PUBLIKATION LINEAR MOMENTUM - MELBOURNE
curated by / kuratiert von Conny Becker
TCB art inc. Melbourne, Australia
Since antiquity, the line
has been a medium for
understanding the world
in the Western hemisphere,
without which we wouldn’t be
what we are.
We ascribe linearity
to reality so to say,
be it the contour of an object,
the delimitation of space,
or the course of motion.
Matthias Haldemann 1
N A V I G AT I O N T H R O U G H S PA C E - T I M E
The exhibition L I N E A R M O M E N T U M addresses the drawn line in its relationship to our movement through space. Instead of approaching the theme through drawing, the genre traditionally associated with the line, the project incorporates performance-based works, as well as collage, photography, and video. Thereby the title L I N E A R M O M E N T U M is paradigmatic for the exhibition, and reflects a characteristic of the line itself, which – as a connection between two points – always references its movement-based genesis. Also, the eye following a line re-enacts that line, which requires a certain amount of time and causes a motion of the eye or the head. Temporality and movement are inherent to the line and form the backdrop for which the exhibited works can be seen. L I N E A R M O M E N T U M approaches the line from a temporal and spatial – a performative – perspective.
O R I E N TA T I O N I N T H E C O O R D I N AT E S Y S T E M
One hundred years ago, Marcel Duchamp dropped three metre long threads from a height of one metre, preserving the resulting course of the threads on canvas and also cutting them out of wood. He explained this curious experiment to his stepson, Paul Matisse, as follows:
"It was less about a straight distance between the two ends of a thread ... than about the fact that the metre – by deforming itself while falling from a height of one metre – ‘absorbs’ the third dimension, and that the straight line becomes a bent line without loosing its title: the metre ... Indirectly, this action devaluates the concept of the shortest connection between two points (the classic definition of a straight line) ‘in an irrational way.’" 2
Duchamp’s '3 stoppages-étalon' (3 Standard Stoppages), 1913 – 14, can be seen as a reference work for L I N E A R M O M E N T U M. Just as Duchamp interrogated the metre as a conventional measuring unit, Simon Faithfull also tests a standard for its suitability for daily use – the Greenwich Meridian. Introduced as the basis for the international coordinate system in 1884, this line serves as point zero for the longitudes as well as for the measurement of time, and provides an orientation device for our everyday movement through space and time. In concrete local everyday reality, however, this line is a ‘hypothetical geographic construct,’ mostly invisible and detectible only with GPS devices.3 In '0°00 Navigation', 2009, Faithfull uses such an implement to follow the zero meridian exactly north through Hampshire, London, the Midlands and Lincolnshire. The video work documents the artist’s physical journey along this arbitrary line, which leads him through the landscape, over fences and even through people‘s homes. The resulting footage is often comical when the artist, in his quest to follow the line, clambers over obstacles or crosses a river. It’s characteristic of Faithfull’s work to test constraints in a playful way, be it scientific or technical ones or those of his own body. Like Duchamp, he acknowledges a ‘pataphysical doubt’ regarding common beliefs and regulations.4
This pataphysical – in this case, absurd–philosophical – questioning is also present in an early video work by Faithfull. 'Going Nowhere', 1995, presents a figure trudging through snow, disappearing behind a hill in the distance, and finally coming back, following his own traces. The hypothesis to be tested was ‘to witness an absence and to check whether the world still existed during this absence.’5 Faithfull’s action gives cause for existential or phenomenological considerations, but also shows concrete traces of a human’s movement in space where he draws a temporary line in the British winter landscape.
C O N C E T T O , O R C H A N C E A S A C O - A U T H O R
In the art historical literature on the line, one usually finds reference to the renaissance concept of disegno, which ennobles the drawing as a material manifestation of the ‘genius’ artist’s creative ideas and design. With Duchamp’s introduction of the readymade to the arts, the disegno theory was turned upside down, drawing was made obsolete, and only the disegno interno (inner drawing) and the concetto (concept) remain.6
Like Faithfull, Melanie Irwin also follows a rigid concept in her performance work. In 'Terminus Loop (Warschauer Straße)', 2013, however, a material line functions as the starting point. The video work documents a public action by Irwin, who systematically paces and squats her way through the early-morning streets of Berlin, dodging oncoming traffic, in order to capture the overhead tram cables with her small camera. As in Faithfull’s '0°00 Navigation', an existing line dictates her trajectory, and the work celebrates the body’s adaptability towards external forces, obstacles and incidences – a theme that forms a key interest in Irwin’s performance-based oeuvre.
