Ursula Blickle Stiftung, Kraichtal, 17.3. – 3.6.2001
An interview with Gerald Matt (direktor of the Kunsthalle Wien)
G.M. What does “vertigo” mean to you?
H.W. Well, naturally I do immediatly think of Alfred Hitchcock and his film “Vertigo”, which lately has quite frequently been the focus of contemporary art. Its suspense plot does not aim for effects, it’s rather that Hitchcock operates with a gradual dosage of bewilderment of the spectator. Or, as it is so beautifully put in Reclam’s Film Guide: “His favourite topic is the loss of identity. His good bourgeois heroes are torn from the order of their everyday lives time after time. They are entangled in crimes, they are assumed to be criminals or spies or must fear even to have committed a crime, themselves. The camera often takes a subjective position and pulls the viewer inside the action. The composition assures that the suspense is cleverly increased and that a constant state of floating suspictions is maintained.”
This applies exactly to my own work. I’m interested in involving the viewer physically inside my “images”. I do for instance engage in architecturally related floor- and spatial drawings, which the visitors walk about on, completing the installation through their disconcerted movements. The relevant factors for the experience of my work are space and the movements of the viewers within this space. Space and movement, as conditions of a physical experience, are of fundamental importance to me.
The viewer is challenged through minimal spatial alternations, which are perceptible primarily through the senses, but which by their formal severity remain always rationally examinable. The body and the rational mind are involved in equal parts and are received into ping-pong type of relationship, where sometimes the one outweights the other, and vice versa. The viewer is disconcerted, but can always stabilizise him- or herself again through rational checks.
G.M. In your work you dissolve vertical and horizontal coordinates and right angles as constituting items of human space, and the viewer loses himself or herself within the endless loops you apply, generarating an illusion of boundless deep space. The hypnotic strength of your spatial installation engenders a sense of uncertainty, while simultaneous causing gravity to be forgotten. Your work reminds me of sky constructions from the baroque era. Is it an important strategy for you to cause the infinite space between illusion and bewilderment to be made perceptible in your artistic work?
H.W. I do not believe that my drawings arouse the illusion of boundless space. They do question however its boundaries or give cause to think about “space” in the Kantian sense as a form of mental activity.
Each realization must be based on sensory experience and its forms of contemplation, space and time. So, using very simple means I create images, which can be read both abstractly for their content and associatively as narration. Thus one can also associatively return again back into the real, object-related world.
I find the comparsion with baroque illusion paining very interesting, nonetheless I am in two minds about it. The Catholic church-building techniques of the baroque era multiplied the dynamics already inherent in the design by adding technically virtuoso illusionistic painting.
As the plan of a dome changes its shape from circle to oval, the painting adapts to the architectural law of delimitation, which applies in some real sense also to my work. The gazes directed up towards the painted dome and ceiling are attracted by the sumptuous drama, which manifests itself through its content as a “devine revelation”. Through it is true that worldliness is one of the starting points of baroque paining, it does form however the precondition, as it were, for the increase of the phenomena towards the immeasurable. The greater the increase of the phenomena towards the immeasurable. The greater the discrepancy between the terrestrial and the heavenly spheres becomes, the more devine is the revelation…
Personally I feel no great proximity to any of this, either contentwise or formally, either. I am not interested in illustrating something real in order thereby to manifest some concrete matter, except for the charge between bodies and space. And I like to it with minimal and easy-to-understand spatial manipulations. Which is why I feel much closer, both as regards its content and also aesthetically, to an earlier epoch, that of the fresco painters of the Italien early Renaissance. In fact my journeys to Siena and Florence were my first deep encounters with art. Above all, I was touched by the deep sensuality of the pictures. I love that quality of signwriting and the simplicity of painting and above all also the beauty of what is represented in painting. Also the symbolism and allegory, as well as the joyfulness of all the details and the topographic accuracy, all these things inspire me still.
Painting of the Renaissance period is the first to be involved with the discovery of Man (and Woman) as an individual and the discovery of the world as an experience and effective range of humankind. Thus the tendency was to move away from divine symbolism, towards a wordly one. Giotto possessed the ability to conjoin artistic representation and sensory experience into a single immediate expression. All at once we are concerned with physicality and with space.
Perhaps it is somewhat presumtuous to place my simple line dawings into a context with such great art, but maybe it helps to explain something about my longing for ambiguity or multiple levels of meaning in my work.
