What is a city? An accumulation of houses, a central location where people live, where people come together, where there are social, political, and normative structures. It is an outdoor space enveloping numerous interior spaces, a shell around the personal, split up into many individual destinies.
What is a picture? A finite detail, flat, which points to something lying outside its scope; it illustrates something that does or does not exist, perhaps because it originates in the artist’s imagination. It is a self-contained entity, invented to be viewed, by whomsoever.
Well, a picture of a city appears at first sight to reproduce a part of its reality insofar as it involves a photographic image. It is a mirror, held aloft by the photographer in order to capture his view of the surface. To what extent a defamiliarization process takes place as a result of the selection of technical means, and how great the degree of this rejection of the authentic is, ultimately makes no difference. The reference to the city persists in the picture’s message.
Tor Seidel’s Dubai pictures reference the city that calls itself Dubai: a complex and confusing metropolis that shimmers between enormous advertisements for a more beautiful future, globally unique architectural icons, and halted large-scale construction projects that recede into its own sea of glittering lights—along with a skyline that can seemingly be assembled like building blocks on a carpet of desert sand. Tor Seidel sounds out this intermediate space and unmasks its inherent empty promises when he depicts towering concrete stumps and weathered billboards, opulent entrance gates leading somewhere or other, and iridescent new structures built on sand, when he places views of the city against views of a model of this city, or when he simply shows automobiles driving around a group of skyscrapers through the image field curvature like on a slot car racing track. His pictures point to the self-perception of Dubai, to the idea of a prosperous metropolis. Can Dubai redeem this idea? Sometimes it can and sometimes it cannot. Perhaps Dubai itself is only just an idea, a likeness, while what is actually depicted—the city in the classic sense—does not in fact exist, only pictures of it, simulacra. The artist titled his series The Dubai, analogue to The Palm, that spectacular gargantuan project on the Persian Gulf at Dubai made up of artificial palm-leaf-shaped islands.
People are only rarely seen in Tor Seidel’s Dubai pictures, and if so, they are shown from behind. Two men are presented just standing about, with somewhat oldish power lines and knotted wires projecting above them. Due to the perspective, the lines appear higher than the towers but are in fact tiny. It is a section in the older part of the city, one that has not yet been developed or already abandoned. It is uncertain why the men are standing here; a solitary palm tree does not provide any clues. Then there are interiors with gigantic window fronts or pool landscapes in which beautiful women appear, likewise seen from behind, but in poses so unnatural that one becomes aware of the deliberate staging. Space disintegrates into a projection, becoming a free-floating vision, immersed in the most wondrous light, while conveying the impression of a rendering or a painting because of its perfection.
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 which 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.
Tor Seidel’s study of philosophy, which he began after his time at art college, involves the tracing of the “track” concept from antiquity to the modern era. The artist lays tracks in his pictures as well, immerses himself deep inside nuclear power plants and temporary atomic waste storage facilities (Aktive Räume [Active Spaces]), enlarges the X-rays of Russian soldiers into panel pictures (Röntgenporträt [X-Ray Portrait]), and dangles 650 bars of soap in space from the ceiling as an installation (Schmerz der Archivare [Archivists’ Pain]). He deliberately plays with that sense of confusion, diabolically leads us to strange worlds, searches for the inherent concept and then breaks it in two. Tor Seidel was immediately captivated by the city when he arrived in Dubai for the first time in 2008 after traveling through the desert. He, who trained in the studio of a still life artist, tinkered around with the light for hours until it was exactly right, discovering a perfect setting in the artificial city on the Persian Gulf that was seemingly just waiting to finally be arranged by him. Like a topographer, the artist collected the best views of The Dubai, tested sight lines, color temperatures, the incidence of the sun’s radiation, pursued curious situations or constructed them himself. Even after diverse visits there, he is still fascinated by this city that did not exist as such some fifty years ago, a city he attempts to fathom with his camera in order to lay down tracks for us, day by day, picture by picture.
Nadine Barth, Editor, Berlin