21st São Paulo Art Biennial, Brasil
September 21st, – December 10th, 1991

Empty Frames
Empty Frames
Empty Frames
Empty Frames
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Empty Frames, 1991. Recording of the specific room light, temperature and humidity situation at the time of the Biennial set-up. Thermographic scanning with a hand-held copier (detail, 27x8cm).


Franz John – Empty Frames
21st São Paulo Art Biennial, 1991  (exhibition catalog)

Empty Frames is a series of projects, in which Franz John integrates physical discharging processes into his installations. The Empty Frame Installation in the Biennial space is made out of temperature-sensitive paper, which was exposed via a portable copymachine. It´s just that the copymachine did not reproduce a surface of an original as it would have been usual, but reacted media-specific by a CCD-chip to its surrounding as a whole, and produced that way the record of an „error-function“. In the course of this process blackish graphisms, drawings, signs are originated on white paper, dif­fe­ring in blackness, denseness and the shading of grey. There is a dialectic between the picture and it’s constituting materials in every handmade painting. On the one hand one can always describe the material level, where you can perceive colors, canvas and certain techniques but no picture, and you are on the other hand unable to describe why you never­theless understand thuis material inven­tory as a picture; thus the per­ception of pictures is indeed a creative process, a reproduction in the true sense of the word, a reciprocal activity in relation to painting as such, which translates a seen or an imagined picture via certain techniques and a certain medium onto a picture supporting surface. The handcrafted production of an image is always cultural controllable by education and commission of the painter and is a conscious act. Franz John’s Empty Frames are the result of a mechanical way of pro­ducing pictures, rather the model of a complex organical function and just like these nearly un­ con­trol­lable. The chaotic structure of it’s signs corresponds with the infinite data which actually con­sti­tute the world of today. In so far the Empty Frames are not art but the complex translation of re­al­ity into the truth of a machine. To probe onto this machinemade truth as a viewer means to make up one’s own picture, to create art, an art that is up to date.
Text by Markus Müller


(…) Franz John, who already participated in 1989, once again brought his hand-held copying device; on the long thermopaper rolls, he copied nothing but the light and temperature conditions in the exhi­bi­tion space. He then hung the strips of paper on a typically Brazilian poster frame of eukalyptus wood(1)  in an allusion to the debate over the deforestation of the rain forest. Sebastian Preuss
Extract from: German Art in São Paulo, German Art at the Biennial 1951 – 2012,
Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2013

(1) see also: Eukalypse Now, in: Die Zeit, #35/1993