I do not wish to make out illusion as my topic, I want to bewilder the viewer, who may thus become inspired to give up his or her rigid attitude, or cliches, or spatial perceptions, or his or her preconceived notions of how to handle art. And instead to start thinking freely and associatively. The body is the first to react, as I reacted at that time in Arezzo to the beauty of the frescoes of Piero della Francesca. I had to cry.
G.M. By integrating drawing and space you turn space itself into a kind of sculptur. What is the function of drawing in your work?
H.W. My work deals with the phenomenon of perception in the borderline area between painting, drawing and sculpture. It develops in correlation with space, which is why I do not proceed from any particular material. But nevertheless the medium of drawing plays a continuously large role in my work. Even when I dress up the space, disguising the walls with white hair nets or when I show a video, which displays the ever same view of part of a golf course, which gets gradually filled up with golf balls, there is a graphic component. One tends to sees only points being added, which embody the Here and Now. Drawing, as far as I am concerned, very clearly has something to do with time. The line marks a path from one point to another. Nevertheless I am called sculptress, since the viewer finds him- or herself directly inside the work. The space is the sculpture. One can read my drawings like a film, one in which the visitor determines the speed and also fills it with content.
G.M. Which roles do dematerialization and transcendency play in your work? Do you view yourself as an abstract artist?
H.W. If one understands abstract art as a trend within art, which seperates itself from the figurative, and tries to explain the nature of an object, the intrinsic core, then I would answer the question in the affirmative. But I am not concerned with producing object-free compositions, which represent exclusively the value of their colours, paints or materials. I equally avail myself of real pictures, e. g. in white out, where I “drew” a mountain range on needles sticking out 5 cms from the wall using a knotted red clothes line. I do not primarily care about aspects of form, nor even about representation, but I do use the image, in order to transform it for myself. I installed the work white out inside a “white cube” which had no windows, but did have some rectangular skylights. I put in a white floor, and so people experienced, aggravated by the constantly changing daylight, a strong sense of physical disconcertion inside this space. I believe I succeeded in making nature physically experienceable in an artificial way.
I call my work rich in stories and associations, which probably rather contradicts the abstract art concept. I take the liberty to use any means available. I’m concerned with casting a look behind the objects. Transcendency is such a big word, but perhaps even that is applicable. I dematerialize space, but I always operate with contrasts. The materials, which I use, are very simple and common like markers, clothes line, hair nets ore polystyrene, and I use them openly without trying to make them more beautiful. But in this way I have succeeded over and over again in bringing the viewers back down to the ground (of reality).
G.M. Steven Connor writes in his text On Shaky Ground accompanying the Beckett/Nauman exhibition catalogue (Kunsthalle Wien): “The ground stands not only for the Here and Now, it also refers to duration, yet nevertheless it can sway, as we sway on it,” Whoever enters your installations/drawings, steps into emptiness. Those who can no longer lose themselves, will forget the time. What is the rolr played by the relationship between time and space in your work?
H.W. As I already mentioned earlier, my installations develop mainly out of my drawings, which contentwise for me is closely linked to the topic of time. Not only because it takes a while to implement the work, there is also hidden in each line a continuum of time. The works are temporarily installed, i. e., one has to experience them, because afterwards they are destroyed. That reinforces the impotance of the Here and Now and refers to the passing of all things. One does carry along however the memory of the work, just as one does look at the work in memory of something. If I look at white out I connect the already familiar feeling of looking at a glacier world with what I see at that moment.
Time is referred to, however, not only by the line of the drawing, but by the viewer him- or herself walking about on the drawing on the floor. Each step, like the golf balls in my video Golpo, marks another point in time. To be walking on the ground means to be “earthed”, which is something I question and counter act in my work. I work mentally against the force of gravity and pull away the rug underneath the viewer’s feet. This “shaky ground” serves to make the viewer conscious of his or her presence and existence.
G.M. “Along with the real world we have also removed the outer world of semblances.” What remains after the liberation of the counterfeit and the real world?
H.W. To tell you the truth, I do not understand the question. Being release from semblance and reality – is that to mean that both do not exist? My works are absolutely real. There are red marker lines on white PVC, related to the floor plan of an existing space, or there may be a clothes line on the wall. They appear dematerialized by the seduction of the beautiful and the light, outwitting rational thought. Perhaps it’s a little being in love, when you “lose yourself”.