There has been plenty of speculation about the question of taste and of the aesthetic. Before it was discredited as a marker of social distinction, the so-called "aesthetic state" was considered the criterion of art for a long time. Apart from our cultural and social background, and aside from how and the reasons by which we identify or distinguish ourselves through taste, most human beings are still deeply moved when they experience something as truly "beautiful" or "sublime".
Today we are witnessing a return of the aesthetic both in art and in theory. Various artists such as Anri Sala, Isaac Julien and Olafur Eliasson are working towards this return to aesthetics; in the realm of theory it is most notably Jaques Ranciere's plea for the "aesthetic state," forcing a re-examination of these questions.
However, it is technology that seems to have re-introduced this vocabulary into the discourse of art in the first place. It is the highly developed technological means of representation, the generation of images, and the construction of artificial spaces of contemplation that take moments of natural beauty and of the sublime to places where they did not originally belong, such as Matthias Fritsch's Parallaxe.
Here the representations of natural beauty appear inside the museum. As was formerly the case in landscape painting, the sites of natural beauty are depicted in a panorama that envelops the spectator from all sides. But nature is represented here in much "purer" form than landscape painting or photography could ever achieve. The velocity of the river, the movement of the trees renders time, which in painting and photography was compressed into a static entity. Furthermore, nature is not merely represented, but manipulated in order to confront the spectator not only with the problem of time and space, but with it, the affected role of the spectator's own perspective in constructing reality. Thus image editing or generating does not mean symbolization here. No meaningful symbols are added to
the subject of natural beauty, as was the case in romantic painting. Generating images does not alter the emptiness of natural beauty, since natural beauty has always been empty and can only therefore become the object of "interesseloses Wohlgefallen" (disinterested pleasure), the stimuli of aesthetic thought.
Only because of this "empty beauty," does Parallaxe not only address the spectator, but also the question of the depiction of the natural beauty itself, i.e. the site of its depiction. At last depictions of natural and pristine places of beauty and the sublime have only inspired the desire to travel long distances in order to visit these places in their nativity. With the attractive promise of making these desired and pristine places available, both commercial and alternative tourism have made man – and precisely the alternative man, i.e. the so-called back packers – to circulate globally.
Whether or not one still wants to apply the vocabulary of beauty and the sublime to art-production itself, the highly developed technology of visual reproduction and manipulation allows for the technological reproduction of the experience of beauty and the sublime. Just as Walter Benjamin saw the reproductions of works of art leaving the museum and coming to human beings, these moments of natural beauty and of the sublime now leave their "original" place and come to human beings in the museum. In this respect it is also a matter of the sublation of natural beauty, which exists, but only as an empty illusion in tourist catalogues. It exists only as an empty illusion, because photographic pictures were always already taken. But the desired sites of the experience of beauty and the sublime can now be found in the museum. They are accessible and inaccessible, present and absent at the same time. The vocabulary of beauty and the sublime does neither refer any longer to the natural beauty itself, nor to its representation, but to the technological possibilities of its reproduction and manipulation as well as to the artificial site of its representation.