Italy | Publication | August 2014

  • DateAugust 2014
  • LocationGenova, Italy
  • CategoryPublication
  • TextChristoph Schaden
  • ImagesJonathan Danko Kielkowski
  • Source White Press Concordia

The following text and pictures were published inside the book Concordia by Whitepress in January 2016.


I am not a wreck
I am not a wreck, I am not a wreck, I am not a wreck, I am not a wreck, I am a disaster
– Judith Holofernes

There’s a man there, standing on the deck of a cruise liner, gazing at the sea. His face still holds the same expression; he pulls out a camera and looks through the viewfinder; something seems to suddenly catch his interest and he evidently recognises something out there, but we can’t see what it is. Then the man hesitates, and he doesn’t trigger the shutter release. Cut. No image, no resolution.

Who is the man? What’s he looking for up there? What did he see that we are not to see? And why didn’t he take a picture? [1] When we are refused images, when they are so insistingly taken from our view and perception, there are just two options. Either we deny the refused experience and push forward to immediately fulfil our visual gap with other images. Or we venture to sustain the unredeemed condition, with a sensual gap having long since registered in our memory. The former designates a repression, and the latter a pain. But both impulses result in myth.

For Jean-Luc Godard, the great sceptic among film-makers of our time, a dilemma such as this designates a tried and tested strategy for awareness; his work on the image resembles a sinister and artful play under the maxim: I see something you can’t see! Accomplished at getting the observer to stare into space, in his late film essays Godard is a virtuoso in the art of dismantling; classifications go crossways, narratives don’t resolve, and even the language itself breaks down. No congruence, no projection and no identification. Instead, we find ourselves confronted with a vast loss of consistency, which feels utterly wrong. Godard’s message is clear: it has been the case for some time that it is not possible to trust images, and the same is true of words and stories. At the outside, his film creations can still be understood in the sense of ‘metapicture history’; an image hybrid that decays and at the outside still puts forward the question of which mythical conspiracy we are being taken in by.

In his last-but-one piece, Socialism, which premièred with much controversy at the Cannes film festival, Jean-Luc Godard carried to extremes his dialectic principle of revealing and denying. Right from the outset, he has that man appear with his camera. Then other persons appear, other images are revealed on the ship, and other questions are evoked. Later, in the 16th minute of the film, the legendary director has the man with the camera appear once more, and speak. “Then it came to me,” he says, fully torn out of the context as though he only had the thought in precisely that moment.“Why is there light? Because of the darkness.” [2] Because of the darkness.

No iceberg, nowhere

A captain should pay attention to the destination of travel. – Alexander Kluge

During shooting, Jean-Luc Godard could not have known that, of all things, the cruise ship he had selected as the setting for his film work would mutate into a true catastrophic setting two years later. In fact, he played the first sentence of his ‘Symphony’, Socialism, on the Costa Concordia, a luxury cruise liner that was wrecked off the coast of the Tuscan island of Giglio on the evening of January 13th 2012. 32 people lost their lives and over four thousand passengers and members of the ship’s crew were evacuated in a chaotic sequence of events. Fear and panic reigned, and several of those involved experienced trauma. We all know what happened next. The allegory machine immediately pounced in the mass media, with the news tickers so associated with misfortune. There was knee-jerk debate on the question of how much importance should be ascribed to the shipwreck. [3] They asked whether this was not the articulation of a historical turning point, the end of our era? It wasn’t long before the mythical bracket was found in another media event. Almost exactly 100 years previously, April 14th, 1912, was the date that the Titanic sank. [4] From this time, the disaster was loaded with mythical meaning due to this analogousness. [5] The reference to Godard was ultimately found. But the master who, in previous interviews, had expressed horror about the decadence of the Costa Concordia and even scourged it as a folly of western decadence and a place of rampant capitalism, joined others in maintaining silence. [6] And why not. Ultimately, his film essay had already been titled with the question QUO VADIS, EUROPA. [7]

As a result, it seemed that crisis-obsessed Europe had finally found the writing on the wall; it was in line with this that the room setup in the Costa Concordia was explicitly aligned to the European Union: thirteen decks represented thirteen countries from the old continent. The disaster inevitably progressed to become a symbol. “A gigantic passenger ship of this type has never sunk before. It is decades since so many victims were taken from us. And as long as the wreck is not dismantled, images of the catastrophe will continue to appear in the media.” [8] In the course of media reporting, the fact that the cruise liner did not sink, in contrast with the Titanic, become an ever-increasing problem for the Italian ocean carrier responsible, Costa Crociere – a subsidiary of the global market leader Carnival Corporation. If the ship had sunk, it would have had less ongoing visibility.

