Beatrix Zobl: The Oceanic Feeling

In this piece, which explores photographic contact methods, my tools are the human body, bones, fish skeletons, plastic, and more. The title of the series is drawn from Sigmund Freud’s treatise on cultural theory, Civilization and Its Discontents. The expression came about through an exchange of letters with Romain Rolland about “religion as an illusion”, with the latter using the term to designate the source itself—i.e., the fundamental desire to embrace limitlessness while at the same time staying connected to the outside world “[...] even though one reject all beliefs and all illusions.” Freud could not do much with the idea, and the term was never fully elucidated. In my project, “the oceanic feeling” refers not only to the ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, but to the fundamental question of the relationship between life and death. I further relate the metaphor to the “I” that remains separate from the outside world, and to the very opposite: the longing of the “I” to find connection with its environment. It’s about not only coping with control and loss of control, intention and coincidence or the desire for such, but also about enduring frustration and vulnerability, which are elements and characteristics of this series. Material and media are also important in this work. The interaction with the sheet of paper relates to the act of perceiving through the photographic process and the “doubling” of the “contained meaning” (H. Blumenberg) of bodies/things, because work in photography always takes place in a field of dual references and double bottoms. This is a reference to the special relationship between photography and reality as we perceive it, which appears in the picture and yet can never be more than an image/reference to it.

This is, perhaps, also the root of the fascination and the disappointment that photographic images are able to trigger both when being produced and when being perceived.
The works also address the interactive relationship to the photo itself: immersing and then extricating oneself from the image, as well as acting within the image or interacting with the image and the sheet of paper. The physical requirements of photography, a light-sensitive surface, light/shadow, and the exposure process apply not only to cameras with lenses; they also make it clear that each copy produced on paper or another material is a part of the process of creating a physical object. The process is characterized by many unpredictable and unknown things: the weather, the type of sunlight, the chemical formula, the different effects of the paper, which never reacts the same way in different places. The coating with chemicals, strong sunlight, physical and other materials, and the subsequent long washing leave “breaks”, like abrasions, pressure marks, uneven spotting, and color shading. In contrast to classic/conventional photography with cameras, lenses, film, and digital storage media, the pieces here fundamentally cannot be reproduced. They are the result of discrete processes, with an unplannability and unpredictability that highlights the possibility of creating unique items.