DOPPEL (2004) video installation

Travel notes
by Caspar Stracke

A tele-transport: Athens to Nashville, Rome to Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast and Washington to Ping Hu, China. Imagine you are a photographer for a prestigious travel magazine. Your assignment: to capture "nice shots" of particular monumental buildings in six countries and three continents.
You are given two and a half weeks, a time frame which ensures that you hardly see anything of the countries you pass through, managing to spend one day at each building. That was the feeling which accompanied journeys undertaken to complete this work which attempts to connect cultures through singular objects.

The architectural replicas in Doppel co-exist as fully functional buildings (in contrast to Vegas-style mockup façades). They are orphans, uprooted from their origins and relocated in foreign environments. Hundreds of replicas exist, including modernist icons by architects such as LeCorbusier and Oskar Niemeyer, but I decided to work with three particular cases. These three monuments represent the most famous cultural icons from the Antique period to Neo-Classicism. They are the Peter's Dome replica in Yamoussoukro, Africa, the fully reconstructed Athen’s Parthenon in Nashville and the Capitol Dome of Washington in Ping Hu, China.
The latter was erected four years ago by Li Qinfu, an industrialist that decided to house the headquarters of his company in a (slightly smaller) replica of Washington's Capitol Dome. This dome can be seen on the horizon in a rural area near Shanghai .
The world's most famous replica is the Peter’s Dome replica in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast. It demonstrates the most striking contrast to its original and could not be called a replica if it didn’t share two major building components which also exist in Rome. This replica was built in the 1980s by Ivory Coast's notorious former president Félix Boigny-Houphet. The Basilica, Notre Dame stands in an open, tropical landscape, surrounded by a poor village, a grim study in contrast.
The third building is the oldest, and its copy is relatively unknown: The Parthenon in Athens was painstakingly copied in Nashville, Tennessee, the country music touchstone once dubbed the "Athens of the South." Nashville enshrined this image by building itself this present during its Centennial celebration in 1897.
Visiting (and connecting) these places in such a short time was an extraordinary experience. Like a multiple pilgrimage. Each moment of arrival was filled with a mixture of fear and relief, belated reward for overcrowded buses, trains and planes. An interesting side-effect: space contracted and the time of the journey was forgotten. I experienced the physical equivalent of what in film editing is called a jump cut. Closing my eyes in Washington and reopening them a few days later in Ping Hu, China, still standing in front of the same building. One can be surprised how many—more or less important—details the mind carries from the first location and projects it onto the next. Layering memories of Washington atop its Chinese counterpart removed the buildings from view, while everything else became amplified.


Voices on location

Washington DC, August 3, 2004
During the shooting I am interrupted and told I need a permission for any kind of photography around the Capitol. I am sent to the Chief at Arms office:
”Sir what's the purpose of your filming here?
By himself he suggests, "Shall we write ‘beauty shots’?"
"Yeah. I do 'beauty shots'. Indeed.’"

Nashville, September 10th 2004
"Why are you photographing this?” wonders a girl strolling by.
“Well, do you know this is a copy of a famous ruin in Athens?" I ask in return.

Ping Hu, September 2, 2004
I hand a photo of the Parthenon copy to three cab drivers. I am assured by the only one who speaks English, "A nice building but it does not exist. You won't find it here anywhere.”

Athens, August 26, 2004
In the media relations office (one day after the Olympic Games closed) I’m told, "So you have a press pass and want to film the Parthenon? That’s 230 Euros." (I politely declined)

Yamoussoukro, August 15. 2004:
“DONNE MOI LA CASSETTE! DONNE MOI LA CASSETTE!” shouts the military police officer after catching me shooting with a tripod on the street with no special government permit. I was about to get "arrested" but then luckily asked to pay a "fee." It was far less than what the people in Athens asked for.

Cologne, December 26, 2004:
First I thought this [Doppel] is a simulation of a particle accelerator in inferno, sez Larcher