Massimo Carboni

The spaces and functional structures of daily life in postindustrial society – facades of buildings, street intersections, the suburban periphery – are Matthias Hoch’s chosen themes, and from the time he began working, in 1988, the title of each of his photographs has been, simply, the name of the city where it was shot. There is no human presence, as if these places had been abandoned in haste, at the sound of an alarm warning of an imminent aerial bombardment. Sometimes the images of these non-places (to use a famous expression coined by the sociologist Marc Augé) evoke the squalor and psychological and social desolation of everyday life in the overwhelming anonymity typical of today’s cities. And it is precisely through portraying this sort of wasteland that Hoch succeeds in clearly separating the utilitarian functionality of these buildings and spaces from their form. As a result, the form stands out in its essence, in its plastic severity, thus undoing, unraveling the celebrated effect of architectural modernism, according to which form must follow function.

Hoch is careful to exclude or conceal every detail that might give away the precise location of the scene, so that the anonymity and sameness of contemporary urban life is nearly total. And yet the spaces don’t fail to possess that strange allure, to exercise that paradoxical seduction, typical of cold, disenchanted, rationalist, hypermodernist design, so often marked by an austere monumentality. One example is Rom #15, 2003, which depicts the ceiling of the enormous atrium of the main railroad station in Rome, rhythmically punctuated by gigantic reinforced concrete elements that run along its entire length. Precisely the objective, impersonal, professionally impeccable methodology with which the image has been made allows those enormous beams, which seem suspended in space, bending ever so slightly at the top, to appear as immense waves that curve back over on themselves, one after another, about to break on a cliff of glass and marble.

Something similar might be said of Vatican #26, 2004, where the ceiling of Nervi Hall – designed to accommodate large public audiences with the pope – seems to be transformed into a semitransparent grid that allows the light from above to filter in, in a series of very long stelae (the reinforced concrete ribs that soar from one wall to another), perhaps part of some unknown plan. Precision and calculation result in the formation of organic, biomorphic elements that remain open and available to all possible transformations.

The close-up detail of the brushstrokes of some paintwork, probably of a street surface, in Ravensburg #25, 2002, immediately brings to mind an abstract painting or the cloud studies of John Constable. One must look at Leipzig #1 or Leipzig #2 (both 2004) for some time to work out the ambiguities and apparent optical incongruities of the interiors that these beautiful images present, playing off the enigmatic visual intersection of floor, wall, and door. In Hoch’s work, the huge mass of sensory perceptions to which we are subjected daily in any city is filtered through compositional schemes based on symmetry and geometric axiality, with great attention – almost sculptural in nature – to the internal balance of the solids and voids and rhythms created by their interpenetration. And yet these schemes always leave room for seduction, the essential element of expressiveness.

© Massimo Carboni. Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Published in: Artforum, New York, October 2006, XLV, No. 2, p. 276.

The exhibition Matthias Hoch, May 16 to July 1, 2006 at Studio d’Arte Contemporanea Pino Casagrande, Rome, was part of Fotografia – Festival Internazionale di Roma.

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