Berlin: Aerial Reconnaissance
air photography by Anthony Auerbach, 2005
Five aerial photographic surveys for the International Necronautical
Society Inspectorate, Berlin, 1076 photographs, 5 mosaics
Anthony Auerbach writes:
The survey techniques I developed in the works Planet
and Enemy Contact Surface seemed to lend themselves to
the task assigned by the INS Inspectorate Berlin. The 'mission'
was to recover data which would inform and develop the INS's reading
of the city, following the INS central interests: marking and erasure;
transit, circulation and control; cryptography and death.
Aerial photographic surveys are used in military reconnaissance
and other specialist fields such as cartography, geology and archaeology.
Each specialist field of knowledge has developed its own modes and
techniques of interpretation, because, although ordered, the survey
data are almost as stubborn and resistant as the material surfaces
they record. The survey makes the surface yield to inspection and
calls for its interpretation, that is, the decipherment of the marks
and traces visible on the surface.
Berlin — 'World Capital of Death', as the INS identified
it — must also be the world capital of erasure. If the fabric
of the city is nothing other than the erasure of the traces of death,
then the identification and selection of sites for detailed surveillance
would be the first problem for the INS Inspectorate. The objective
of the selection procedure was to discover sites where the phenomena
of erasure are intensified. Among the city's most ruthless methods
of erasure is the erection of memorials. A memorial is an attempt
to authenticate a forgotten past. A memorial authorises forgetting
and encodes erasure. The presence of monumental architecture, memorial
plaques and the like, therefore helped to identify the target sites
as specified: 'locations where no trace can be found of incidents
or persons of interest to the INS; where there is evidence of attempts
to cover or erase the traces of incidents or persons; where there
is evidence of attempts to conceal the erasure.'
In May 2005, I carried out five aerial surveys and assembled them
at the INS Inspectorate's temporary headquarters in Berlin. Each
survey recorded the material surface of the site and the marks and
inscriptions it bears, providing a vast amount, indeed, an abyss
of information. Although assembled in systematic way, following
the lines of the survey itself, the photographic reconnaissance
does not resolve into to a picture with clear epistemological boundaries.
Each photograph in the mosaic moreover provides a abundance of detail
suggesting that one ought to be able to account, for example in
the observation of the 'Prince Albrecht Terrain', for each grain
of sand visible. In cases such as Bebel Platz and Leipziger Strasse,
transparent, reflective and multi-layered materials resulted in
complications in the documents: introducing visible repetitions,
making visible the recording process, producing images of the sky.
Thus air photography produced images of air, the sky becoming the
abyssal depth of a material surface, nonetheless marked. Thus the
surveys were not only productive of information: the complications
made visible by the performance of the technique (the craft
as the INS would underline) are highly suggestive and likely to
be important in developing key INS interpretations of the data.
In the context of the INS Inspectorate Berlin, it would not make
sense to regard the surveys as art objects. The INS insists they
are documents submitted in evidence. However it is essential to
their function as INS documents that, like artworks, they are both
seductive and resistant; that they are understood as material documents,
both superficial and abysmal; that they are not necessarily written
in code, but need to be deciphered. The 'craft' of the art critic
or historian as inspector of surfaces, thus, may well prove to be
useful in their interpretation.
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