Bo Bjerggaard

Janaina Tschäpe

24 Sep - 17 Nov 2012

© Janaina Tschäpe
The Space Between Us, 2010
Digital c-print
203,2 cm x 304,8 cm
Shaping Fluid
24 August - 17 November 2012

Janaina Tschäpe: The utopia of phenomenology

Janaina Tschäpe's work is like a collage. In her practice, the German-born Brazilian artist embraces several media, ranging from painting, drawing, photography and video to sculpture. The works intervene in each other's expression and present the experiments in various ways. Artistic ideas are tried out, and the experiences acquired are applied in new works. The drawn and painted works influence, for example, the technical, digitally-produced videos and photographs. All have distinctive picturesque qualities, and are populated by entities unknown in the world of reality. But correspondingly, her abstract canvases and drawings contain the kind of figuration and temporality known from mechanically-produced images. They resemble something familiar, just as the ambiguous spaces of the pictures appear to concretise a moment, a now, an eternity. In a collected collage, Tschäpe's works resemble abstract impressions of a reality dominated by the dream, the connotation and the surreal.

But the concept of collage also says something significant about Tschäpe's work in a more conceptual sense. Identifying a single idea that underlies Tschäpe's fields of study is no simple matter. There are several paths. Her production in recent years displays an artistic alternation between a formally-based focus and an interest in the field of art as a kind of utopia, a non-place, an ideal - an ultimate beauty that goes beyond the tangible and comprehensible. As a conceptual artist, Tschäpe transforms her idea-based works into aesthetic milestones, the fundamental ideas of which are realised on the basis of some striking visual strategies in her photography, paintings or moving images.

Tschäpe is clearly fascinated by form and colour, and by the unique ability of both to create sensuous, seductive universes: fictitious, imaginative, organic-inspired canvases or projected surfaces that rest upon the surface of the form, the skin. In the paintings Untitled Green Orange and Square Soap Bubbles, both from 2012, you can clearly see how the aesthetic interest in form finds a resonance in surrealism, in which each image element exists as an energy-borne force. They represent nothing, but take the form of biomorphic, lyrical, symbolic appearances, each with its own inner artistic life. Or, as the exhibition title, Shaping Fluid, suggests, like formed fluids - on the surface, in the colour and in the space. The expressivity of the pictures suggests an associative reading, a narrative evocation, which links a real reality with the state of dreams and unconsciousness. The forms are mundane, yet not identifiable; a kind of 21st-century sci-fi.

The artist often works with a monumental format that draws in the body as an important parameter in terms of scale - in several respects. The body is both immediately present as the explicit presence of a woman, or as an abstraction of a recognisable figure - an amoeba, an eye, an organ. But the body is also conceived of as the viewer's physicality in relation to the physical reading of the work. The originator of phenomenology, the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty, speaks of the body's lived experience and the perceived, immediate experience. Ponty's idea of ??a pre-conscious perception acquires a resonance in Tschäpe's works, because they appear to presuppose the viewer's active, immediate body that registers sensations, states of being and moods in advance of the thought or the word. Her artistic world communicates a universe that exists as a pre-verbal place, where the body functions as the principal transmitter of meaning and significance. [i]

Conversely, there is no doubt: the formally-based expression points to something other than what the eye sees and senses: to the magical and extraordinary, the ineffable, the utopian. The pictures refer to a primeval state, a foundation world that extends beyond the visible. The starting-point resembles a landscape, a piece of nature that is inhabited by something else, by characters from a mythology or fable, or who appear as gestalts from literary narratives, the plot of which cannot be decoded. As in the photo series The Space Between Us (1-25), 2010 and the new video work from 2012, Tschäpe's natural growths are equated with condoms or balloon-like shapes, i.e. man-made elements that point into a universe of abstractions and intangibles: a clash between naturally and culturally-created phenomena that results in mutations and fabrications from a world that underlies the instances of reality. It is like a kind of artistic magic realism gone mad. In the coupling between the lifelike and the abstract we sense a longing for the exotic, the extra-sensory and the fantastic, where all things are possible. The magic is part of the story, but the supernatural is rooted in the form, and must be understood in a concrete sense and accepted on its own terms.

In Tschäpe's artistic universe, the fantasy and magic possess a utopian dimension. Her works represent a happy place, which may not necessarily exist in physical form, but rather as a thought, an idea or conception of a universe where fantasy, sensation and sensuality are dominant, rather than rationale, reason and theory. Where the impossible and the incredible are the norm, and determine the paradisiacal image worlds. But which is also impossible and non-existent. With these surreal image scenarios and the presence of non-natural and inexplicable foreign elements, the artist reminds us that art is a field of possibilities, the laws and logics of which lie beyond those of reality.

Tschäpe refers to a world on the edge of this one. It should not be confused with a modernist romanticism; in Tschäpe, we find no nostalgia for bygone days when mankind and nature were one, where art represents a different and better world. The works offer a rare combination of surreal natural universes and a technological, culturally-fabricated foundation that points to the here and now. A phenomenological sensing of a super-reality based on an organic artificiality, which appears to be present. It is right here, on the surface, now and beyond this world.

Anna Krogh
Curator of Kunsthallen Brandts in Odense

[i] Merleau-Ponty's principal work, Phénomenologie de la Perception (1945) is available in a Danish version, Kroppens fænomenologi, published by Det lille forlag (2009).

Tags: Janaïna Tschäpe