Instead, the Costa Concordia continues to be very visible, over one and a half years later, in a tilted position off the Tuscan coast, presenting the biomorph image of a huge whale, stranded by a rocky shore and waiting helplessly for its end. But this is an imagined anthropomorphism that archaically conveys a particular level of helplessness, which still seemed tolerable in later stages of consideration. But this image that does harm to business had to be destroyed. Finally, on July 23rd 2014, the process of transferring the ship’s ruin to the Port of Genoa for salvaging was begun. The total costs of disassembly, which has not yet been completed, are reportedly 1.5 billion.

The birth of the tragedy

We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity and it was not meant that we should voyage far. – H. P. Lovecraft

Again, a man stands there with a camera; this time, he stands on a dock and a ship’s ruin lies before him at anchor; the man looks through his viewfinder and this time he knows exactly what has roused his interest. He apparently recognises something there, inside the wreck; as yet, we don’t see what it is. But the man doesn’t delay, he goes in and presses the shutter release. Again and again. Finally, images; finally, resolution.

Who is the man? What does he have to look for there? And most importantly: what will he see that we haven’t been allowed to see so far? When questions are suddenly answered, we want to know the full story. In the case of Jonathan Kielkowski, the story reads like a particularly adventurous undertaking. With a great deal of good fortune and bravery, the 26-year-old photographer was successful in reaching into the inside of the ruinous Costa Concordia ship’s body on a Sunday morning in August 2014.

Kielkowski, who lives in Nuremberg, had already been exploring sites from the more recent past, which have remained in the collective subconscious as insurmountable legacies of history. [9] When he hears about the ongoing dismantling of the Costa Concordia in Genoa, he makes the courageous decision to investigate on site and to take pictures. Once there, the young man can barely withdraw himself from the fascination of the shipwreck. The man undertakes a hazardous journey, swimming through the narrow entrance of the harbour and across to the exterior breakwater. His endeavour succeeds. Against all expectations, he finds free access to the ship’s ruin on that Sunday morning. There were no fences or barriers, and no security personnel to refuse access; instead, the doors were open, the lights were on and there was no-one to be seen.

The images in this volume bear witness to his exploration inside the Costa Concordia. It is only possible to comprehend them as a narrative of horror. It is no surprise that the colour images that Kielkowski obtained in the seven hours of his courageous expedition evoke the greatest possible level of anxiety. Countless corridors, staircases and footbridges, which were not flooded, seem to run throughout all levels of the orphaned passenger ship; the ship’s inside seems increasingly to be a labyrinthine system with its own logic that has to be followed. Despite all the devastation and evacuations, the discovered scenes preserve a theatrical moment. And the props for the real stages discovered tell a story of the dramas of the present, in powerful silence. Your gaze incidentally falls on objects denoting the surreal: a telephone waiting for a call; a wheelchair on top of its driver; and somewhere a trolley on top of its owner. Everything that is absent seems present, but with a sense of great strangeness, and the path to the inside of the nautical colossus creates its own very individual maelstrom. It is a maelstrom full of ambivalencies, oscillating somewhere between frisson and beauty, fear and fascination, terror and trauma.

Surprisingly, signs of the old Europe can still be found in the interiors Kielkowski discovered. The terrain feels familiar: there’s a corridor here, with a blended design of the Secession Building in Vienna, and over there is a mural by Fernand Léger, and then designer chairs in the Piet-Mondrian style. The follies of traditional modernity, which once served the Californian interior designer Joe Farcus for draping show rooms on the Costa Concordia, remain in the ship’s ruin as an iconography of ornamentation. Finally, there is a theatre space in the heart of the ship, called ‘Athens’; its powerhouse consists of a mighty chrysalis of clamouring masquerades. The horror is written deep into the antique faces; it seems as though collective wails are still sounding, as though the tragedy of the disaster has to be silently lamented by the choir, until the final destruction of the wreck.

