News for May 2015

Kari Schmidt. In: ‘Precise Operations’ isbn 978-0-473-30048-7, published 2015
Publication – Precise Opertations – @ Factor 44, 2013, Antwerp (BE)
artists: Alain Biltereyst (BE), Noel Ivanoff (NZ), Leigh Martin (NZ), Monique Jansen (NZ)
Alexandra Kennedy (NZ), Michael Morley (NZ), Clary Stolte (NL)

The Appearance of Things / Kari Schmidt

Precise Operations sees a highly deliberate intention and attention to detail and form. Yet, we see the artists also moving beyond the ‘visual’ emphasis of Greenbergian modernism to focus on the materiality of painting (as a mode of presentation) and paintings (as objects), to the point where mimesis begins to collapse on itself. The thing itself (the object that is the painting) and that which it is meant to be re-presenting, start to merge. So in Leigh Martin’s appropriately named Dissolve series we encounter slabs of pure colour and a semiotic indeterminacy as the work becomes what it is meant to be re-presenting – the painting medium is turning into paint.
Noel Ivanoff presents the painting as an object, a crate used for the transportation of goods – base as opposed to surface, exhibiting the ‘support structures’ of painting as well as the striated digit painting itself, with the two halves of Crate Painting (2013) interlocking to form their own container. Standing against the exposed brick wall of the gallery this object references the history of painting display in its taking up of the relationship between the painting and the gallery wall (something Clary Stolte also speaks to in her makeshift studio set-up). Yet, able to stand independently, the work reinforces its own ‘object-ness’. Parallel lines are also painted onto the work with the artist’s finger, again drawing us back to the painting as three-dimensional object – there is no symbol ‘re-presented’ here, but rather a formal pattern of paint applied in a methodical manner. In Alexandra Kennedy’s work the painting surface is compromised, with holes either drilled into the wooden surface in one instance, or already provided via readymade material, pegboard from a hardware shop. Lurid colours splurge out of multiple, carefully measured orifices, the paint still wet and seemingly on the point of dripping off the support. Conversely, Clary Stolte utilises the ‘void’ quality of white, using multiples to present canvas/the painting plane as painting. Her part in the exhibition was comprised of numerous components – multiples, hair gel, fliers and a laptop depicting her studio, all presented as a makeshift studio set-up.

1 A form of abstract art void of any symbolism i.e. any reference to ‘reality’ – rather, works are constructed through the use of lines and colour, considered ‘concrete’ enough in themselves. Concrete art emerged in the 1930s at the behest of such artists as Max Bill and Theo Van Doesburg.

In Michael Morley and Alain Biltereyst’s works we see a practice in precise measurement, referencing geometric abstraction and in the case of the latter, graphic design. Both artists utilise a simple and understated style. Monique Jansen, on the other hand, uses screen-printing, negating the materiality of the painting medium – from far away we see painted lines, yet close up the colour blends with the fabric to an indistinguishable degree. Oil stick on canvas is also utilised, the artist again playing with the concept of ‘painting’ as she simultaneously engages with ‘soft’ geometric patterns in her grid-like pieces. In this way works are taken to the very limit of their physical and conceptual being. In doing so they experiment with the nature of non-objective art and in some cases, the zero-gesture. For example, that an artist’s work can be exhibited as a makeshift studio, that concrete painting can incorporate graffiti or graphic design elements, that it can blur the boundaries between the painting and the ready-made, the painting as ‘work of art’ and transportable good, and that it can even question the concept of painting as solid surface or needing any actual paint whatsoever. Such an engagement in semiotics is so subtle as to be abtuse, but to engage in this, to attempt to ascertain the quiddity of these works, is to be at the very edge of meaning, experience and modes of visibility in painting. At the other extreme, we can see such works as so many have before us in trying to comprehend non-objective work – as spiritual, feeling, life, death, love, exaltation. We search for meaning, we impose it. So too, the artists engage with multiple constructs – political and social, as well as aesthetic. Alain Biltereyst’s pieces play with the low and high of art – the gallery and the street, painting and graffiti, graphic design as it exists all around us, logos and design work on industrial trucks, gates and other public spaces. Hence we experience encounters with the everyday in these works.
Clary Stolte, in using such every-day, throw-away materials as hair gel, cello-tape, plastic and store-bought canvases, also connects her work to this time and place and manifests a bridging between art and life. She considers the use of plastics, for instance, an implicit commentary on the origins of materials in the present day – that we don’t know where they come from, and are also unable to find out (as she has tried to do through the companies where some of the plastic she uses are produced). So too, the hair gel will evaporates and in this way she plays with the concepts of beauty and decay, and ultimately with death. Ivanoff’s emphasis on the crate, pallet and packing box also references the “world of labour, manufacture and commerce” as well as the “the enclosure in which much painting is placed: the home, the room – the four walls that we dress”.

