The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has been enthusing of late about the beauty of »taciturn paintings« by the Danish painter, Viljhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) on show at the Hypokunsthalle in Munich; Kunsthalle Düsseldorf is currently showing the Danish artist Tal R, whereas KIT is presenting a number of young German and Danish artists. Verily, a bright, light, airy northern summer is upon us. The letter from a number of students offered me an exhibition. A visit to Copenhagen, one to Berlin and subsequent visits to Düsseldorf studios culminated in the selection of participating artists: Tamina Amadyar, Sine Hesselager Blanné, Sylvester Hegner, Sofie Holten, Allan Rand and Philip Seibel.
All of them incorporate the independence of mind of the artists in question who first look, paint, draw, model and continually subject themselves to rigorous self-examination in a scene increasingly governed by the art market and its concomitant discourse.
What holds this show together is not so much a structure into which the artists are placed, as a structure which their convening calls into place. The title of this show, I scent the morning’s air, is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, specifically from a speech delivered by the ghost of Hamlet’s father. But soft! Methinks I scent the morning’s air. Brief let me be… the ghost hurries himself to impart the details of his murder to Hamlet before the coming morning cuts short his materialization, making communication no longer possible between them. The calling up of an entity to speak before the break of day, the maintenance of the space within which the summoned may speak: this seems to become the concern called up by the coincidence of these works.
Sine Hesselager Blanné (b. 1986/ lives in Copenhagen) uses a projector to cast images across sheets of cheap, flimsy paper as she spends hours hunched in close to the wall, meticulously tracing the corner of a diagram, a scrap of text, losing her bearings, her sense of the image as a whole, as she becomes absorbed by the proximity of detail. Her tracings, scratched out in tiny marks from the midst of this reverie, remain as an index of cast shadows, which gather into clusters of imagery. The flaws inherent in this method of tracing build gradually into a weave of minute imperfections, and as the image unfolds across the paper an air of strangeness begins to creep in like light through the perimeter of a closed door.
The obscurities of Tamina Amadyar‘s (b. 1989/ lives in Düsseldorf) pictures conjures up ambiguous spaces that feel both particular (her titles hint that this may well be the case) and generalized, the way that space itself is subject to arbitrary – but significant – division while remaining a general and ubiquitous condition. What might it mean to think about location in this darkened and questionable space? Can one hold on to a sense of rootedness while giving oneself up to the fog? Amadyar plays this out through the use of monoprinting techniques giving the impression of a masked light; using these techniques, she constructs images which can allow either the paper or layers of underpainting to show through in a scant, grainy illumination. This retreat of light is a retreat of the image too, and Amadyar’s works flirt with the idea of blindness as something at the same time unsettling and voluptuous, as a place where she becomes lost and where she locates herself.
The floating dimnesses of Amadyar’s pictures recalls the darker passages of Sylvester Hegner’s (b. 1985/ lives in Berlin) paintings: how these can also seem to undo pictorial space as they construct it. His Portrait of Marquisian Girl (Repeated) (which is based on a photograph which he imagines as “inverted or seen from behind”) articulates the recession of space as well as its flattening out, reminiscent of space as experienced when seen through a camera struggling to focus in inadequate light. Hegner’s paintings reference everything from Pointillism to the photogram. The colour breaks into soft flecks; not like pixels, more like the chemical grains revealing themselves in an enormous over-extension of photographic enlargement. Palm fronds seem to populate his imagination, waving from fields of gently splintering colour – the garden and the island paradise recur again and again, fraying into shadow or bleaching away in a gentle wash of tinted light.
Philip Seibel‘s (b. 1980/ lives in Düsseldorf) objects are slick and resolutely material. In relation with the work of these five other artists, Seibel’s objects – hard-edged, clean, decisive – form a stopping point, a firm disruption in the flow of indeterminate relations. Philip Seibel’s work has the capacity to bring about, rather than embody, an experience of misalignment. Nevertheless, luxuriating as they do in a refined materiality which situates them as definitive physical presences, their high gloss finish simultaneously lends their otherwise clearly determined forms a visual slipperiness which seduces by reinforcing the presence of a definite surface at the same time that it places the precise nature and location of this surface in question. That Seibel’s objects have such a strong relation to commercial design (and, through this, to the formalist traditions of late modernism) brings this razor-thin edge of indeterminacy into relation with both the home and the body, with domestic aspirations to pleasure. Would you like to live with one of his small Schädel works? They seem like immaculate pieces of petrified fruit that may only be handled with gloves. The pleasure they propose for the hand would end up being mostly deferred to the eye. Objects of this kind suggest a high degree of sensitivity and the need for perfect (and therefore concealed) form of storage – away from dust and greasy fingers.
Light, its reflection in the painter’s eye, the resulting painting – this process seems to become physical in Allan Rand‘s (b. 1983/ lives in Düsseldorf) paintings: particles of paint jostling together across stretches of raw canvas which often remain visible between the marks, like a wash of light illuminating the picture, and once again, from behind. The lightness of gesture, the openness, if you like, of the weave of marks, makes a sort of scrim; a structure which functions not only as a thing in itself but also as a filter or conduit: an assemblage not only of presences, but also of absences that allow a passage through for whatever presence the work might call from elsewhere. Absence and presence are conditions each of which allows its other. Allan Rand is not only interested in materiality and painting’s relation to drawing, but also writing systems, alphabets and illuminated manuscripts. Whereas in Rand’s pictures, the canvas is revealed as robust, foundational, an all-pervading ground, the painting itself is like an array of costumes rubbed and worn through, picked and pulled at, rendered threadbare in their entirety until the morning air wafts through them less like an intrusion than a sort of scaffolding. Along with the canvas and its illuminating materiality, something else radiates through the picture and holds it together, a something close to nothing, like the empty space between the points of light of which matter mostly consists.
Sofie Holten‘s (b. 1983/ lives in Copenhagen) sculptures, rendered in unfired clay, are reconstructions, or, more accurately, translations, of architectural structures with which she is familiar only via their photographic record. For I scent the morning’s air, Holten has to produced an object on site that mirrors Bjarke Ingels’ 8-House. The photograph she has used as a reference was taken from an oblique angle, it shows the building at twilight, reflected in what I take to be a swimming pool, where the heavy ‘V’ shape of its main structure is transformed into a dark, asymmetric ‘X’. The building looks delicate and papery in the photo, balconies running along its most visible flank like a sort of honeycomb. Dots of orange light show from inside the glass-fronted lobby, blurring into soft lozenges in the dark blue water. Sofie Holten’s interest in architecture is particularly focused on the façade. The façade of a building navigates and constructs relationships between the structure and its other – the outside. While a façade may imitate a photo, Holten’s objects never pretend to be the things that generated them. As the artist becomes more involved in the process of making, the photograph itself begins to recede, and the physicality of the material, the object, begins to take hold; thus the architectures that pass first through the filter of the photograph, and secondly through Holten’s process of making, undergo a sort of mutation in their becoming manifest as new objects.