Swiss artist Christoph Draeger is an obsessive collector, sampler, and manipulator of static and moving images. He gleans the raw material for his art from documentary and fictional portrayals of man-made and natural disasters. There are images of plane crashes, politically motivated attacks, oil spills at sea, nuclear power accidents, earthquakes, forest fires, and avalanches—images that confront us daily in the media.
Draeger transfers this visual cosmos to his photographs, video works, installations, and large-format jigsaw puzzles. In doing so, he uses “the recognizability and widespread distribution of these images as a highly charged field for his works, which cover the entire ambiguous spectrum of media images, from dulled familiarity to sensationalism and unease.”
A key feature of Draeger’s often ludicrously overreaching visual narratives is the role that time plays in our perception of catastrophe. This is evident, for instance, in the jigsaw puzzles The Most Beautiful Disasters in the World, which are underpinned by an analogy between the subject matter and the medium through which it is conveyed. The photographs Draeger chooses to use portray sequences of events in which, within seconds, a firmly established structure descends into utter chaos. At the same time, the large-format and intrinsically fragile jigsaw puzzles, which require much patience, concentration, and manual dexterity, evoke a sense of just how suddenly a situation can be destroyed through carelessness or miscalculation.
The Voyages apocalyptiques constitute a further form of visual reflection on time and transience through the medium of visual art. This multi-part series comprises Draeger’s photographs of places where sensational catastrophes once occurred. They include, for example, Hiroshima, Japan, Aug 4 1995, which shows an inconspicuous view of a sunset over a city that preserves the memory of more than 80,000 victims of the atomic bomb that claimed their lives on August 6, 1945. Schweizerhalle – Basel, Switzerland, May 5 1995 recalls a chemicals incident that has been largely forgotten. An almost casual view across the railway tracks in an industrial area with storage ground and a Sandoz company building recalls the place where a fire raged on November 1, 1986, sending clouds of toxic fumes into the air, polluting the Rhine as the flames were extinguished, and causing turmoil in the local population.
The discrepancy between what we see—photographs of quiet, unspectacular, and even idyllic locations—and the names of places where catastrophe has struck, whether forgotten or repressed, or with long-term effects, brings to the fore just how rapidly and irrevocably time deletes discernible traces and memories, not only in the mind of the individual, but also in the physical world.