THOMAS SING

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE June 2012 issue.

:: Hallo, Thomas, and welcome to the Spheres. We were happy to come across your visual work. When and how did you start doing photography?

The pleasure is all mine. I’m happy to be featured in such a creative company of outstanding artists. Unlike most photographers, my professional and artistic interest in photography came up quite late, in my mid-twenties. After working solely with words all my life (I got my degree in literature, philosophy & psychology in 2004), I was looking for another medium to express myself, and I found out I had some talent for photography. I was looking for a job, but I didn’t want to do one boring internship after another, so I decided to make my living with photography — which seemed crazy and impossible first, but it worked out over the years. I’m completely self-taught.

:: Have you also worked with analogue? Does digital photography offer more advantages in this field?

When I started, digital was just at the point where you could achieve quite good results on the technical side, so I went for digital. But the further I get with my work (esp. the artistic projects), the more I miss something… right now I’m mostly shooting with digital medium format (which produces a truly brilliant picture quality), but all I do then is to destroy this technical brilliance by adding high-contrasts, grain, and so on. Shooting analogue will be the next step. It also interests me from a theoretical point of view because it’s more direct and aleatoric than the binary logic of digital. The effet de réel seems stronger to me on analogue photographs – which is quite strange because from an iconic standpoint, analogue depicts reality worse than a state-of-the-art digital camera. But it becomes quite clear when you see a photograph primarily as an index, like e.g. Roland Barthes understood it with his concept of the »punctum«. Metonymy is so much stronger than metaphor!

:: You currently reside and work in Augsburg, Germany. How is it living there and what projects are you working on at the moment?

It’s in the middle of Bavaria… what can I say… there’s a lot of history, pork and beer… I’m living in a nice place on the outskirts in a part of an old villa once inhabited by the owners of a huge textile industry… I have large and high rooms which is quite good for taking pictures, and I have my huge haunted fairy-garden… so I’m quite in my own Sphere… though I travel a lot, I feel most comfortable when I’m in a big city.

There are lots of new projects coming during the next months. I don’t want to reveal too much, but many of them will have one common theme: deconstruction of binary gender concepts. I’ve also started a new surrealistic cycle called Hypnos & Psyche where I depict images that appear in my dreams or that come into being by following a non-conscious dream-logic. The first ones are already up on my Tumblr, among them a portrait of my old friend Alexander Sterzel who was already featured in the Spheres.

:: Turning to the photos featured in this issue: you intended to name your series Deterritorializations, following Deleuze and Guattari‘s concepts. How do these ideas surface in your works and why were they of relevance here?

A Thousand Plateaus is one of the books that had an extraordinary influence on my way to think and to work: a jocund, crazy and exceedingly intelligent revolt against the patriarchal, binary and teleological principles of western culture. Since ancient times, we tend to think in dichotomies like good–bad, sane–ill, inside–outside, male–female, and so on; our whole linguistic system is organized that way, we even discipline our bodies to function according to this scheme. Everyone has their assigned place, their »territory«. And everything outside the known, speakable and knowable system is considered as alien, hostile or negligible.

It is this otherness that always fascinated me, everything that couldn’t be classified within a known linguistic or social taxonomy. I was always convinced that life in all its shapes, varieties and strangest mutations was far too magnificent to be forced into simplifying structures. And I always refused to be classified myself in whatever way, so discovering the Thousand Plateaus was one of the most striking intellectual occurences of my life. I had read de Sade, Nietzsche and Bataille before, and each of them has deeply coined my way to think, but all the three of them are still strongly bound to the dispositives they were writing against: de Sade and Nietzsche to the christian god, Bataille to god, Nietzsche and Hegel. Deleuze & Guattari instead appeared to me as the »free spirits« Nietzsche was foreseeing and desiring through all his works. Aren’t their exuberant, sometimes playful, yet always highly concentrated reflections the most gaia scienza possible? In their paratactic-rhizomatic way to rethink what it means to be human (a way without subjectivations, but more than a thousand connecting points) – a way on which they even took out the modern substitute of god, the Freudian father –, they pointed out the most brilliant »lines of flight« to escape the global dilemma of being a pre-defined subject and nothing else… – tertium nondatur: the Law of the Excluded Middle respectively as one of the most fatal sentences ever passed…!

