In 1831 Honoré de Balzac wrote a short story, The Unknown Masterpiece, in which he invented the abstract painting. Almost 200 years later, writer Ingo Niermann tries to follow in his footsteps to imagine a new epoch-making artwork. Together with the artist Erik Niedling he starts searching for the future of art and, seeking advice, meets key figures of the art world. With guidance by Thomas Bayrle, Olaf Breuning, Genesis and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, Olafur Eliasson, Harald Falckenberg, Boris Groys, Damien Hirst, Gregor Jansen, Terence Koh, Gabriel von Loebell, Marcos Lutyens, Philomene Magers, Antje Majewski, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Thomas Olbricht, Friedrich Petzel, and Tobias Rehberger.
In Redox, Niedling continues to deal with the history of photography, but this time, he reflects on the nature of the paper document – its role in conserving information, and its meaning today and in the future. At first glance, the nineteen large photographs seem to show a single black surface. But with time, viewers are able to identify subtle light reflexes, fine modulations and movements. Single letters, and sometimes words, start to emerge from the blackness, but rarely whole sentences. The photographs in fact depict the ashes of newspapers, which Niedling has collected and ordered into their various sections – Business, Arts, Sciences, Editorial and so on – and then burned.
Erik Niedling’s work, Formation, is a special form of repetition: it brings back tradition and repeats tradition, but transforms this reconstruction through a subtle arrangement in its deconstruction. The recurrence of the images throughout the work registers a difference in and with the images—in the only assumed identical material. In the studio, almost secretly, negatives are transformed into positives that only look as if they are negatives. The original manipulations, the retouching and the corrections, are still visible—and last but not least, they appear to shine, although they come out of the darkness. The function of the enlargement of the plant images that played a central role in the photography of the Neue Sachlichkeit is taken over here through this transposition of the negative. It produces a new perspective that alienates the seemingly familiar, morphs, and transforms. In this way, Erik Niedling creates images that visually transcribe the ambivalence of the Neue Sachlichkeit’s visual program and still remain loyal to the factual unemotional approach of the photographs used. He generates a visual tilt that leads to the unanswerable question, what is it about now: about positive or negative, documents or works of art, historical material or his artistic recreations. At the same time, that is precisely what it is about: positive and negative, documents and works of art, historical material and its recreation. New images for an old ceremony, that is no longer the same. (Excerpt from Formation, Text by Bernd Stiegler, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2008)
The series of Black Box objects was originally developed as a means of co-financing a soccer tournament for all the German youth teams that finished last in their regional league. Each Black Box contains a secret item. To see the contents of the box, you have to destroy it.
Niedling does not take on a journey by representing past lifeworlds, but by depicting an ephemeral state, a situation in transition in which pasts shimmer through, and at the same time questions are raised about the future. How much will be visible of the historically developed state of affairs after the museum’s renovation, what role will this play for the later viewing of the museum’s holdings? (…) Niedling is not interested in art that accommodates the beholder. He creates photographic works that are thoroughly conceptualized, that can also be read as commentaries on the found situations. His aesthetics results from an intention of depiction, that free of pathos, but not without feeling sketches the site of art and also allows us to see the coincidental, the provisional with other eyes. Not just the square mentioned at the outset, but also the fluorescent lighting in the attic is given an installative character, and is reminiscent of a work by Dan Flavin. Here, the slightly diagonal direction of the gaze gives the space a sense of dynamism. The broad spectrum of the images is not denunciatory, but allows for discoveries of their ambivalence. If there is a message, then it is that photography is freed from its role as a subservient medium and that space and time can be suspended in it. (Excerpt from Status, Text by Kerstin Stremmel, EIKON Sonderdruck #11, ÖIP – Österreichisches Institut für Photographie & Medienkunst, Vienna, 2007)
With regard to this historical and cultural continuity, that obviously reflects the sentiment of large parts of the population, and their fears and illusions Erik Niedling‘s forest images seem sobering, unsentimental and disillusioning. That is why they will hardly ever be used as an overall concept for the Thuringian Board of Tourism. They may, however, serve as an aspirin after many nights of gazing into a campfire or after a tranquil boat outing across foggy lakes early in the morning. Niedling‘s view of the forest also strengthens our critical awareness of the actual facts precisely at the moment, when our latent uneasiness with civilization and the power of our desires and projections once again threaten to undermine our critical awareness. He makes us aware of the limits, most of all our own, thereby possibly smoothing the way towards a real change in circumstances. (Excerpt from Erik Niedling – Fotografien / Photographs, Text by Kai Uwe Schierz, Schaden, Cologne, 2006)
As a projection surface, Erik Niedling uses historical photographs that he found as a thirteen year old boy in the attic of his grandparents‘ house. Now, almost two decades later, Niedling sifted through this find and assembled fourteen images into the Archive series, processed them and integrated them into his artistic body of work. (…) Niedling‘s conceptual and aesthetic approach in his series Archive prompts the viewer to face the fact that every present inevitably becomes the past and the time in between remains unpredictable. The past takes on a new meaning and is re-evaluated, sometimes also forgotten. And the contours of memory, oscillating between fact and fiction, can become indistinct. (Excerpt from Erik Niedling – Fotografien / Photographs, Text by Ute Noll, Schaden, Cologne, 2006)