Johnen + Schöttle

Olaf Holzapfel

03 Nov 2007 - 12 Jan 2008

© Olaf Holzapfel
Installation view
"Pragmatism of Space"

Michel Foucault declared the contemporary era as the epoch of the simultaneous, of juxtaposition, of close and distant, of apartness, briefly as the “epoch of space”.i Space nowadays is, according to Foucault, a space of placement, of the distribution of space, of positions and it is “defined by the neighbouring relationships of spots and elements; formally they can be described as series, trees, grids”.ii In the field of technical development the space of placement is paradigmatic for storage and for virtual circulation of information in the computer’s memory. But also for human beings the question of being placed is central and especially, says Foucault, with regards to the aspect of convenience: what neighbourhoods, which shifting, circulation, marking and classification is, in a specific situation and for a certain purpose, most convenient for the human being?

Against the background of this in a classical sense pragmatic notion of space Foucault is then raising the question about those placements, “that do contain the weird feature of relating to all other placements, but in such a way that they suspend, neutralize or invert the designated or reflected relationships”.iii They do articulate in two forms, the utopia as an essentially unreal space, and the Hetero-topia, as a real and different space. These heterotopias – sanatoriums and ships, colonies and brothels, museums or libraries – are still considered as spaces of placement, since they do coordinate, attribute, define the simultaneous relationships between locations, times, human beings and activities. But they conduct these attributions in a different way, negating the classical oppositions of space – private or public, family or society, work space or leisure space. They are different spaces allowing a different form of pragmatism, that undermines the convenience of traditional arrangements and placements.

Olaf Holzapfel’s sculptures, archive images and paintings are characterized by a spatiality that does connect with Foucault’s thoughts. In Holzapfel’s works spatiality is treated as a juxtaposition of relationships between spots, forms and elements that lead to networks, grids and fusions on different levels. But this spatiality contains at the same time a haziness, that is present in the works in an almost unremarkable way.

By weaving different spots, elements and levels into each other, Holzapfel creates a new language that determines the large-scaled archive images: the dark digital images, blotched with coloured lines and dots become heterotopias, they are visual realizations of virtual spaces where element are stored, shifted and arranged. These virtual movements are leaving traces within the image, they are archived as coloured dots and lines that form, virtually as well as actually, patterns and webs. They form reality without defining it and thus do recall William James’ expression: “For pragmatism, reality is still in the making”.iv The archive images do function as an archetype for the unhaziness and the uncertainty of these continuous, reality forming processes, they are abstract, spatial correspondences of the imaginary spaces and data bases of the internet. Their ‘ribs’ that cut sharply and obliquely out of the image’s surface are communicating the dimensionality of space that is not to define to its end and are irritating the viewer’s perception.

These patterns and webs are also present in the series of photographs taken in Tokyo’s subway that reproduce everyday floor markings which are supposed to direct through the metropolitan underground. Again, the main issue here is not the formal aspect of the line itself that cuts through the black and grey colour field of the concrete pavement. It is the ‘experiencing’ of a coordination or navigation system that creates a new language being inserted into the city in order to make it legible and that subdivides it in a new and different way. Being inspected in detail however it reveals its own illegibility since it is essentially based on the error, the obsolete, the misguidance of communication and signals. Thus the city becomes a space that on the one hand directs activities and manifests itself by doing so and that on the other hand creates a meaningless void that irritates, that stops those who are walking through it and that questions their common perception of reality (of the city).

The sculptures of Olaf Holzapfel are also situated in this opposition of emptiness and presence, of direction and irritation. The transparent, sometimes slightly coloured rectangularly shaped Acrylite-forms do play with this back and forth: they are empty geometrical shapes on the one hand, on the other they are filled with proliferated plastic forms and wavy ejections that animate the sculpture’s interior like organs. A grid is stretched, or better laid over these elements that, similar to the series of photographs, but also similar to the archive images, refers to a hidden, cryptic rationality, a structure of the confused: a virtual blood circulation that both connects the elements and keeps them in their aleatoric form and aesthetic indetermination.

Also the rectangular shape itself as an abstract, geometric form is deformed, its corners are rounded, it becomes an organically appealing object, that contains traces of individuality. The limits between abstract and organic are obliterated and open up a new space, a hybrid of life and pure form. It is also these inner deformations that are crucial to the at first glance disconcerting spatiality of Holzapfel’s paintings. In the large-scale oil paintings different, sometimes many different colour surfaces, are colliding. Due to an irritating play with perspectives these colour fields work as separated spaces as well as within the totality of the image. The perspectivation does not refer to a classical perspective but operates with aberration on purpose that creates the unhaziness within the different spaces, the different colour. A haziness in which contemporary artistic creation is at all possible.

The pragmatism in the works by Olaf Holzapfel is based on this aspect of aberrance and unhaziness which is constantly present in it being thought, being made, being experienced. It is about thinking the moment of individuality and substance which is necessarily ‘imperfect’ since it is exposed to temporality within the process of formal abstraction in order to go beyond the opposing structures of traditionally organized spaces and towards those “different spaces” which, according to Foucault, are both actually connected with their surrounding milieu and perceivable only as virtual spaces. In the passages between virtuality and reality, that also are passages between pure form and corporeality, between painting, object and the digital universe of images, between the richness of human relationships in urban space and their disorientation, Holzapfel generates a pragmatic relation with the world, which is essentially purposeless, undefined and thus free.

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