Following Deleuze & Guattari‘s thought means leaving behind what I »am«, i.e. what I’m supposed to be (deterritorialization), letting »myself« go and becoming something else (reterritorialization), a semiotic process which never comes to an end.

Transferred to the photos in this feature: I wanted to put myself and my models into these centrifugal games of »forms and metamorphoses« in which they’d become something else, something loosely related to sub-conscious images, but something not recognizable through a classifying psychoanalytical approach. I wanted to short-circuit different image-spheres in order to transform the bodies into something different (their otherness-es) by playing out their existing but not obvious possibilities.

:: How do props and clothing convey those ideas?

They are on the one hand indispensable because they form the rhizomatic syntax of the picture by building a »plane of consistency« together with the body. On the other hand their combination is quite instinctive: most of these pictures came into being like a surrealist artwork, like an écriture automatique. It was important to have a huge repertoire from which we then could associatively select. I wanted to create deterritorialized bodies that would somehow touch the subconsciousness of their viewers, but as a mere notion, not as a clearly recognizable archetype. For all the self-portraits I was completely alone, letting myself go while the camera was set to shoot sequences.

:: With whom have you collaborated for this series?

I’ve only worked with people I already knew. First of all my partner, Chiara Padovan, who usually is the first person who hears about my plans and ideas and accompanies me from the conception till the publication. Beyond that, she’s the only one who understands my often cryptic way to think and to articulate myself, and she’s brilliant in translating my theoretical concepts into moodboards for a photoshoot. She’s also done a lot of styling work for the Deterritorializations, together with an old friend of ours, the creative genius-designer-stylist-performer Lorand Lajos. We worked together countless times since we all started with photography / fashion, so we know what we can expect from each other. Besides that, we all have this fascination for dark and creepy but beautiful things. Just look at Lorand’s jewel mask or his crocheted full-body suit, both worn by a wold-class dancer (who by the way just starts an amazing career as a choreographer, with guest shows in the Paris Opera, Moscow’s Bolshoy, ecc.): Stephen Delattre. I met him when he was engaged in Augsburg years ago, and since then we come together at least once a year for a photoshoot.

The girl with the iron spades is Kate Welsh (Major Models), a fashion model working in New York, Paris and Munich. I met her when she came for a test shoot in my studio last year, since then I don’t miss a chance to work with her, as she’s a real artist/performer who can wonderfully interpret any role you give her. Sigurd is a newcomer from my area, he also came for a test in 2010, whereupon I sent him to TUNE Models in Munich to start as a fashion model. The make-up was done my Maren Endrass, a friend and make-up artist from Augsburg with whom I regularly work.

:: Is it easy explaining the people you work with where you want to go with specific works?

It’s not neccessary to explain the full concepts to the whole staff involved in a shoot. It isn’t relevant for a model or a stylist or a make-up artist to get a sketch of occidental philosophy in order to do a great job. The important thing is to invent a good story. Everyone has to get into the spirit of such a project. We also do a lot of moodboards.

The most crucial moment though is when you’re on the set. A perfect picture is just a side-effect of a perfect situation. It needs the utmost awareness and concentration, you have to create an atmosphere between the model and yourself where everything is possible. Noone ever explained that (although in another context) more beautifully than Georges Bataille: »Communication demands a flaw, a fault: it enters, like death, by a chink in the armor. It demands a coincidence between two lacerations, in me and in the other.« [z]

:: Would you argue that fashion today could be regarded as a trigger for achieving a »body without organs«, as Deleuze formulates it?

Yes, totally. That’s what I love so much about fashion, and that’s why fashion plays such an important role in my shoots. I don’t mean the most commercial branches of it, but labels like Rick Owens, Rad Hourani, the Belgian and Japanese designers. Alexander McQueen of course, and many more, not to mention all the awesome small and underground labels. By overforming, underforming, (re-)segmenting, extending, restricting, de- and recontextualizing the body, they enable their wearers to create »lines of flight« in the Deleuzeian sense. By following these lines, the »subject« deterritorializes itself from the attributions that society, religion, even biology has put upon them, providing the means to re-territorialize themselves inside infinite »planes of consistency« or Haecceities / intensities beyond all metaphysics of the »subject«.

