This work, realized within the context of a studio scholarship in the New York World Trade Center in the summer of 2001, focuses on the issue of being in the right place. The storyline that has been developed through the combination of a group of documentary photographs of the World Trade Center’s abandoned interiors and a series of narrative drawings strikes one in the first place because of its aesthetic charm. As soon as one immerses oneself in the work, an ambiguity arises from the juxtaposition of the photographs’ unemotional realism with the drawings’ enchanting aestheticism that is apt to convey the magic of both the place and the moment. This is the first level of perception elicited through the work’s installation on a wall.
However, Carola Dertnig decided to add a narrative element and various texts to the pictorial contents of a book that appeared in 2002 and which includes the photographs and drawings mentioned above. The story describes the two towers of the World Trade Center as individual twin existences with regard to their states of mind, their mutual relations, and their association with Elisa Islanda (Ellis Island). Moreover, the book contains excellent texts by the artist about the creation of her work and an essay by Rike Frank; the publication is rounded off by timelines on the World Trade Center and Ellis Island.
The essays condense and clarify the pictorial contents on the basis of Carola Dertnig’s descriptions of her situation as a scholarship holder in a studio on the World Trade Center’s 91st floor. As one of fifteen artists without an opportunity of retiring to privacy, she was discontent with the spatial situation and for a change roamed the offices of the World Trade Center that had been abandoned since the dot-com bubble burst in 1998. These forays reflect the qualities of the structure’s architecture in a complex fashion, particularly the relationship between space and individual, as well as the topographical and historical associations to the building’s surroundings. The rediscovery of her own self within a new studio community and Ellis Island as a symbol of immigration into the USA turn out to be the focal points of her work.
The work . . . but buildings can’ talk . . . is a prototype that shows how content going beyond a narrative description can be created from individual experience and with the means of subjectivity. The work would be unthinkable in terms of space and time without the circumstances of its production. It serves as a parable that makes us recognize that our present actions are determined by the correlations between the past and expectations and hopes directed toward the future.
Paul Katzberger, 2011 (translation: Wolfgang Astelbauer)