Outside It(self)
This register identifies the importance of place in a work and the ‘coming together of related practices from a range of ‘places’. Such ‘places’ include the artist’s studio, as well as the world at large. We see, in the makeshift studio of Clary Stolte established in its own distinct space an ‘impression’ of the artist’s space in Amsterdam. So much of the process and meaning of a work is lost in the transition from the intimate, individualised activity of the studio to the often near-antiseptic gallery, where it is often difficult to get a sense of the artist’s way of thinking. Stolte attempts to address this, inspired by Daniel Buran’s text The Function of the Studio (1971) where he writes, “Torn from their context, one could say from their environment, they lost their sense, their life. It was as if they became ‘frauds’. I understood that what got lost… was the work’s reality, its ‘sincerity’, that is, its connection to its place of creation, the studio – a place where finished works intermingle with works in the process of being made, works that will never be finished, sketches etc. All these trace, visible at the same time, allow the comprehension of the work underway, which the museum definitely extinguishes in its desire to ‘install’.” * This disparity is clear after frequenting the artist’s studio – to encounter the wealth and variety of the work and the manner in which pieces inform each other was such a distinct experience from experiencing such works on a gallery wall. Intended to ‘refer’ or ‘provide an impression’ of the studio space, the way her work is exhibited in Factor 44 supplements the intrinsic failing of the art gallery as the table, multiple white works of varying size and material, gel on the floor (referencing her previous ‘gel’,work), accompanying booklet of a variety
of her works and the fliers/video of her studio give us a sense of process, context, space and the artist’s point of view. We’re better able to understand the huge variety of materials and approaches she takes in answering the question of what a painting can be and how it can feel, the fun and play involved in that undertaking and finally the fact that this process is never finished, but ongoing and constantly evolving.
Biltereyest and Morley are also good examples of the “problem and the significance of the work’s place.” The former’s precise geometric abstraction is inspired by and utilises the graphic design of truck logos, as well as the patterns and shapes found in/on the gates and walls of public spaces. So too, Morley’s paintings reference 8-bit graphics of early video games, a commentary on our contemporary reliance on media and digital technology as well as painting’s resultant lack of authority – we’re more interested in celebrity, conformity and pop culture now. In this way both of their paintings are in a dialogical relationship with ‘the world’ at large, and such an understanding of place in these pieces is crucial, so that we do not lose “the main point of the work… somewhere between the place of production and place of consumption.”

