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In the late 1950’s the American artist Jasper Johns painted his country’s flag in multiple variations and thereby raised the question of the fundamental capacity of pictures for representing an object.

The question, “Is it a flag or is it a painting?“, which has since become both legendary and historical, ultimately targets the pictures’ identity. In the pictures of flags, the picture’s subject and the picture itself havebecome coextensive. Johns introduced the topic of the gap between sign and object; he presents the contradiction between life and art. Mia Unverzagt changes the medium and uses photography. When confronted with photographic pictures, even such famous philosophers as Roland Barthes have failed miserably by suggesting that photographs themselves already are that which is represented. Unverzagt demonstrates,in a cryptic and amusing way, that this is not true at all. Photographic pictures usually have a smooth, technical paper or plastic surface that offers no resistance to our gaze. We penetrate the picture visually and there encounter recognisable objects without really taking notice of the medium itself. Mia Unverzagtoffers us rather unpoetic dishcloths as objects of curiosity, whereby the composition of the lines misconstrues Mondrian and the choice of colours brutishly references Bauhaus style, causing us sensitive aesthetes to avert our eyes in disgust. However, suddenly we notice the doubling of the surface, and the cloth blends with the Formicasurface on which it lies. Cloth becomes picture, and the picture itself is also a cloth. Thus the picture represents only itself – and yet refers to a world outside of itself as well. One can see this quite clearly in the fact that the dishcloth’s formerly real folds and wrinkles become deception and trickery, while the smooth, hardsurface is transformed into a genuinely wrinkled and uneven photo. Here Jasper Johns’ question recurs: “Is it an object or is it a photograph?“


Gerhard Glüher