Artists: Gregor Eldarb, Martina Steckholzer
Play becomes a mode of discovery that is itself changed by what it has put into motion. Wolfgang Iser
The exhibition how to be a player brings together two approaches to painting that share a specific aesthetic of the fragmentary. Gregor Eldarb and Martina Steckholzer both seek to question our notions of perception through playful forms of aesthetic and semiotic discontinuation and dissociation. While Eldarb investigates models and modalities of imaginary spatiality, Steckholzer reflects more on the context of art; to put it more precisely, her work is semiotic in an inter-pictorial sense. Both artists ponder – although in very different ways – aesthetic standards, they question and deconstruct canonised approaches to interpreting the abstract formal idiom of early Modernism (Eldarb), as well as that of contemporary art history (Steckholzer). Their aim is to demonstrate the contingency of visual transmission processes: Eldarb concentrates on those that act on spatiality to form images and vice versa, Steckholzer on those that transform individual fragments taken from someone else’s frame of reference into part of her own aesthetic system.
Interpreted mnemonically, their works form memory interfaces that reflect the way in which we are moving away from a ‘traditional European culture, which privileges archival processes, towards a media culture of permanent transmission.’(1).Each in their own way, Steckholzer and Eldarb break free of reference in favour of a kineticism of the image, or to be more precise: in favour of the specific processes and possibilities inherent in the painted image. Divergence and synthesis, appropriation and the selection of focal points form a system of opposites that is constitutive for both works. Subjectivity is unthinkable without a cultural archive, and likewise culture is unthinkable without deviation or difference. Both artists modulate the observer’s viewpoint – Steckholzer semiologically, Eldarb within the spatiality of his images – and in doing so, evoke points of indeterminacy, which relativise their respective systems of reference (spatial model, artistic field), sounding out new spaces for aesthetic play.
Gregor Eldarb’s painting is made up of layers of drawing that come together in myriad overlappings to form a complex poly-perspectival spatial image. Perspectival distortions interfuse linear depictions of objects, which in their turn overwrite a series of perspectives correlating to deeper levels of the picture. The various drawn and painted layers form interferences in the form of mimetic disturbances and indeterminacies, exposing the observer to pictorial uncertainty. It seems that a sovereign, clearly defined observer’s viewpoint, or even a straightforward conception of space has been rendered impossible here. Not just one possible point of view, not just an image picture of the/a space, but different ways of perceiving space, and different ways of interpreting spatiality are activated here, played off against and dovetailed into each other. Here, the gaze is neither analogous to the camera obscura or photographic camera, which supposedly reproduces reality, nor to triaxial modes of representation with a centralised perspective, which are always based on radical abstraction, in particular as regards the dimension of time. Instead, the gaze here is essentially determined by time: Eldarb investigates less the interaction between space and image than the effect of time on our imagination and representations of space, he is less concerned with colour and form than with their temporalisation. The fragments of drawing that act as the artist’s point of departure do not arrest the gaze. Instead, they trigger off a processual analysis of space in drawing and painting. Painting here is a process of aesthetic reflection on forms and models of spatiality that are often based on hegemonic methods of representation. The a-mimetic variability of form shows itself here to be resistant to referential appropriation. Eldarb develops an aesthetic of the unfinished, which perpetuates itself beyond intentionality on the one hand and beyond a clear reference to outward reality on the other. It makes the observer conscious of the way in which he or she perceives the work, of the act of seeing, not as recognition, but as a creative activity in its own right.
Eldarb’s artistic practice and the way he investigates space dovetails with the objectified, spatial aspects of his pictures. He favours neither the objects nor their images, but is interested in the moments of transition and transmission. In Nicht unbedingt ein Tisch (not necessarily a table) Eldarb uses a block-shaped glass case, not dissimilar to the outline of the image of a table, a clearly limited area offering him a framework for his investigation of spatiality. Within this he configures ensembles of glass panels and objects (for example, tubes) as well as coloured glass surfaces in a way that seems positively constructivist. He experiments as though he were undertaking an investigation of colour theory, but instead of seeking to verify or falsify a particular claim, he is looking for aesthetic probabilities, indeterminacies and possible visual interactions. It is not so much the order or composition of the disparate individual components that is decisive here, but rather the interplay of aesthetic interferences. Eldarb creates a framework for the visual performance of translucid forms: through the multiplication and condensation of surface phenomena, through transparency and the reflections of the glass objects, he configures a variable image that is constantly changing and constantly reconfiguring itself anew in the eyes of the beholder.