The art historian Jörg Trempler recently published ‘Katastrophen – Ihre Entstehung aus dem Bild.’ “There are no catastrophes without a shape, without a notion of how they look.” [10] In this regard, he draws attention to the fact that the Greek verb ‘katástréphein’ originally comes from the theory of tragedy. There was a time when it did not designate disaster in the way it is used today. Instead, it referred to a specific turning point within tragedy. A point in time from which everything suddenly changed. The image of the wounded stage makes it unambiguously clear: the myth cannot be escaped, and that is also true on the inside. [11]

For Jonathan Kielkowski, the nightmarish internal perspective on the Costa Concordia ends on the navigating bridge; that place where fatal decisions were made when the disaster happened. As is well known, it is also the fixed point of human failure in the legal dispute. The photographer calculatedly records the lookout in cross-fade; the sea is still not in view. How could the captain not have seen what he must have seen from up here? Where was he if he – as is claimed – was not up there? What does all of this want to tell us?

Jonathan Kielkowski is aware that he is not able to escape the myth of the catastrophe in his photographic images. However, in this book, he cautiously steers himself in another direction, sharpening our perception of the fatal error in which the root of the creation and shape of Costa Concordia lies. And ultimately also for its demise: in the rigorous suppression of an exterior.

Christoph Schaden

  • 1Cf. Klaus Theweleit, Socialism, Film in drei Sätzen, in: Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialism, (Begleitheft zur DVD der Filmedition Suhrkamp), Berlin 2012, S. 4-30. Einmal mehr danke ich meinem Kollegen Max Ackermann für seine inspirierenden Hinweise zu dem Thema.
  • 2Jean-Luc Godard, Film Socialisme. Dialoge mit Autorengesichtern, 2. Aufl., Zürich 2012, S. 18.
  • 3Zum Schiffbruch als Paradigma einer Daseinsmetapher siehe Hans Blumenberg, Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer, Frankfurt am Main 1979.
  • 4Vgl. Günter Helmes, Der Untergang der Titanic. Modellkatastrophe und Medienmythos, in: Gerhard Paul (Hrsg.), Das Jahrhundert der Bilder. 1900-1949, Göttingen 2009, S. 124-131; Gerhard Paul, Lakehurst. Die Havarie als Medienereignis und die Ikonografie der Katastrophe, in: ebd., S. 532-541.
  • 5Vgl. beispielhaft der Textkommentar von Alexander Dick, Angerissen: Tand von Menschenhand. Ikonographie des Untergangs, Badische Zeitung, 17.1.2012.
  • 6„Es ist weniger die Endzeit als der Triumph des Kapitalismus. Zum Glück haben wir auf diesem Schiff einen Film gedreht, sonst hätten wir es nicht ausgehalten.“ Jean-Luc Godard: „Es kommt mir obszön vor“, von Katja Nicodemus, DIE ZEIT, 6.10.2011.
  • 7Auf deutscher Seite nahm sich statt seiner der glühende Godard-Anhänger Alexander Kluge der Costa-Concordia-Havarie an. Zusammen mit Helge Schneider produzierte der namhafte Intellektuelle spontan die zehnminütige Burleske „Wir haben jetzt hier gerade einen Dampfer, der schräg liegt, vor einer Mittelmeerinsel“.
  • 8Olaf Krohn, „Wir thematisieren das nicht“. Nach der Havarie der „Costa Concordia“ geht unter den Kreuzfahrtkunden die Angst um. Die Branche bleibt Antworten schuldig, in: DIE ZEIT, 9.2.2012.
  • 9Zu den bisherigen Projekten von Jonathan Kielkowski zählt eine Bilddokumentation über stadtverstreute Bunkeranlagen in Nürnberg und über die Überreste des Kohlebergbaus auf der arktischen Insel Spitzbergen. Weiter Informationen unter
  • 10Jörg Trempler, Katastrophen. Ihre Entstehung aus dem Bild, Berlin 2013, S. 63.
  • 11„Monsieur. Durch alles hindurch. Was sind das für Bilder. Einmal in Freiheit. Und einmal eingesperrt. Dieses ungeheure Denken. In dem Gestalten vorüberziehen. In dem Farben glänzen. Madame. Das war der Raum. Und der Raum stirbt dahin.“ Godard 2012 [Anm. 2], S. 63.
Veröffentlicht am 12.02.2018 von Jonathan Danko


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