Y Gallery is pleased to present Breaking The Wave, a solo exhibition by Christoph Draeger curated by Cecilia Jurado. His latest photographic series, Boxing Day Tsunami Survivors, emerged while he traveled to the five countries most affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami: Thailand, Aceh (Indonesia), Sri Lanka, Maldives and Tamil Nadu (India). During this catastrophe, more than 400,000 people from multiple nationalities died or went missing in over ten countries.
Since 1994, Christoph Draeger travels to places where disasters once occurred. Draeger always visits these areas years later, when media attention has long faded. He photographs these places, to then catalogue one image into his ongoing series Voyages Apocalyptiques. During his three month journey (Dec 2010-Feb 2011), Christoph Draeger worked on an expanded agenda, which was only loosely based upon Voyages Apocalyptiques. In collaboration with Heidrun Holzfeind, he shot a new multi-channel video piece titled Tsunami Architecture (commissioned by OK Centrum for Contemporary Art in Linz) , as well as creating this extensive series of photographic portraits with tsunami survivors. Unlike Taryn Simon, who snap-shot survivors in carefully staged documentary-style situations – reflecting their psychology and background - Draeger asked his subjects to simply pose at the beach, turning their backs on the one element that unites them: the ocean waters that turned so deadly on December 26, 2004.
Formally, his images may remind us of Rineke Dijstra’s famous portraits of adolescents on the beach. Yet, while Dijstra reflects upon the turmoil in teenager’s minds by choosing a vertical format, thus emphasizing on the human figure, Draeger’s panoramic photographs are landscapes, albeit landscapes including human figures. The imagery recalls the sublime from Romantic paintings which placed the human figure into menacing landscapes to reflect upon the human tragedy. Draeger’s peaceful ocean beaches hardly look menacing, yet they quietly reflect the potential of death and destruction experienced by the people he met on his journey. Inherently, the shock is still present in these images – in the earnest faces of the survivors, and their stories of survival that define them now. Also, the fading memory of the collective subconscious still stores the images of biblical calamity from TV and newspapers that dominated the end of 2004, images similar to the ones that recently came to us from Fukushima and Sendai. While Draeger’s new photographs are a powerful reminder of tragedies that can befall us, they are also a message of hope: that the human spirit can overcome calamity and misery.
Unlike the more neutral and detached conceptual aesthetics of his Voyages Apocalyptiques series, Boxing Day Tsunami Survivors marks a renewed interest of the artist for the human destiny, reminiscent of his groundbreaking documentary Un Ga Nai-Bad Luck (1995, in collaboration with Martin Frei), notably a film about disaster in Japan. Christoph Draeger is a conceptual artist working in video and photography almost obsessively on the theme of disaster for the last 15 years, exhibiting widely at venues such as MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art New York (Documentary Fortnight Exhibition), the 2002 Liverpool Biennial, the 1997 KwangJu Biennal, BIG Torino Biennial 2002, the Whitney Museum New York, the New Museum New York, P.S.1 New York, Kunsthaus Zurich, VanAbbe Museum Eindhoven, the European Media Art Festival Osnabrueck, among many others. This year, he will have solo shows at Y Gallery New York, Lokal_30 in Warsaw and the OK Centrum for Contemporary Art in Linz (A), and participate in group shows at the Museum der Moderne in Salzburg; CRAC, le centre régional d’art contemporain, Sète; Kunsthaus Glarus, and Galerie Zink in Berlin among others. Y Gallery in New York represents him since 2009.