A portrait is not a monument. It could be, but it is not. A monument could make use of a portrait, though, and by doing so it would turn its subject into an emblem, make it an idealized figure, a vehicle for ideology. Because a monument unifies and institutionalizes what should remain discreet and individual, it exposes what is ungraspable and in need of protection within a person: their fragile opacity. What Daniel Gustav Cramer names Portraits are silent assemblages, not tall constructions. They are compositions made out of fragments of pictures and text, found materials arranged around their object. Indexes, collected and pointing towards a different person each time. They exist in the delicate balance of their physical presence. Even if one immediately feels in them a certain grandeur, even if the lives that they describe feel bigger than others, Cramer’s portraits almost vanish in the spaces they are shown.
Each of Daniel Gustav Cramer’s portraits opens a gate to the invisible. They connect with absent individuals the artist has met, be it for a moment – the blink of an eye, of an epiphany – or over the course of several weeks or months. Cramer’s portraits connect with other absent individuals, those who inhabit a different realm: actors, writers and historical figures.
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Agatha, 2021. 5 found photographs, letter signed by Agatha Christie, 2 books first editions. 203 × 216 cm
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Tentomi, 2021 (detail). C-print, text. 62 × 98.3 cm
Cramer works at the intersection between the portrait as a memorial and the portrait as a memory. His practice can only be formed through intimacy, as it composes a journey that allows us to experience a strange proximity with bodies so different, so distant from our own. At the same time, these strangers seem, all of a sudden, to look in the same temporal direction, addressing us in a message written over an imaginary plane.
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Feira da Ladra, 2021 (detail. Laser burnt image, text. 70.3 × 105.5 cm
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Feira da Ladra, 2021 (detail). Laser burnt image, text. 70.3 × 105.5 cm
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Sand, 2021. Shelf, table, 14 books. 103 × 91 × 32.5 cm
This could be why Cramer decided to make a portrait of Daniel Helber – a man who, after a life-changing event on a bike ride in Canada, started a process that some years later made him one of the most important figures in a unique practice: collecting sand. Helber, who possesses a sample of sand from every country in the world, once described how his obsession led to the fatal conclusion of most sand collectors who abandon their Sisyphean project: because collecting sand is infinite. As the composition of beaches constantly changes – over time, but also even move from one side of their location to the other – the geology of sand exists in transformation, the waves recomposing the shores all the time. Like a portrait. Daniel Gustav Cramer’s depiction of Helber consists of a list of all the locations he has gathered sand from, archived in a series of books filled with factual lists. An enclosed and modest celebration of an ever-unfinished enterprise, connecting all the shores on Earth. An impossible monument. A portrait of sand.
Sand archives the locations of the sand collection of Daniel Helber, ordered by continent, in fourteen books. Each page names one location. Helber holds one of the largest sand collections in the world, including sand from every country on the planet, from the bottom of the sea and extra-terrestrial objects.
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Untitled (after C.M.), 2021. 2 C-prints, 120.3 × 363 cm
In 1893, Claude Monet built a water garden on his land in Giverny by diverting parts of the stream of the nearby river Epte to create an Asianinfluenced landscape with a pond at its centre. He planted several non-native flowers, trees and shrubs, including water-lilies in the pond itself. He constructed a wooden bridge framing the pond. In 1912, Claude Monet was diagnosed with cataracts, an eye disease that gradually worsens, for which he refused to undergo surgery. Over time, his sight grew blurred and his colour vision deteriorated. Nevertheless, he continued to sit in his garden in Giverny with brushes, easel and canvas, painting the pond, the reflections, the japanese bridge and the water lilies.
In 1980, renovation began on a small pond in front of Nemichi Shrine, near Itadtori village, Japan. The pond’s name: Namonaki Ike – ‘unnamed pond’. In the years to follow, blanket weeds took hold, polluting its water. In 1990, a group of villagers, led by the owner of nearby Itadori Flower Park, grouped together to clean Namonaki Ike and plant water-lilies. Several villagers donated koi fish. The water, stemming from volcanic Mount Koga nearby, is naturally filtered and crystal clear. The bed of the pond is made of fine white quartz sand. Twenty five years passed. Finally, images of the pond appeared on Japanese social media platforms and created an immediate viral sensation for its resemblance to Claude Monet’s Nympheas paintings, created a hundred years earlier.
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Charlie, 2021. Text, plated gold frame, several bottles of Mitsouko eau de parfum by Guerlain. 61 × 48 cm
A portrait radically addresses the negotiations at work between the one who produces the representation and the one who surrenders to its apparatus. So political is this dialogue that it also generates a space of negotiation with the viewer. When I opened Instagram earlier this morning, the first face I saw was not necessarily the one I most wanted to see. On the contrary, it was the face of a person I am vaguely acquainted with, who the algorithm suggested I visualize. In Cramer’s portraits, faces don’t appear the way they do on the continuum of the contemporary social network. They form in our mind through the aura that remains in a photograph, in the ghosts of our culture. In his portraits, we are invited to come closer and be attentive in order to decipher the voices that are there and not there. Like the pond Claude Monet may not have seen, as the cataracts caused his eyes to become more and more opaque, darkening his vision. Or like the favorite perfume of Charlie Chaplin, that he wore everywhere such that it haunted places after he had left, in lieu of his own image.
Daniel Gustav Cramer, Hachi, 2021 (detail). 2 C-prints, text. 61 × 168 cm