Incidental details in the streetscape provide added connotations, such as shop-front signs reading ‘JOB AG’ and ‘concept’, which relate her absurd task to acts of labour and the historical lineage of conceptual art. Despite their respective conceptual approaches, Irwin and Faithfull both allow for chance to be a co-author, and in this way their works find another parallel with Duchamp’s, who was ‘taken’ by the idea of chance. In conversation with the art critic Pierre Cabanne, Duchamp said: ‘Pure chance interested me as a means to combat logical reality.’7
One can hardly recognize a logical, meaningful act in Irwin’s action, as she is holding her camera in an unusual way (directed upwards) in front of herself, and as one cannot see the portrayed cables in the video itself.8 Also, her apparently Dadaistic-maniac operation seems absurd and comical, and in this way Irwin addresses the absurdity of artistic practice in a self-reflexive way. Faithfull and Irwin both question their own positions as artists, thus undermining the disegno-related idea of an ingenious, godlike creator.
Irwin combines the motif of the line with the art of performance in various works. In the series 'The Appendages', 2013 –, for example, she follows a more formal approach and delegates the realization of the work entirely to chance, external actors and time. Here, found, modified linear metal shapes that Irwin has had powder-coated the same colour, are brought to an exhibition opening by participants, are carried on their bodies like accessories all evening long, and are then taken away again. What comes into temporary existence is a ‘large-scale, monochrome, spatiotemporal line-drawing made up of multiple disconnected sculptural fragments that rely on human bodies to transport them.’9
'The Appendages' can be seen as a continuance of Joan Jonas’ 'Song Delay', in which the artist, with other performers, carried props like bars or thin wooden hoops in a choreography though the urban space of 1973 New York, balancing the objects, playing with them and letting them dance. Whereas Jonas’ work still exists as a video, Irwin’s 'The Appendages' remains ephemeral; documentation photographs show details only. The interplay of the lines in their different positions in space and time form a vivid, permanently reconstituting drawing that can only really be experienced during the performance – spatiotemporally and in person.
In her fascination with the line, as well as in her artistic adaptation of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, Irwin’s work also shows distinct parallels to the oeuvre of the German-Jewish artist Gertrude Goldschmidt, known as Gego. From the 1950s in her Venezuelan exile, Gego began to develop huge public metal sculptural installations purely out of lines. Like Gego, in 'The Appendages', Irwin works with modular units that over time shift between movement and stillness, unfolding into transient, rhizome-like forms. Lisa Le Feuvre’s comments about Gego can also be applied to Irwin’s 'The Appendages' and some of her other works:
"[Th e] sculptures have no centre, no fixed point: their material form consists of lines, links, spaces between, shadows and, most importantly, the encounter. A sculptural interaction predicated on the body in space ..." 10
F O U N D L I N E A S O B J E C T
The potential of the line to shape and create space is also a focus in April Gertler’s oeuvre, in which the line seems to become an ‘object’ or even to have an ‘independent existence,’ wherewith she also connects to Gego’s approach.11 In 'Lady of the Mountain', 2015, for instance, several straight chalk lines extend out of a large-format pigment print. The lines expand the movement, gesture and view of the portrayed figure through the frame into the exhibition space.
The lines almost become objects, when Gertler stitches them – as in 'Traversed Landscapes' – into found photographs. The use of thread and the extension of just a few straight lines into a three-dimensional space aligns Gertler’s approach with Fred Sandback’s sculptural works. Sandbank calls his work
"A diffuse interface between myself, my environment and others peopling that environment, built of thin lines that [leave] enough room to move through and around ... A drawing that is habitable." 12
In analogy to this, one could talk about Gertler’s work as ‘habitable collages.’ Collage is a key aspect of her work, which she contrasts with drawn abstract forms, isolated or grouped lines that stream out of figures and objects like radiating beams of light. With this formal intervention into mostly found printed matter or on photographs, she opens a parallel space already in the second dimension, a mental space that offers us the possibility to reassess known images from advertising and collective memory.
In the series 'Traversed Landscapes', 2012 – 2015, Gertler works with found black-and-white photographs. Old family photographs, especially with the painterly motifs of mountain landscapes, have a nostalgic note that reverberates often in Gertler’s work. Here, however, the artist interrupts this atmosphere by interpreting and presenting the images in a new way following formal and subjective aspects: she turns the images 90 or 180 degrees and highlights the lines – hiking trails or ski paths – by stitching directly into the images with neon orange thread. With this intervention, Gertler transfers the underlying lines from the past into the now, from the surface into space. She performs temporary and spatial change while renewing the lines in the image.
While the artist is ‘drawing’ with thread, the original lines were created by human bodies. ‘I am demarcating desire paths – routes that have been created by many people over time which represent the easiest navigable path possible,’ says Gertler.13 These are traces that have been perpetuated through the presence and persistence of humans. Like the plume of smoke in Charles Sanders Peirce’s theory
of signs, the traces in the snow directly reference the existence of humans. This in turn, over a longer period of time, applies also to the hiking trails that record the slow movement of many bodies. In 'Traversed Landscapes', Gertler is working with traces of civilization with which we are consciously and unconsciously structuring the
T R A C E S O F L I G H T A N D C I V I L I S AT I O N
Our increasing mobility is resulting in significant interventions into the landscape, as can be seen in Richard Rocholl’s 'Autoland' series, 2012 – 2014. Rocholl has photographed a number of old avenues around the wider Berlin area, using the manner of the classic avenue depiction, a viewpoint down the lines of trees. The historic country roads that he documents, however, have long since lost their function and are now intersected by the more direct and ‘efficient’ motorways. The old avenues have grown wild – some more, some less – introducing a romantic aspect to the images.
