Coimbra University, Portugal

Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression #75, 2009, Chromogenic Colour Print 61x76.2cm

© The Estate of Michael Wolf, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

Michael Wolf is the photographer for the global city. His work calls for a radically new look at urban experience and its constructive density. To a large extent, we live after the mythical hypothesis in the sense that it was supplied by the city-country aporia. There, it seemed to rest a part of the melancholic sensibility that has crossed modernity, whose axis is the claim for an origin, for an ur-doxa, for a pastoral to which we could return, at least in a condition of nostalgia or remorse.

Wolf shows how we are beyond the possibility of remorse and that an elegiac formulation can no longer be articulated. If nature is a regime of continuities in which the discontinuous configurations of culture are installed, what about a world where nature is no longer the background of that form, where nature was consumed by a process of furious devouring, as there is nothing but dense artifacts and remains in a global city from which the significant void of the sky is absent? The global city is, therefore, a “dense architecture” as Wolf indicates in one of his most well-known projects, where the homo sacer surrenders to dissolution and death, no longer to the sleep of the elect, but of the one which is now, only, the remains of the devouring. That’s what is in the men from Shinjuku which are boxes photographed by Wolf. That’s what is also, certainly in another way and without flaws, in Tokyo Compression, where time is suspended and differences revoke in the compact crowd that fills the wagons of the relentless machine that is Tokyo subway.

What Wolf does is to annul the communitas of terror and oblivion in which, after all, is translated the voracious contemporaneity of the global city. Suddenly, on the threshold of a morally ambiguous exercise, we are confronted with the anteriority of a face, with the counterfeit intimacy of someone who cannot escape the photographer's camera and who seems condemned by the evisceration of his gaze. Someone who, imprisoned by such gaze, exposes himself torn and tearfully: closing his eyes, simulating sleep (perhaps a dream), crossing his hands in a figuration only anticipated by Albrecht Dürer or Matthias Grünewald. It could be said, therefore, that in post-photographic times, photography comes to break the icy sea of representations that, itself, has generated. It could be said, therefore, that photography can still be a revelation, capable of bringing back the regime of intensities that defines the human and rescues him by its presence.

Tokyo Compression is an unlikely object. It seems to suspend time and, with it, the eclipse of the face and the distance. In Tokyo Compression the face which is stolen from contact and intimacy, whose ominous surgical mask underlines the movement of concealment and distance, casts us, paradoxically, in the maelstrom of contact and intimacy. In view of the distress of our present, whose complexity seems unapproachable, the perhaps attenuated power of images still contains spells that we deemed to be forever abandoned.

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