Artists: Florian & Michael Quistrebert , Amy Yoes
At first glance, the works of Florian & Michael Quistrebert and Amy Yoes read as referents to the formal language and aesthetic strategies of modernism. The artists employ the simple geometric forms of constructivism (line, circle, rectangle, square, diamond) as well as avant-garde techniques such as montage, collage, fragmentation, and sequencing. However, in contrast to the initial impression of clarity and order, the works each take on an erratic dynamic as they unfold in visual space and replicate themselves in increasingly complex processes. Seeming to have an inherent “intent”, the image-objects and three-dimensional works develop an aesthetic life of their own. The geometric elements alternate between movement and standstill, presence and absence, a manifestation in space (sculpture) and an appearance of immateriality (kinetic light-image). Crucial in both works is the issue of the relationship between the viewer and the viewed – in Amy Yoes' work in relation to spatial perception and phenomenology and in that of Florian & Michael Quistrebert in semiotic, referential context. Whereas in Yoes' work the viewer serves as an integral element of a fourth-dimensional, decomposed visual and spatial realm, the work of Florian & Michael Quistrebert holds its audience captive in a veritably hallucinatory manner.
Amy Yoes and Florian & Michael Quistrebert confront the viewer with visual and spatial activity that has an ambivalent relationship to modernism. The works present confounding images that oscillate between the present and the past as well as between current perceptions and memory, without creating a sharp division between the two – or, from the standpoint of the cybernetics of memory, without attempting to ontically substantivize either. Yoes and Florian & Michael Quistrebert's works emphasize a situative and relational form of perception, in which the viewer becomes aware of his or her own perceptual and mnemonic processes. Current perceptions serve as a mnemonic lever, which activates the culturally sedimented, generally semiotically unclear and multiplied coded images of the formal vocabulary of modernism both aesthetically and discursively.
In the installation Untitled, Amy Yoes confronts viewer with a dynamic three-dimensional pictorial space that one can walk through – a sculptural configuration made of objects (cubes) and light projections, which constantly and almost imperceptibly change in appearance. The four-dimensional sculpture distills painting, sculpture, and moving image into an intermedial dispositive, immersing the viewer. The Deconstructivist sculpture is a synthesis of various aesthetics, indeed ontological realms. In its physical presence – stacked and wedged cubes in space – Untitled forms a structural configuration that is contrasted by the dynamic lighting created by hidden fluorescent lights. The projectors installed inside the cubes simultaneously make the sculpture into an image projector, whereby the medium of light seems to transcend the contrasting physicality of the sculptural arrangement. Light as form and form as physical presence contradict and refer to one another.
Yoes juxtaposes the “inanimate” element of geometrical sculptural components with the “liveliness” of animated, autotelic light forms, which seem to unfold their full aesthetic-performative potential. The movement of light, kinetic lines, rectangles, and repetitive structures formed out of small circles that reproduce themselves much like a Morse code simultaneously give the impression of not being intended for display but instead developed as part of a process intrinsic to the subroutines of the aesthetic machine itself.
For Yoes, approximating the formal language of Constructivism is not to be viewed as an affirmation of modernism. Instead, she evokes various readings of images rooted in collective memory, which are often recalled in a diffuse, both morphologically and referentially blurred, and fragmentary manner. Like the sculpture, the gaze itself functions as a kind of image projector; what is perceived is placed in relation to images that are recalled and thus summoned as mental projections. The formal vocabulary of modernism is not the exclusive iconic point of reference in Yoes' work; more importantly the artist explores the construction of visual-cultural memory as a whole, its unconscious and semiconscious dimensions. In Untitled, Yoes investigates the rudimentary visual elements of modernism by removing layers of sediment in order to lay bare various medially coded layers. In her installations and animations the artist suggests neither any “solutions” for a semiotic reading of the work, nor any orders or categories. Instead her work tends to be concerned with preventing such a reading of images from coming to any conclusion. Untitled calls for active interpretation, establishing a current mode of reference to the past as well as testing images from the past in relation to one's own socially-historically determined point of view.
At first look, Florian & Michael Quistrebert's films are choreographed as kinetic performances of basic geometric shapes. A circle, a square, or a lozenge form the basic individual components and starting points of each respective work. The artists exclusively draw on readily available, low-tech materials, which they process in what are today anachronistic, analogue methods. In the video installation amnesic cisenma, for example, the simple shot of a white (studio) wall serves as the initial starting point – because it is readily available within the working process – and as the ground upon which the geometric forms are “produced”. The dimensions and proportions of each basic shape are based on the length and width of the monitor. Initially the videos seem to be guided by an inner logic of reciprocity within the image, by the principles of inversion and mirroring pictorial relationships. Each form encounters its inverse counterpart. Black meets white; light alternates with dark. In addition, the artists work with the scaling and replication of the initial form. The variations and executions of the motif are consistently drawn toward the center of the screen. The pictorial space’s resulting crystalline, reflective quality gradually overwhelms the viewer’s perception. The ephemeral sequencing of forms and structures develops into an almost stroboscopic pulsation. The interplay of transparency and opacity and the way elements gravitate toward the center of the image help transcend the visual medium of the screen. The cross-referential interplay of the three monitors, which are separately positioned, bring about another type of perceptive overload; instead of focusing on the individual monitors, the viewer's gaze is lost in the contingent interaction of the asynchronous moving images. The focus thus shifts from the structural performance of forms to a cross-referencing of visual sequences. In contrast to the initial clarity of the work’s geometric appearance, the viewer is drawn into a diffuse and veritably hallucinatory visual space in which all perceptual authority and certainty is voided.