Doing While Doing
Participating artist Clary Stolte (NL) states: “As a painter I am constantly confronted with questions: Who am I in my work? What kind of work ‘is still possible’ (regarding art history)? What is painting about? And, what is a painting? By repeatedly watching myself doing while doing I began to understand that these questions and processes belonged to the content of my work. It was all about the forming of the painting.” In this way the practices of these artists can be conceptualised as meta-process, the very process of painting being one means through which artistic practice can be analysed. The action of painting is integral in this respect. We can see this in Stolte’s work firstly in the inaction present in her utilisation of multiples – there is no act of putting paint on canvas here, not even remotely. Again we are at the outer limits of what a painting can be, the artist pushing the boundaries of concrete art. But we also see this in her visiting the gallery in Antwerp and setting up her makeshift studio, the care and time put into this process definitive of both the artist and the resultant work – the works are involving, inclusive, the sum of their parts contributing to the impact and meaning of the set-up, as much as the individual pieces in themselves.
Alexandra Kennedy also utilises aspects of the ready-made in her pegboard work. So too, the works are ultimately made to be destroyed and the paintings are formed with this knowledge in mind. Thus, the process of constructing and destroying the work speaks to these fundamental questions – what kind of work ‘is still possible’ (regarding art history)? What is painting about? What is a painting? It is a work that can be made using ready-made material, that doesn’t ‘represent’ anything at all but simply utilises pure colour on board in such a way that we can see the paint and the ‘canvas’ as the materials they are. ‘Painting’ can also be destroyed, it can be transient, it can be a moment in time – thus the work contradicts the historical tenet of the ‘precious art object’. Again, Ivanoff places paint on the surface of his works with his finger via the process of touch. This process draws our attention to the object-ness of the painting, calling us to consider the painting as tactile object, and experienced through multiple sensations. In this way the work calls us to re-consider how a painting can be made and experienced.
Leigh Martin’s process is also notable – built up with many layers, over many hours, the painting necessitates that the body of the artist become machine-like in the production of the work. It is not merely the hand/eye that are involved in this process and the resultant works, but the entire body. And this process has a concomitant impact on these works – that a painting can be implicitly performative, that it relates not just to the hand/eye but to the body of the artist.

Precise Operations
In the exhibition we see a ‘careful and deliberate attention to the forming and making of the art object’ i.e. its precise operations. It is the intensity and consistency of colour in a Leigh Martin, the exact measurement of shapes in Morley and Biltereyst, the perfectly parallel lines of Ivanoff’s digit paintings, the carefully constructed effect of Monique Jansen’s tapestry like patterns, Clary Stolte’s deliberately placed, crisply white and straight-edged square multiples and the even, perfect apertures of Kennedy’s works. And yet, it is this very attention which facilitates its disappearance as we experience a final work, a final object, rather than the fact of its maker and the processes and actions necessary in its construction. On the one hand this ‘disappearance’ of the artist enables “the advent of the painting in its own terms.” However, it also requires the viewer to consider the work very carefully so as to see and experience the multiple facets of which it is comprised, which can be conceptualised on various registers. So there is an indeterminacy here – a multiplicity of viewpoints, as well as a not knowing, an exploring, a testing, an experimentation. We see that, for instance, in Kennedy’s practice of drilling holes into a canvas, thus corrupting the integrity of the picture plane, in Jansen’s use of screen-print and oil stick in representing soft-geometric patterns, in Biltereyst’s multi-disciplinary approach, with graffiti, graphic design and photography informing his painted works, in Noel Ivanoff approaching painting tactilely and conflating painting as artistic practice with painting as object through the use of the crate form, and finally in Clary Stolte’s bubble gum work (a work consisting entirely of chewed pink bubble gum stuck to the gallery wall), studio set-up and use of white multiples . As the Stolte states, “My work… is to experiment with searching for the right way to show my work.” But again, this indeterminacy also applies to the fullness of these works – how much they really contain. In order to really ‘see’ these pieces we really have to look again and our looking cannot be cursory, but necessitates its own deliberateness and careful scrutiny in order to unveil this palimpsest.

Kari Schmidt is a BA/LLB (Hons) student at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, majoring in Art History. She has worked and volunteered at numerous art institutions including the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the Blue Oyster Project Space and Glue Gallery and written for Dunedin based publications including Critic Magazine, Gyro Magazine, Marrow Magazine and the Blue Oyster Yearly Review. Her most recent project was a zine entitled Femme & Oddities based in Amsterdam, NL, launched alongside a gig and art exhibition in the historic squatting institution of De Slang and featured on the new website of collective OT301. She is currently studying in Heidelberg.


image: clary stolte, chewing gum on wall, installation view @ precise operations