Michael EB Detto was born in West Berlin and grew up in small villages in
northern Germany and in the black forest, then in Mannheim and Heidelberg.
His very first reading experience as a child introduced him to illustrated books
with fairy tales and comics. That initiated an enduring passion for books, images,
and how they interact.
Michael Detto moved to Hamburg in 1984 and began studying Humanities at the
University of Hamburg for five years. His area of study included the Romance
philology and Art History with an emphasis on the Italian Renaissance (Giorgione,
Bellini and Raphael). He also learned about German Medieval Art. The main
research Detto did was devoted to the way how Dante’s work was reflected in
Italian art (and conversely how Dante’s imagery anticipated time management in
moving pictures); or how banderoles act in illuminated manuscripts and altar pieces.
Travels to museums in Italy, Spain, France, Scandinavia, the United States, Poland, Hungary, and Russia also were an integral part of 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 Dostoevskij’s novel “The Demons” which used a re-enactment of a photograph by László MoholyNagy.
Detto had discovered Moholy-Nagy’s far-reaching approach to photography’s core
elements as a teacher, as an artist, and as a researcher, so he became his role model
for future projects.
In 1991 Detto worked on the restoration of subheadings in silent movies for the
Munich Film Museum while he was trained in traditional animation techniques at
Trickfilmstudio Pfenninger & Gamper, Munich. Works followed consisting of
inserted layers of imagery into texts, which he shot with a single-shot rostrum
camera (Crass). He created images influenced by concrete poetry.
In line with Detto’s postgraduate studies at the film school in Łódź, Poland
(teachers at that time: Krzysztof Kieślowski, Andrzej Mellin, and Mariusz Grzegorzek)
he completed the shooting of the film “Żertwa, jeśli chcecie” (35 mm, color and B/W, 35
min.) in 1995. It is a film about two women preparing for a party. There comes a
moment when both women are becoming aware of their own subtitles.
They occasionally destroy first single letters, then whole words while the
conversation goes on. In the end one of the women is dead. The film went for
post-production back to Munich. Detto shot still shots (slides) from VHS-copies of
the digitized version. The film was stolen from a storage unit while Detto was
overseas. A few photographs could be restored (plus the outtakes).
In 1997 Michael Detto developed with the artist Wu Min-an for their project “Light
+ Shadow” so-called impossible triptychs: Nine triptychs representing certain
concepts (e.g., “Camera”, “Ghost”, “Cowboy”, “Fun”) which consisted of three
Cibachrome prints, framed in a steel frame, hinged together. The side wings were
landscape format showing buildings or scenes as known from street photography.
The centerpiece was portrait format, therefore a closure of the triptych as
suggested by the construction with the hinges, not possible. The centerpiece was
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 were digitally extracted from the side wings, a third color
was red. Detto’s part in the project consisted of the representation of the shadow
as an inapt mirror of the real world. The nine altar pieces explored different
approaches to that problem: the satirical, the scary, the comforting properties of
Emerging from his occasional work with an independent theater group, Detto
wrote in 1997 a theater play in verses inspired by the writings of Louis Kahn:
“The Grotesque Room”. 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. Live music, angels and ghosts are involved. After the
couple died, the curtain opens again, with the same words, the same gestures.
But this time the resurrected couple is aware of the repetition. They try to leave
but they cannot change the text. Text and image unfold together a seductive trap
that cages and terrorizes the players with a magic spell thereby referring to dark
tales of the Romantic age. The play was performed at different theaters in
Munich in 1997, 1998, and 1999.
In 2001, Michael Detto had a solo exhibition at Literatur Moths in Munich. He
showed fourteen Cibachrome prints, embedded in burnished metal frames. In
each corner of the frames a metal pole was inserted carrying a transparent film
parallel to the image. On this transparency a short story was printed, organized
as a small square. Next to the story there was the shadow of a man. At the
opening lights were provided to let the shadow and the texts move into the
images, matching and erasing shadows in the Cibachrome prints. The
images/sculptures where loosely organized according to the Stations of the
Cross. The exhibition “Auf der Jagd nach dem KSM, dem
Kleinen Schwarzen Mann” (Hunting the KSM, the Little Black Man), referring to
the popular Romantic novella of Schlehmil, who sold his shadow to the devil and
tries to get his shadow back ever since. By renaming the shadow to “KSM”
multiple semantic fields had been added to an old tale.
After emigrating to the United States in 2004, Michael Detto became involved in
the art scene in Los Angeles by supporting the yearly fundraiser for the Venice
Family Clinic as an artist and as a committee member. He took classes at the
Otis College of Art and Design Photography Certificate Program; it was
comDpolwetneldoaind May 2013.
Invited by Meta House in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, he presented the conceptual
solo-exhibition “Cambodian Ghosts”, accompanied by a catalog in 2012.
Follow up was the group show (six artists) “Ghosts”, curated by Detto and
A lecture about the writer Sebald was held by Detto at the Goethe-Institut in Los
Angeles in 2015.
And in 2015 the same curators presented the group show “Cabinet of Ghosts”
(14 artists and the band “Dengue Fever”. A catalog and a record documented the
event (a song was produced using a piece by Walter Benjamin in Khmer).