Both in terms of their geometric, constructivist/futuristic formal language as well as their use of analogue image processing through montage, collage, variation and iteration, Florian & Michael Quistrebert draw on the visual techniques and aesthetics of the avant-garde. Their works are to be understood less as reflexive of perceptual processes and are instead to be read as the unsettling semiotic-referential interrogation of the formal language of the avant-garde and its politicization. In an utterly ambivalent manner, both captivating and alienating, affirmative and critically reflective, Florian & Michael Quistrebert's videos point to a dimension of the unfathomable. Their works steer their gaze toward the repressed and unconscious aspects of modernism, the realm of the phantasmic and irrational, or even the occult. The films seem to hypnotize viewers, as if seeking to draw them in and put them in a state of visual pleasure or intoxication. However, a fascination for the mechanical in amnesic cisenma leads nowhere; this is a reference to the vacuum that constructivist formal language has left behind in the form of unredeemed promises – for example, the notion of the relationship between art and life or a better, more egalitarian society, etc.
The artists in undisciplined oscillator draw on the abstract forms of modernism, which do not suffice in and of themselves on an non-mimetic and non-referential level but form a mnemonic trouble spot. Amy Yoes and Florian & Michael Quistrebert highlight the vague and undetermined elements of such retrospective reading, without insisting on conceptual clarity. Viewers are forced to rely on their own perceptual capacities, on the act of decoding, and ultimately on culturally ingrained forms of reading the past. Memory thus does not factor merely as a process of recall, but as a complex interplay of retention and protention. The works form semi-transparent foils between the present and the past, and in this dual referential function – of pointing simultaneously to the here and now and to what lies in the past – the works establish a communication between these two poles. They mnemonically hold a mirror up to the viewer by employing the complex multiple coding of modern formal language. Yoes' installation Untitled and Florian & Michael Quistrebert's amnesic cisenma function as paradoxical “time frames”, as images that one can look/read through, without focusing the present on the past.
David Komary, Translation: Laura Schleussner
AMY YOES AND THE BROTHERS FLORIAN & MICHAEL QUISTREBERT
in conversation with KIMBERLY BRADLEY
Installed in the Galerie Stadtpark's dimmed exhibition space, the installations by artists Amy Yoes and the brothers Florian and Michael Quistrebert evoke a flood of visual references in any contemporary viewer – the geometric forms and shapes visible in the works could be seen to hearken back to past movements like Bauhaus, pre-modernist utopias (and dystopias), Constructivism (and in turn Deconstructivism), and even psychedelia.
The Paris-based Quistreberts' work consists of three videos, two of which are displayed on large old-fashioned television monitors set on the floor, angled slightly to face each other and showing looped films that transform flat geometric shapes at varied tempos. The third, the image of a pulsating orb of light, like an eye, is mounted higher on the wall, as if observing both the audience and communicating with the first two from a superior position.
Yoes, a New York-based artist, presents us with both a spatial object and ephemeral moving images. Simple white dots move in horizontal pulsating rows and rectangular bars rotate as they are projected onto the gallery walls from three low, hidden points on a sculpture whose basic shape is comprised of horizontal and vertical elements arranged in such a way as to create a subtle spatial conundrum. The sculpture is painted a white exactly the same color as the exhibition space's walls, and functions like a transmission device.
What the pieces have in common is not only that they work with light as a material or medium, but also that their shapes and visual language embodied in this light (and in Yoes' case, a solid object) are at once familiar and foreign – as Freud would have said, “uncanny.” They speak to our collective memories, yet liberate themselves from any definitive frames of reference.
Just how does each of these positions liberate itself from the realm of reference? And, knowing that both of these pieces are commissions and thus site-specific, in what ways do their work with this site-specificity? Amy, let's ask you first.
Amy Yoes: The language I am using is unhinged from its source. The experimental core of geometric abstraction is part of the vocabulary of the piece, but the aesthetic reverberations and reformings add up to something new.
To answer the second part of the question, the sculpture picks up on this space's architecture – the pillars, the clean walls, these windows to the street, which add the element of transparency. These things were very much on my mind as I conceptualized the work over the past few months. The sculpture is also in many ways a machine that's like a transmission tower or transcoder, which transmits code that the viewer can read. In the best-case scenario, this machine can direct the passersby, and has a doubling effect.
Florian and Michael, can you describe what's going on in your three video works, which seem to conduct a subtle dialogue with each other?