If we read Eldarb’s abstract-spatial ensembles as potential architectural models, this leads to a further process of transmission, a reversal of size dimensions. Perhaps as an ironic commentary on the rationalistic promises of constructivism? Against every order and every compositional logic, the initial geometrical clarity of the sequence is dissolved by the contingent complexity of aesthetic events. Spatiality is not constituted on the basis of any particular order, but through aesthetic processes, in the way the viewer behaves towards space.
In an initial semiotic reading Martina Steckholzer’s painting could be described as a system of aesthetic and symbolic interferences. At first sight, the observer discerns forms and the formal logic of contemporary artistic production and presentation in her pictures. On the one hand, they seem familiar, on the other, they are rendered alien to us by the systematic inclusion of points of indeterminacy. Taken out of context, the visual fragments and references that they contain seem at least partly incongruent, unsettling the observer. The artist makes the determinate indeterminate, turning the observer’s gaze back on itself. Her work poses a continual challenge, forcing us to orient and re-orient ourselves in an interlocking structure of recognisable references and vaguely remembered visuality.
Beyond the referential level, Steckholzer’s painting contains within it cybernetic memory potential: while Eldarb investigates the temporalisation of perception with reference to the representation of space, Steckholzer’s work reflects on time by activating a many-layered visual memory similar to an aesthetic unconscious.
Seen mnemonically, Steckholzer uses her own photographs and/or video stills as media that precede painting, as forms of medially supported memory, to make the visual available for her own artistic practices. In this way, a photograph of the Biennale in Venice becomes material for Up until the 1980s. The superimposition of an exhibition case with abstract exhibits in the foreground of the photo and a wall hanging of artistic photographs in the background of the picture are then developed further by the artist: in the abstract, and in the medium of paint. Not unlike Eldarb, Steckholzer brings together various different spatial layers to form a self-contained pictorial composition. The original referent of the photograph is no longer of interest. Instead, she focuses on painted transmission and translation in a constellation of form and colour. In the final instance, this is no more than vaguely, diffusely reminiscent of the familiar codes and formal canons of the art industry, but no longer renders these de-codable. She preserves the energies of the picture’s various different layers, which, although they have been brought together in the painting, remain at least partly at odds with one another. Steckholzer does not seek to level out the aesthetics of the image and smooth over its heterogeneous elements, concentrating instead on its incongruous nature, which, despite its formally precise painterly focus, evokes a lasting sense of unease in the observer. In this way, the artist stages a constantly shifting semiotic centre, creating a polysemic pictorial system, in which other possible alignments and developments remain conceivable at all times.
Steckholzer is able to combine two temporal movements in the medium of painting. She brings together a topical, aesthetic-sensual process with a recursive, semioticising movement, an achievement of the memory. This double movement, this field of tension is fundamental, both to the creation of the work itself as well as to its perception by the viewer. Memory here is an interpretative act, it is not the recourse to archived, canonised material, but instead becomes part of a process that produces meaning in the present. Consequently, recurrence and the setting of focal points, remembering and deviating from memory form an inseparable dialectical context to Steckholzer’s work. It always returns to outside perspectives, shows itself as ‘own’ despite its use of ‘other’. Subjectivity articulates itself here only temporarily, only ever in an interpretative, combinatory form, whereby interpretation in this case per se has to do with deviation, with the generation of ambivalence, with as yet unseen meanings. The first person observer forms a porous interface, a frame that is able to bring together the most disparate syntaxes – it is precisely these modifications of one’s own standpoint, one’s own perspective that Steckholzer focuses on in her painting.
The aesthetic game that Eldarb and Steckholzer play develops out of individual forms of appropriating visual material as well as out of the systemic deviations, irritations and disruptions their aesthetic practices generate. Needless to say, they have long given up trying to evoke a state of supposed wholeness before the moment of recombination,(2) but neither are they interested in sampling and fragmentation per se – after all, dissolution and fragmentation have long been understood as affirmative concepts. Both artists aim instead much more at variability, Eldarb at free variationa of seeing, Steckholzer at polysemic alignments and differentiated ways of interpreting art. In the final instance, both are concerned with ‘maintaining the unfinished form, rejecting attributions and sedimentations, constantly generating new connections, provoking mutations, negating teleologies.’(3).
Text: David Komary
Translation: Deborah Holmes
(1) Wolfgang Ernst, Das Archiv transitiv schreiben, in: ders., Das Rumoren der Archive, Berlin: Merve 2002, S. 14.
(2) Vgl. Reinhard Braun, Re-Cycling, Re-Formating, Re-Morphing, Re-Sampling ..., in: Büro für Intermedialen Kommunikationstransfer (Hg.), copy & paste. drag & drop, Innsbruck 2004, http://braun.mur.at/texte/ sampling_3800.shtml