Rocholl’s approach isn’t purely documentary, though. Like Gertler, he retraces the movement of humans through the landscape; however, Rocholl captures this movement as it happens, and the people are contained by objects (that is, speeding vehicles). The images are initially taken during daylight, but with just half the accurate exposure time. Rocholl then leaves his camera exactly where it is on the tripod until dusk. He then completes the exposure with multiple additional frames, which capture the blurred lights of vehicles as they pass by on the motorway. This technique results in an unreal amalgamation, created from multiple moments in time inscribing light onto one analogue photograph. The work can be understood as an index for two reasons: firstly, for the motif – the pathways, roads and wires are indexical signs of human civilisation. And secondly, for the artistic technique used: photography,
"Because the physical effect of light during exposure creates an existential one-to-one correspondence between the parts of the photograph and the parts of the object..." 14
Roland Barthes calls this ‘necessary real thing, that has been placed in front of the lens’ a ‘photographic referent.’ In contrast to painting, it is impossible to deny ‘that the thing has been there’ in photography. This very combination of reality and history is what Barthes sees as the essence of photography.15 In principle, those paradigms persist in Rocholl’s 'Autoland' series, since he chooses not to use any kind of digital manipulation. He, instead, montages the realities of different moments in time with multiple exposures. This intervention, the multiplication of the photographic referent within a single frame, can be observed by the viewer in the unusual lighting situations where the position of the sun does not fit with the somewhat gloomy light.
The 5 to 6 seconds of exposure at night – the time span of a car travelling through the frame from edge to edge – creates a surreal detail that closes the gap between photography and painting. The human eye is capable of seeing cars at night with their lights; the photographic plate, however, together with the time factor, draws a thick luminous line on the photographic film. This is where romantic landscape photography meets mechanical hard-edge painting.
In a very concrete way, IEPE drew into the city space during the summer of 2010. The Dutch artist let his idea be fulfilled by an ‘anonymous crew’ who – on bikes and equipped with tubs of paint – passed through the intersection of Rosenthaler Platz in Berlin. One by one, the paint tubs were tipped up – yellow, blue, pink and purple colour spilled onto the road at all four traffic lights in the multilaned street. The numerous passing vehicles were used by the artist to transform this busy junction into an abstract pastel drawing.
IEPE has often made art in public space and has confronted passersby unexpectedly with his Social Sculpture. He compares 'Painting Reality' with passing ‘a paint brush through society.’16 Formally, this work highlights modern human mobility, our navigation through space and time, and finally the motion-based genesis of lines.
We cannot think a line, without drawing it in our thoughts.17
1 Matthias Haldemann, ‘Die zweigesichtige Linie. Von Butades bis Fischli/Weiss,’ in: Kunsthaus Zug (ed.), Linea: Vom Umriss zur Aktion, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2010, p. 15, author’s translation.
2 Marcel Duchamp, cited in Stephan E. Hauser, ‘Die fallen gelassene und nach innen gewendete, endlose Linie,’ in Linea: Vom Umriss zur Aktion, op. cit., p. 204, author’s translation.
3 Simon Faithfull, about his work, see: www.simonfaithfull.org/works/0o00-navigation
4 Marcel Duchamp, op. cit.
5 Simon Faithfull, about his work, see: www.simonfaithfull.org/works/going-nowhere-2
6 The terms disegno interno and concetto were introduced by Federico Zuccaro and Giorgio Vasari, respectively.
7 Marcel Duchamp, op. cit.
8 The initial purpose of Irwin’s task was to generate a digital photographic collage depicting the overhead tram cable that loops around the Warschauer Straße terminus, a line against the sky that forms a tear shape. Irwin has since abandoned this facet of the project, preferring instead to accentuate the performative qualities of her art-making processes.
9 Melanie Irwin on her work 'The Appendages'.
10 Lisa Le Feuvre, ‘Growing Lines into Sculpture,’ in: GEGO: Line as Object, exhibition catalogue, Hatje Cantz, Ostfildern, 2014, p. 37.
11 GEGO: Line as Object, exhibition catalogue, op. cit.
12 Fred Sandback, cited in Lisa Le Feuvre, op. cit., p. 37.
13 April Gertler in conversation with the author.
14 Charles Sanders Peirce, cited in Sonja Neef: Abdruck und Spur, Kadmos, Berlin, 2008, p. 43, author’s translation.
15 All citations of Roland Barthes Die helle Kammer, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/Main, 1985, p. 86, author’s translation.
16 Sönje Storm: ‘Im offenen Raum - Der Performance-Künstler Iepe Rubingh,’ in: 3sat Kulturzeit online on 9 December 2010, www.3sat.de/kulturzeit/themen/150325/index.html
17 Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Philipp Reclam Jun. Leipzig, 1979, p. 207, author’s translation.