About the loss of the Real

On the photography of Robert F. Hammerstiel


The semblance to computer discs and the packaging of “Barbie clothes”, pinned and stapled onto gleaming and garish cardboard, is not coincidental. Robert F. Hammerstiel shows presents them as options for transformation and individual appropriation. Laminated between two sheets of acrylic glass, the photographs signal inaccessibility and distance. This underscores the fact that, as mass products, they are interchangeable and create an impression of an endless and inflationary collection of things.

Barbie and her many accessories are an early exercise in a phenomenon of mass culture: the praxis of a historical as well as biographical mise en scène. Ulrich Beck calls this “DIY biography” a pertinent form of individualisation today. One simply picks out from a heterogeneity of options, one’s preferred attribute for staging an identity and a style without any recognisable social context that distinctly characterises the individual.

In the works Mit vereinten Kräften (With joint efforts) and make it up, Robert F. Hammerstiel is primarily concerned with the results of and the tools for accelerating an aestheticisation of our lives which comes with commodity production, and the way it is affecting people today. Industrialised mass production and the aesthetics of beauty have become so merged that body control and the beautification of the body have become part of an educational strategy. We are shown an inarticulate world in which the objects, though visible, refer to nothing beyond themselves. And this ability to define things without having to point a finger at them is Hammerstiel’s strength.

Compared to his earlier works, in make it up Hammerstiel has succeeded in penetrating almost directly into the familiar world of idols, those that this doll shares the quality of being a “brilliant synthesis between life and love” 1) with. Despite Barbie’s palpable corporeality, the photographs show that Barbie is only the embodiment of a passion: of the image and of the desire inherent to the image. Being analogous to this image is the aim of a staging of the self.

Hammerstiel transforms Barbie into a real portrait and thereby redoubles her as an aesthetic medium. Exaggeration serves to transform her into our likeness, showing us through her who we are when we assume attributes of this illusory world to live in an aesthetically fictitious reality. Through the use of portrait photography, Barbie becomes the simulation of a real, flesh and blood person. Her feign world touches the real world of the subject in the marvellous photographs. And this double illusion makes her a representation of real life. It is no longer Barbie who simulates a life but the virtual world of photography that simulates Barbie, her expression, accessories and all: a representation of simulated simulacrum as though the real, the authentic Barbie were behind the photographs. In Hammerstiel’s works, Barbie becomes an image of herself and so comes menacingly close to those who follow her example.

  1. Baudrillard, Jean, America, Munich 1987

Michael Müller, Bremen 1994