Niklas Goldbach

"The videos of Niklas Goldbach", by Ricardo Domeneck

Niklas Goldbach was born in 1973 in Witten, Germany. While studying photography at the University of Bielefeld and 'Experimental Media Arts' at the University of the Arts in Berlin, he started working with video, which would become his main medium. He later joined an MFA program in New York, and in 2007 he was artist in residence at Palais de Tokyo, in Paris. His work is represented by galleries in Germany and France, and has been exhibited throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia. The visual artist lives and works in Berlin. 

Goldbach has stated in interviews that his work deals with personal fears, which relate him as an individual to the functioning of his community and through this relationship, to society and its concepts of culture. Therefore, the interactions between public and private spheres become a privileged subject for his artistic practice and investigation, in a manner which is also intimately connected to the medium he chooses for his research into the realm of his own socially-conditioned nightmares. Therefore, some aspects of his investigation are closely related to the use of video, which cannot escape the political connotations of its use by corporations and the opinion-forging press. 

At first sight and on the surface, one could come to believe that one of the main concerns of Niklas Goldbach is the artistic evolution of the concepts of time and its dimensions, something that absorbed and obsessed photographers from the beginning and later also video artists. This comes to mind when we see his DV paintings, short videos which are then slowed to the near point of stasis, and his still images, especially his self-portraits and the series of "Portraits on a wooden floor", which were created by filming friends dancing to their favourite songs, and then superposing each single frame to create still images that lead us to the question: "How long is this picture?“. 

However, if this can be linked to the investigations of photographers like Eadweard Muybridge, what is most interesting in such pieces is the revelation of Niklas Goldbach's main concerns, linking private and public spheres through the political implications of utopia and dystopia. One of his intelligent achievements is in the fact that he can deal with such dualities in a non-dichotomical way. For in his work there is no eulogy of privacy and individuality or praise of solidarity and collectivity, denouncing a system in which these sets of doubles constantly rub spectacles off each other. His video work emerges as the friction and blurring of such borders, which seem even to be illustrated by the blotched images of individuals on his still images, depicting a so-called private sphere which is as nightmarish as the public one. The cross-pollination of our perceptions of inner and outer reality through language, mediated by imagery, seems to spread the seed of "oneliness" over empty fields which feed on the publicity of privacy. 

Niklas Goldbach then seems to take on the difficult role of both disarming fictitious utopia while setting off the alarm against imminent dystopia. The first role, which could be described as that of a necessary disillusionist, can be felt in an early video like "Greetings", from 2003. In this piece, the Berlin-based video artist uses internet found footage of over 100 different UFO, edited to the sound track of the human greetings in 55 languages and a speech of former UN General Secretary Kurt Waldheim which were on the record sent into outer space in the 1977 Voyager mission. The video can be read as both a lyrical ballad of human hope in an utopian harmonic society and the ironical unmasking of a hypocritical gesture engendered in times of Cold War. 

But Goldbach's expertise develops and blossoms in his poignant attacks against his nightmare of a homogenised world ruled by corporate existence, a world which exiles any sense of a corporeal life. In such works as "My Barrio" (2005) and "Gan Eden" (2006), Niklas Goldbach becomes the allarmist of dystopia, in imagery infused with a sort of Cassandra melancholy of impotence. For his late videos show a world of "Apocalypse Yesterday", and the loneliness that takes place in his carefully created architectural landscapes is that of belated contemplation. A video like "My Barrio" has set the stage for an entire series of probings into abandoned utopias and spawned dystopias which were the result of a Modernism in love with progress. This video is also the first appearance of the lonely character created by the artist, pacing through empty streets of futuristic spaces, which would become the character of recent works such as "Haunt" and "Intruders" (2007). 

These works have come into being in the past few years, after the piece of Niklas Goldbach that I see as a turning point in his style: "Falls" (2006). Filmed on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls in December 2005, set upside down and to the sound of the motion picture "Niagara", by Henry Hathaway, this work is one of the first in which Niklas Goldbach establishes his extremely subtle style of image manipulation to reveal frightening perspectives in the ordinary. It is also a beautiful moment in his work, when the possibility of lyricism among the ruins is felt, even if such moments are rare in his work. 

This would find its climax in the astonishing "Civil twilight" series, in which Goldbach introduces elements of growth and movement on landscapes of haunting loneliness. The series reveals a world where the worst seems to have already happened. The dystopia would become even more established in the series "Intruders" and in videos like "The Anticipation", shown here on Hilda Magazine. The terrifying elements in such pieces are given by Niklas Goldbach's talent to avoid manicheism, self-righteousness and easy side-taking. The uniformed members of this world which is cleansed of difference do not appear simply mechanized, making it easy for the expectator to set himself apart from such creatures. For they seem endowed with a horrifying graciousness and calm that seem to question us: who is better off? A video like "The Anticipation" becomes so powerful due to this very sense of a religious expectation where it is not expected to exist, an anticipation which never becomes clear if it will reveal a saviour or simply a further and final emptiness. 

Niklas Goldbach belongs to the group of artists who do not refrain from the political implications of his practice, and one could think of Wittgenstein's formulation stating that "Ethics and esthetics are one and the same." Few artists are able to create such strong concepts, which manage to leave such hauntingly beautiful imagery as traces. And that makes Niklas Goldbach's videos and the world they depict even more frightening.