been working on since 2006. He pursues aesthetic concepts from past centuries in wich meaningfulness was intended to be expressed by means of overlapping layers. For the viewers, however, this implies that they must follow the messages concealed behind the mysterious figural compositions. Persons are mostly seen from behind in the Tableaus as well; they turn away so that they might be able to preserve their secrets for themselves and don masks or capes in order to protect their inner being, their own self.
The Track Layer, Nadine Barth, The Dubai
Tor Seidel unterdessen zeigt eine andere Stadt, indem er entweder den Bildausschnitt weiter fasst, als seine Berufskollegen das für gewöhnlich tun. Oder indem er schlicht in die andere Richtung fotografiert. Der Bildband heißt "The Dubai", angelehnt an das irrwitzige Projekt "The Palm".
Einige Versprechen Dubais sind leer - und Tor Seidel wirft mit seinen Bildern die Frage auf, ob sich nicht eines Tages Dubai in Gänze als ein hohes Versprechen erweisen wird.
Andererseits zeigt Seidel die immense Willens- und Finanzkraft, die zur Verwirklichung vieler Reißbrett-Entwürfe geführt hat. Er könnte es sich einfach machen und seine Bilder so wählen, dass sie zeigen: Sie kriegen es doch nicht hin in Dubai. Er bevorzugt einen spannenderen Ansatz, zeigt die Schwebe, in der die Dinge offenbar gerade sind - am Ende einer Krise und im Angesicht eines Aufschwungs, dessen Kraft sich noch nicht absehen lässt.
Stefan Fischer: Die Wüste schwebt, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 20.5.2015
Alb und Traum | Michael Kasiske
The, das Demonstrativpronomen im Titel des opulenten Bildbands lässt Distanz zu Dubai erahnen. Als eine Vorspiegelung von Stadt empfindet Nadine Barth denn auch die bevölkerungsreichste Agglomeration am Persischen Golf, was die Kuratorin und Publizistin in den Fotografien von Tor Seidel wiederfindet: „Hier verkommt der Raum gänzlich zu Projektion, wird zur frei flottierenden Vision.“
In der Tat changieren die breiten, oft dop-pelseitig präsentierten Bilder zwischen Realität und Rendering, wobei beides zuweilen traum-, zuweilen albtraumhaft erscheint. Die Modellfotos auf den Vorsätzen erinnern an Disney-World und nicht zuletzt an Las Vegas, mit dem entscheidenden Unterschied, dass die Architektur Dubais ernst genommen werden will.
Nichts ist Kulisse, das macht Seidel, der inzwischen in Dubai lebt, eindrücklich klar. Denn neben den großen Prospekten materialisiert er die Stadt in Nahaufnahmen und vor allem in Baustellenbildern, die vom Stadium zwischen Wirtschaftskrise und EXPO 2020 zeugen. Insofern ist das sehr einnehmend gestaltete Buch auch ein Zeitdokument, das Appetit weckt oder Abneigung provoziert, auf jeden Fall aber neugierig auf die weitere Entwicklung macht.
Alb und Traum, Michael Kasiske Berlin, Bauwelt, 2015
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Clearly that it is than more than meets the eye. We feel it`s political because we aren`t only seeing photographs of Dubai, we are looking into it through the mind of Tor Seidel. And we a pretty sure that we are seeing, feeling and experiencing way more than just architecture, urbanism, nature, Man or just business. The impact is real and it is not created it is capture from that reality. What strikes us is a shiny and dust reality which gets us thinking about environment, waste, resources, visuals, society, emptiness and loss of purity. But this is us being critical about Tor Seidel`s photos, this is us being critical about a show of released by plutocrats eager to make huge profits and politicians only think about propaganda. And again we drown ourselves in questions about development, efficiency, harmony and balance among all parts. We dare to think if Man has really developed behaviour, if some groups of individuals do ever think more deeply about consequences. It is indeed political and the whole could be based on the lack of spirituality despite all those forced technological and architectural exuberance.
Design Magazine (Portugal) 5/6 2015
About Tableaus - Exhibition Hermetically in Dubai- Interview with Peter Feely
Your art focuses on the hidden parts of people personalities. Can you elaborate on what interests you about this topic?
For me, a good explanation is to have a look into the history of art. I was always wonder why German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich was so fascinated by painting people mostly with their backs turned to the painter in front sublime landscapes, melancholic situations and dramatic natural settings. It was a time of very sophisticated and cultured minds, and it was a world without television or the internet. I have tried to move these topics and aesthetics into contemporary contexts.
Can you explain why you called your exhibition in Dubai „Hermetically“ and is it related to being isolated or sealed off from the outside world?
...This loneliness and growing individualisation is a typical sign of big citys..., of modern communities in general. I think of being sealed from the outside world in a positive way: you generate power when you are yourself and when you listen to your own pure sense of nature. When contemplating the nature and outside world from your individual perpective, you can reach a state of enhanced perception. In that sense, hermetically describes a condition of internalisation. I think this is important in these times, where you can buy everything any time and you can connect yourself via internet, where you are always distracted and can change your identity as often as you like very easily.
Would you say that there is a dark element to your work?
There definitely is. When I was speaking about the European romantic era, I mentioned the melancholic aspects. This so-called dark romance is very interesting for me; I like the ambiguity, the wholeness and strong-self-reflection. But is it not so much dark in the meaning of ‚gloomy‘, more like ‚enigmatic‘ or ‚obscure‘. It is more about self-reflection. Every subject or topic has more than one aspect, and you can always find a contradiction I always think.
I simply want to avoid rotting peoples mind, or shallow entertainmet - its very german.
Interview with Peter Feely, Time out Dubai