Interview with Kathrin Sonntag

The Berlin-based artist Kathrin Sonntag (b. 1981) was commissioned with one of a total of 12 new productions for RAY 2015 Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/RheinMain. She created the site-specific installation “This was Tomorrow Once” for the spaces of the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, which is one of the three venues currently presenting the photography triennial’s central exhibition IMAGINE REALITY (20 June – 20 September at Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, Museum Angewandte Kunst and MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main).

Portrait Kathrin Sonntag at Fotografie Forum Frankfurt, June 2015
© RAY 2015 Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/RheinMain

RAY: „This Was Tomorrow Once“ – What is the origin of this poetic title?

During my research on the topic of time travel, I discovered the quote in the film „Portrait of Jennie“ (1948) and thought it fit well to the topic of my new project. It refers to an ambivalent notion: when one thinks of a future moment in the present and this very moment is temporally exceeded, the thought „This Was Tomorrow Once“ comes to mind. With its confusing effect the quote describes something that I wanted to deal with in my installation at the Fotografie Forum Frankfurt.
RAY: Can you say something about the beginnings of this project?

KS: The basic idea was to make the room in which the piece is shown the main motif of the installation – to photograph the exhibition space and insert these photos in the space as 1:1 photo wallpaper. Beyond that, I wanted to add the aspect of temporality. Photographs always capture a past moment. While developing the installation I asked myself: is it possible to revert this state and create images that look as if they come from the future.

For this I developed situations for the space that capture temporality. The idea of my new production for RAY 2015 is based on the question of whether photography can serve as a time machine.

Kathrin Sonntag, This Was Tomorrow Once, 2015
Ausstellungsansicht/Exhibition View IMAGINE REALITY im Fotografie Forum Frankfurt. Foto: Albrecht Haag © Kathrin Sonntag, RAY 2015 Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/RheinMain

RAY: With the game of time and the question of ephemerality, you refer to a very characteristic theme of the medium of “Photography”. Through capturing moments of action, e.g. throwing a roll of tape or photographing a fresh picked bouquet of flowers that stands in contrast with the wilting bouquet in the room, you bring different layers of time to the piece. Can you explain these layers of time more closely?

KS: The passing of time becomes clear through the altering or shifting of individual objects within my installation. Differences between the objects depicted on the wallpaper, and those in the actual space creates confusion about the time sequence. For example there is a broom in the space that is broken on the wallpaper. There are marks on the broom that lead to the conclusion that it must be the same broom. If the broom in the space is intact how can the broom on the wallpaper be broken, unless one assumes that it depicts the future? All objects that are represented in this installation refer to the beginning or the end, the set-up or deconstruction of an exhibition. Meanwhile, the viewer will always perceive the moment in-between, the presence of the exhibition.

 RAY: What about the other clocks in the image?

In connection to the question of how it is possible to photographically illustrate a time sequence, I play with objects in the installation, through whose change the passing of time can be grasped. The before-mentioned wilting flowers represent a classic motif, through which the the passing of time is illustrated. The mirror on the other hand, is an object that reflects the present. In the installation it appears in printed form on the wallpaper and so creates the illusion, that the current state of the room is displayed. Next to these objects the clock is probably the most obvious symbol of time passing.

Kathrin Sonntag, This Was Tomorrow Once, 2015
Ausstellungsansicht/Exhibition View IMAGINE REALITY Fotografie Forum Frankfurt. Foto: Kathrin Sonntag © Kathrin Sonntag RAY 2015 Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/RheinMain

RAY: Can one say that a temporal state is created in your work that doesn’t exist for the viewer?

On the wallpaper I myself am depicted and on my wrist is a watch that also shows the date next to the time. The date is set to exactly half of the duration of the exhibition. So, for a while this photograph displays the future, for a fleeting moment the present, and then the past. Here it is dependant on the time that the viewer visits the installation.

RAY: In some ways it seems as though you intend to create a confusion about the different temporal layers. Could there lie the possibility in this to see more than there is to see de facto?

KS: In my work I play with everyday scenarios, in which subtle shifts cause confusion. For me it makes sense to start at the familiar, because it is moments like these that interest me; in which one starts to stumble visually and starts questioning our habits of perception. For me in this moment of  delay lies the potential to view something that one has seen for a thousand times from a new perspective. The medium of photography, which we trust to reflect an objective representation of reality and that we distrust at the same time, because we are aware of the corruptibility of photographs, offers an interesting starting point in this context.

Kathrin Sonntag, Untitled, 2013 © Kathrin Sonntag

RAY: In your work you play with relationships of proximity and distance. From your viewpoint, can a sentitive glance at photography be created, that can be upheld beyond the visit to the exhibition?

Perception is always selective. However, through the great mass of images that we encounter every day, one could speak of a conditioning of the view that engraves the ever-same interpretation or reading. I like playing with conventions of seeing and to momentarily create a change of perception mode through visual stumbling blocks.

Of course, it would make me happy if this shifted view would be upheld beyond the visit to the exhibition and if the visitor to the FFF would come home and suddenly think that even the water bottle on their kitchen table somehow looks odd.

© RAY 2015 Fotografieprojekte Frankfurt/RheinMain,,

This interview is also available on the blog of Aperture Magazine, media partner of RAY 2015.