Michael Quistrebert: Every two minutes, the one on the right, which is otherwise static, has ten seconds of rapid movement where the trapezoidal shapes compress and then return to the captured image of our studio wall, which is where the texture comes from. The other film (ed note: in which a geometric form slowly shifts in color, becoming additively very dark and then reversing to a very pale color spectrum) also uses the image of the wall, but there it's almost unrecognizable. The third video is almost like an eye. That was originally the image of a round white lamp also found in our studio.
Florian Quistrebert: Using the two cube-shaped monitors was an exercise, a new way to approach video – most of our prior video works were projections – to make it specific to this type of space. We took the proportions of the screens, and the videos evolved as kind of a process. The original idea is that we wanted to play with very basic elements. Shadows were actually the prime material of our prior videos, but this time we began filming different things around our studio, experimenting with images that could result in optical illusions. The image you see on the video to the right, when the wall is “freaking out”, means that we found a way to transform the wall into that image.
All of you have worked extensively with other materials – with the Quistreberts working with paintings and multimedia work in which, for example, a string might be formed into a sculpture and then photographed. Amy, you often build complex geometric landscapes and use them in photographs or films. Here we have a large sculpture, painted, with light projections. What exactly is your approach to materiality?
Amy Yoes: Investigating materials and ways of making is an ongoing process in my work. The content that can be conveyed by the qualities of the form is always unfolding in surprising ways. In this case, the fact that the materials that make up the sculptural elements – the wood and white wall paint – are the same as those that form the room itself emphasizes the structure's ephemeral feeling. It's as if it might disappear into the walls from which it originated, leaving only the thin black lines that underline the form and direct possible readings of it.
There's also an aspect both I and the Quistreberts share; that the works you see here have elements that are handmade. My projections, for example, are created using the most basic functions of Photoshop, and they're very much like drawings or sketches that you realize keep repeating, as if one can't seem to get them right. This piece is, in its way, very much about drawing or painting. If you look carefully, too, there's a flash of color that appears, which exposes the inner mechanics of the projector. I try to be monochromatic ... but there is color in the world.
The color reverberation feels like it not only reveals the projector's mechanics, but also reveals the inner machinery of the eye.
Amy Yoes: Yes, there's an aftereffect on the retina. It seems as though the speed of the animation and the fact that the image is white, allows you to see an aftereffect of primary colors. The effect is most pronounced when you're not looking directly at the image. This is an appealing idea – that you can observe something most acutely from a peripheral point of view. This physical reality mirrors a concept that relates to the interpretation and memory of aesthetic qualities.
Michael Quistrebert: We do work with pure materials; the pure things we have in our flat get transformed into something else. It's actually all very low-tech. We like to join low and high. Low culture, high culture; low materials, high materials. The results are like collages that play with references and result in a kind of transcendence.
Do you purposely keep things low-tech?
Florian Quistrebert: With high technology, anything is possible. But when we keep the work low-tech, we have a motivation to work with what's on hand. It's why we chose to film a wall with a digital camera. The image of the wall was then multiplied and reassembled with as little editing as possible. We don't have anything against technology, but we're making a statement by limiting the technology and ultimately getting a stronger image. At the same time, whatever we depict has to have some materiality, something we can touch, to begin with. It has to be physical, not computer generated. We used to film smoke and shadows, but even those are objects! The image source is very basic, but I wouldn't say our work is about everyday life. It's just about the non-objectness of an object.
Florian and Michael, in some of your previous work, you're dealing with elements of the occult; exploring the symbolism of Freemasonry. But the videos on display here are very stripped down geometries.
Florian Quistrebert: We wanted to get rid of these obvious symbols. We like the idea of removing all these figurative elements. When we were using symbols of the occult in previous videos or even in our paintings, we were clashing the transcendence or progressive moments of modernism with the occult, which possesses hidden, other knowledge. We were kind of playing with “rolled-up” idea of Progressivism.
In the new videos the form has evolved into something purer. The works don't speak too much, and they have less connotation than before. The image is simple and reaches your eyes and enters your mind. The more powerful the image to the viewer, the more straightforward the perception ... because it doesn't need a chain of explanation. In that way the image is straightforward. It does use the tools of subliminal messaging, but with no message. Just a background and animated composition.
It's very futuristic in its way, a little eerie, uncanny indeed. One last question: How do these works embody or reflect curator David Komary's exhibition title, Undisciplined Oscillator?
Amy Yoes: In my case, the piece has a mind of its own. The machine is working all the time, whether or not someone is watching. There's also a sense of melancholy that pervades the room as the perpetual transmission, with all its quixotic starts and stops, goes about its work. It draws its lines, only to redraw again and again.
Florian Quistrebert: There's a different rhythm involved in the three videos; one of them had to be hectic, the colored one is very slow. We also wanted to the videos to reflect some kind of breathing. But they're not synchronized, so the visuals appear randomly.
Michael Quistrebert: There's some humor in it, too. The right screen is on a two-minute loop, but if you're not looking at the piece during the ten seconds in which the texture of the wall suddenly breaks into the many lozenge-like shapes, you just miss it. If you walk past, it's as if you have to do a double take if you catch the action out of the corner of your eye. Like – oops! Missed it. Ha!