»The plane of consistency would be the totality of all BwO’s [= Bodies without Organs], a pure multiplicity of immanence, one piece of which may be Chinese, another American, another medieval, another petty perverse, but all in a movement of generalized deterritorialization in which each person takes and makes what she or he can, according to tastes she or he will have succeeded in abstracting from a Self [Moi], according to a politics or strategy successfully abstracted from its origin.« [y]

Aren’t these thoughts on the BwO a wonderful definition of fashion? – a fashion not understood as an economy-driven industry, but as a social technique.

Clothing works – similar to language – through a combination of single »tokens«, and just like language it can generate three formations: enforcing ones (the Peirceian argument: law – uniform), constative / plain ones (dicent: practical language – functional / everyday clothing), and poetic ones (rhema: poetry / literature – fashion).

The poetic forms are the most interesting ones because they are open to interpretation, they are self-reflexive and they work with a coded sign-system which is constantly altered and extended through its use (rhematic-indexical legi-signs according to Charles Sanders Peirce‘s semiotics, later perceived as the aesthetic sign-function by Max Bense and identified as the »open self-reflexive logics of signs« by Hans-Vilmar Geppert) [x].

Furthermore, these are the only forms that create something »new« by katachrestically combining single pieces in an innovative way and thus closing a »gap« in their respective system. But then, they do not petrify in their meaning, they go on, and with the next dress / line they add new layers (planes) of articulation that can question or even contradict the earlier ones. They never let you distill an unquestionable meaning or »truth«. Thus, fashion, like poetry, in its highest forms can never be totalitarian.

According to Deleuze & Guattari, we are bound by »three great strata [...]: the organism, signifiance, and subjectification« [w]. What they then say about the BwO is absolutely true for poetry as for fashion like I understand it:

»To the strata as a whole, the BwO opposes disarticulation (or n articulations) as the property of the plane of consistency, experimentation as the operation on that plane (no signifier, never interpret!), and nomadism as the movement (keep moving, even in place, never stop moving, motionless voyage, desubjectification)« [v]

:: You have worked with big magazines like Vogue. How was that experience?

That wasn’t commissioned work, they just printed my pictures. Vogue Italia in the context of their New Talents scouting, Vogue Deutsch for an advertorial of a jewelry client. So I can’t really tell you much about it, but I was happy to see my images printed in some »A-list« magazines.

:: Fashion these days seems to have switched its focus more and more on niche visual and music artists, probably trying to re-define itself. Do you think it has always been the case of incorporating and even swallowing these more underground segments? Is it just a passing thing?

I think this is a common cultural dynamics nowadays. A century ago, fashion was a social »trickle- down« phenomenon, getting its inspirations from the upper classes. During the second half of the 20th century, it opened more and more up to influences from subcultures until the point you’re speaking about where you get the impression fashion(s) absorbed them completely. I don’t see this procedure as a big problem though. If a sub-culture is soaked up by an established system, it probably wasn’t strong enough. A truly nomadic sub-culture will always withdraw its core from consumption. The »system« can’t even conceive it because it’s beyond the system’s terminological restrictions.

Punk e.g. is not dead even though almost all of its elements have been grabbed by high fashion. And the fetish / BDSM scene will not die out because Topshop is selling latex leggings.

On the contrary, fashion can even have an educational value by recollecting bygone eras and decades. Right now we see the 90ies everywhere in fashion, today’s teens didn’t experience them, but learn about them through contemporary fashion. It’s what Walter Benjamin describes as fashion’s »tiger’s leap into the past« [u].

:: Most of your works are completely desaturated and angular. How does monochrome help convey the mood of your photographs? Is it just an aesthetic choice?

When I started this project, I decided to take anything out of the pictures that wouldn’t be necessary to create the dream-logic that I wanted to depict, so I kept the images as minimalistic as I could. They should be surrealistic, but also clear and sharp as a knife. I couldn’t find any reason for colour to be part of them, so I went for black&white. It makes them more decisive, just like the graphic, sometimes almost geometric lines and shapes. I’m totally conform to B&W myself by the way, a lot of the clothes used in those pictures are my own, and they’re all black or grey…

:: Some of your photos also play with motion and blurs, almost creating an »aesthetics of dissapearance«, as Paul Virilio phrases it. Does digital photography generate a sort of visual epilepsy, or on the contrary, leads to a visual awareness in precisely those overlapping blurred pixels?

