Michael EB Detto was born in West Berlin and grew up in small villages in northern Germany and the Black Forest, and then in Mannheim and Heidelberg. His childhood love of comics and books of illustrated fairy tales led to his enduring fascination with the interaction of images and text.
Michael Detto moved to Hamburg in 1984 and studied Humanities at the University of Hamburg for five years. An interest in German Medieval Art led him to Romance
Philology and Art History. It was in the Italian Renaissance of Giorgione, Bellini and Raphael that Detto found his main area of research: how Dante’s literary work influenced Italian representational art, a static art of sculpture and paintings, but also how Dante’s imagery anticipated time management in moving pictures. Travels to museums in Italy, Spain, France, Scandinavia, the United States, Poland, Hungary, and Russia enriched Detto’s studies in Art History.
In 1988 Michael Detto started working with moving pictures. He had experimented with video by making a three-minute-version of Dostoevsky’s novel The Demons which used a re-enactment of a László Moholy-Nagy photograph. Moholy-Nagy became a role model because of his in-depth investigation into photography’s core elements, not only as an artist, but also as a teacher and researcher.
In 1991 Detto worked on the restoration of subtitles in silent movies for the Munich Film Museum while he trained in traditional animation techniques at Trickfilmstudio Pfenninger & Gamper, Munich. These experiences influenced later artwork in which he inserted layers of imagery into texts—shot with a single-shot rostrum camera (Crass). He created images influenced by concrete poetry and its emphasis on visual representation of text.
During Detto‘s postgraduate studies at film school in Łódź, Poland (teachers at the time: Krzysztof Kieślowski, Andrzej Mellin, and Mariusz Grzegorzek), he completed the shooting of his film Żertwa, Jeśli Chcecie in 1995 (35mm, color and B/W, 35 min.). It is a subtitled film in three languages about two female doppelgängers who start to become aware of their own subtitles. At first they begin to destroy only a single letter in their own subtitles, but then they begin destroying entire words while still carrying on their conversation. In the end one of the women is dead.
The film went back to Munich for post production. Detto shot still shots (slides) from the VHS copies of the digitized version. Unfortunately, the film was stolen from the storage unit while Detto was overseas. Only a few photographs and outtakes could be restored. While working for an architect in 1996, Detto developed his signature style of shooting architectural photographs while documenting the architect’s buildings. Detto worked to translate the three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional plane. Flat squares and stripes as signifiers of the past are the desired components.
In 1997 Michael Detto and the artist Wu Min-an developed “Light + Shadow,” nine
“impossible triptychs” representing certain concepts (e.g. “Camera” “Ghost” “Cowboy” “Fun”) which consist of three cibachrome prints, framed in steel and hinged together. The side wings are arranged in Landscape format showing buildings or scenes from street photography. The centerpiece is in Portrait format, so closing the triptych as suggested by the hinged construction is impossible. The centerpiece is a digitally created tapestry consisting (in Chinese, English, and German) of the title, a poem,
absurd formulas repeating basic arithmetic operations, and coordinates. Two colors are digitally extracted from the side wings, a third color is red. Detto’s part in the project consisted of the representation of the shadow as an inadequate mirror of the real world. The nine altar pieces explore different approaches to that problem: the satirical, the scary, the comforting properties of the shadow.
Work with independent theater groups inspired Detto to write The Grotesque Room in 1997, a play in verse inspired by the writings of Louis Kahn. It was performed in various Munich theaters from 1997 through 1998. The plot revolves around a man and a woman
waking up in a gallery showing Detto’s artwork. They cannot leave the room. After one hour, they fall in love...and die. Live music, angels and ghosts are involved. The curtain drops but quickly rises again upon the resurrected couple who begin to repeat their earlier words along with the same gestures. The couple, however, are aware of the repetition They cannot escape the repetition of text, movements, and images that cage them in a magic spell as old and terrifying as the dark tales of the Romantic age.
In 2001, Michael Detto had a solo exhibition at Literatur Moths in Munich of fourteen cibachrome prints embedded in burnished metal frames. In each corner of the frames an inserted metal pole holds a transparent film parallel to the image. A short story is printed on the transparency, the text formatted in a small square. Next to the story is the shadow of a man. At the exhibition opening, careful lighting made the shadow and the texts interact with the images, matching and erasing shadows in the cibachrome prints. The images/sculptures were loosely based on the Stations of the Cross. The exhibition was entitled “Auf der Jagd nach dem KSM, dem Kleinen Schwarzen Mann” (Hunting the KSM, the Little Black Man), referring to the popular Romantic novella about the character Peter Schlehmil, who sold his shadow to the devil and has tried to get his shadow back ever since. Renaming the shadow “KSM” adds additional semantic fields to an old tale.
After immigrating to the United States in 2004, Michael Detto became involved in the Los Angeles art scene. He supports the yearly Venice Family Clinic fundraiser with his art and his work as a committee member. He has taken classes at the Otis College of Art and Design Photography Certificate Program in preparation for further graduate studies.