Lifting Something Heavy Is Just Like Lifting Something Light
In China, there exists the idiom, “Lifting something heavy is just like lifting something light.” The literal meaning is that a person with great physical strength can lift things easily. But in this context, its meaning has another dimension, namely that a talented person can find the tools to solve a serious or complex issue in a simple, uncomplicated way.
The two Austrian artists, Ruth Anderwald + Leonhard Grond, use this method of ease by selecting a figure from Greek mythology, Atlas, whose action is shown in their approach to photography. They do not intend to visualize an action or a mythological figure, nor do they intend to solve a problem. Rather, they intend to reflect human existence and the relationship of humans with the world.
In Greek mythology, Atlas carries the terrestrial sphere on his shoulders. From my point of view, as a Chinese not familiar with Greek mythology, Atlas’ action seems to be a kind of drudgery. Maybe it is his burden or his mission; maybe it is even his destiny.
In the Atlas photographs of Anderwald and Grond, they invited various people to do an Atlas-style action, and then they simply inverted the photographs. When we look at the photographs, we feel that the people have devoted themselves to a burdensome, arduous and cheerless task.
By bearing the weight of the world with their body, they are carrying the world by their own strength. However, just from looking at the photographs, we might be able to get another perspective on this Atlas-style action. We can think of these people as containing the weight of the world, being on the verge of sliding back into the unknown abyss, or we can assume that they are struggling to hold up a world that is degenerating. Whether it is former or latter, in brief, these two artists, Anderwald and Grond, easily show the relationship between human beings and the real world, between human fate and human existence in a humorous way.
Furthermore, in this photographic work, the mythological figure of Atlas emerges from ordinary people in real life. Through the photos of Anderwald and Grond, we find that everyone on this earth is Atlas, everyone hopelessly struggles for something, and everyone’s existence on the terrestrial sphere and in the real world is a complex relationship which cannot be easily explained.
In Greek mythology, Atlas carries the terrestrial sphere on his shoulders, while in Anderwald and Grond’s photographs, the real Atlases together carry mother earth. However, in Chinese, to express the concept of the world, the term “heaven and earth” (tiandi) is used. In this term, heaven and earth are combined. Heaven and earth are the substance of the world. The world was formed by heaven and earth; a separation of heaven and earth cannot create the world. As we hold up heaven, we hold up earth, or, actually, whatever we are holding up does not matter, what matters is the relationship between our universe and us. According to these photographs, it can be said that humans separate heaven and earth, yet it is wise to say that humans have become a link between heaven and earth or an adhesive.
Maybe this is what the two artists, Anderwald + Grond, want to share with us.
Gu Zheng (顾 铮), photographer, curator, Professor and Vice-Director of the Research Center for Visual Culture, Fudan University China
(Translation from the Chinese: Ute Wallenböck)
Photo series, 2008 – ongoing
︎ Glas facade of the Congress Center of the European Forum Alpbach
︎ Shanghai Himalayas Museum
© Anderwald + Grond