I think both phenomena that you describe are equally true in the sense of a coincidentia oppositorum: if you push two opposite movements on a line far enough, they coincide at a certain point.

The effects of motion and blurring in my pictures aren’t added in the post-production. I love to shoot with special lighting techniques and long exposures, so you could shoot these images with these effects also in analogue. A photograph tends to suggest that it has an essence or »substance«, I think that’s because of its predominant iconic quality. But as I said before, I find the metonymical vectors inside (and beyond) a work of art far more interesting than its iconic assertions. By putting movements into the picture, I can underline its temporal dimension, Deleuze & Guattari’s »becoming«:

»For if becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal, it is clear that the human being does not really become an animal any more than the animal really becomes something else. Becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.« [t]

:: You also model in some of your photos, but the facial features are not your main focus most of the time. Is that intentional?

For the pictures featured here it was fully intentional. Society’s assemblages of power usually overcode the face by activating a »semiotic of the signifier« [s] which is disciplining the bodies by »overwriting« them with specific meanings. »The face is a politics« [s]. By covering or alienating the face I wanted to set the body free to get rid of its overcoding and to become something else: »becoming-woman, becoming-child; becoming-animal, -vegetable, or -mineral; becomings-molecular of all kinds, becoming-particles« [r].

One of the most wonderful truths of the Thousand Plateaus: »Yes, the face has a great future, but only if it is destroyed, dismantled« [q].

:: And last, but not least: how would you describe your »personal sphere«? What are you interested these days in terms of music, literature, visuals?

I love Soap&Skin, I was listening to her album Lovetune for Vacuum on maximum volume while I was shooting my self-portraits. Another outstanding musical discovery is Thomas Feiner & Anywhen: The Opiates – Revised is probably the most ingenious album I know. Besides the writers and thinkers already mentioned in my answers, I love Thomas Pynchon a lot. Gravity’s Rainbow is one of my favourite books. I should also mention Foucault here, I’ve just shot a fashion editorial inspired by his thoughts on the Panopticon. But I also read lots of less sophisticated books, e.g. I collect antiquarian curiosities, especially erotica. The only things I spend lots of money for besides photography are clothes and books. And the clothes are worn off after a season or two, in the end only the books remain…

Sources |

[z] Oeuvres complètes, Paris 1970-1988: Gallimard, Vol. V, p. 266. Engl. translation taken from Amy M. Hollywood: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History. Chicago / London 2002: Univ. of Chicago Press, p. 300.
[y] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translation by Brian Massumi.
London / New York 2004: continuum, p.174.
[x] Bense, Max: Die Unwahrscheinlichkeit des Ästhetischen und die semiotische Konzeption der Kunst. Baden-Baden 1979: agis. Geppert, Hans-Vilmar: Welchen der Steine du hebst.’ Charles S. Peirces Semiotik und ihre literatur- und medienwissenschaftlichen Perspektiven, in: Geppert, Hans-Vilmar: Literatur im Mediendialog. Semiotik, Rhetorik, Narrativik: Roman, Film, Hörspiel, Lyrik und Werbung. München 2006: Ernst Vögel, pp. 9-36, p. 27 [Thomas Sing's
Translation].
[w] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translation by Brian Massumi. London / New York 2004: continuum, p.176
[v] ibid. p. 177
[u] Walter Benjamin: Theses on the Philosophy of History, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn, London 1973: Fontana/Collins, p. 263. For a comprehensive understanding of fashion’s underlying mechanisms I can strongly recommend Caroline Evans: Fashion at the Egde. Spectacle, Modernity and Deathliness. New Haven / London 2003: Yale University Press.
[t] A Thousand Plateaus, p. 262
[s] ibid. p. 201
[r] ibid. p. 300
[q] ibid. p. 190

artwork | Thomas Sing. model | Stephen Delattre. styling | Lorand Lajos. Courtesy of the artist

questions by Diana Daia

Full article here.